Several years back – at about this time of year – I decided to start a photo project I called #Sheep365. The idea, at the time, was to post one photo of what I was doing with our sheep operation every day for a year. I thought it would be simple – pull out my smart phone, snap a photo, post it on social media. Get on with my day.
I soon realized, however, that my project involved much more than pretty pictures. When my photos resonated with folks (and not all of them did!), they were telling a story. I began to give more thought to what I was photographing – and what I was writing to go with the photos. I began to realize that there was often as much value in sharing a photograph depicting the hard parts of raising sheep as there was in sharing photograph of the joy involved in shepherding. Looking back at the full year of photos, I hope I conveyed the cyclical nature of tying my work to the seasons – of breeding the sheep in the fall so they’ll lamb in spring, of irrigating pastures and weaning the lambs, of the exhaustion that strikes me every August and the excitement that rejuvenates me as we prepare for another breeding season.
Last week, I had the opportunity to help my friend Emilio Huarte, the manager of Talbot Sheep Company in Los Banos, ship yearling ewes from the Tahoe National Forest just north of Truckee back to the home ranch to begin lambing later this fall. These ewes had been gathered into corrals at Hobart Mills before first light, and as we were loading the first truck, I happened to glance back at the sheep in the corrals as the sun rose behind them. As the first rays filtered through the dust above the corrals, I realized that I was photographing a scene that had been repeated in that place every fall for more than a century (indeed, the corrals we used where built at least 90 years ago).
One of the things I like best about carrying a phone that doubles as a fairly good camera is that I can usually snap a photograph when something strikes me as especially beautiful – or important. I think my photo of the sheep in the Hobart Mills corrals is both. And perhaps one of the most gratifying aspects of the project is that I’ve connected with other shepherds – in California and all over the world. In educating our non-sheep-raising neighbors, we’ve also created a sense of community.