They came by once while the goats and chickens were visiting. They didn't seem to mind the goats, though they stared at them for a long time. But when Chevron the rooster defended his flock in his inimitable way, those sheep high-tailed it as fast as they could run, which is pretty fast, down the path toward the fish house. We didn't see them again after that for a long time.
By yesterday, though, they had clearly decided that there would be strength in numbers. They began arriving over the weekend, drawn by the fragrance of early fallen apples or newmown grass or the memory of how much they liked us. Once again they wandered around outside the house most of the night, the lambs losing track of their mommies over and over and bleating for them, and their mommies bleating back or ignoring them entirely. When they weren't looking for each other they nestled down against the stone walls and beneath the apple trees and slept.
By yesterday there were about twenty four sheep ensconced in the lower orchard. I say about since it's hard to count sheep. They keep moving around, and something you thought was a rock turns out to be a sheep, or vice versa, and generally speaking they slip seamlessly between invisibility and visibility whenever they feel like it.
Then they came up toward the back orchard. Usually they take a short cut from the side of the house into the back orchard by climbing over the stone wall. But yesterday two scary tablecloths were flapping on the clothesline. So they were forced to go around the long way, and come in at the proper entrance near the garden, and act like proper sheep for once instead of the hoydens they really are.
The lead ewe stopped at the entrance. Behind her, all the others, expecting to go forward, stacked up, bumping into the ones in front of them until they made a huge mob, all standing completely still, all staring fixedly across the orchard in the same direction. I couldn't imagine what had so arrested them, since they were actually ignoring the dangerous flapping tablecloths. Obviously it was something even stranger than that.
Then I saw the four hens. They were contently clucking about in the same back orchard, which they probably assume by now belongs to them. They didn't seem to notice the sheep, and began to wander across the grass, pecking and talking to each other about inconsequential things.
But now the sheep moved forward, all together, in little clumps of three or four or five, but all quite close together, in the direction of the hens. They moved shoulder to shoulder, the way you sometimes see rams move. I am used to seeing the sheep run away. But this time they were moving toward the object of their interest.
Three of the hens were wiser or perhaps merely conflict-avoidant. They just kept on walking until they went straight over the stone wall and into their favourite place, the compost pile.
But there was one brave or curious or friendly or foolish hen. She advanced toward the sheep. They advanced toward her. Eagerly, I might say. It was hard to interpret their behaviour. Was it aggression or curiosity? They circled around the hen, still in tight clusters, moving quickly, totally focused on her. It made me think of synchronized swimming, and I wondered how the lambs knew to do it.
I think the hen felt a bit threatened. She moved faster and flapped her wings. Finally she jumped up onto the stone wall, higher than the sheep and beyond the enclosure they had been creating around her. She faced them, flapping her wings and squawking, then hopped over the wall to the other side: out of sight out of mind.
After that the sheep controlled the back orchard, except for the clothesline.
The hens re-grouped along the service road where I have dumped a particularly tasty pile of weeds and acted like they hadn't ever been the least bit interested in the orchard anyway.