Just over a year ago, on October 1, 2015 (the first day of the “sheep year” – the day the rams go in with the ewes), I embarked on a social media project I called “#Sheep365.” Every day for a full year, I posted at least one photograph of something involving our sheep operation on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts with this tag. My intent was to tell a story about a year of raising sheep. Looking back on the project, I realize that it became far more than just posting a photo and a caption every day for a year.
Early on, I feared that the photos, like the work of raising sheep, would probably look boringly similar to some people. The job of being a shepherd is largely the same from one day to the next, and I began to worry that my photos would be repetitive – even with the milestones of lambing, shearing and weaning lambs. But as the seasons (and my work) changed, I recognized that my photos were changing as well. As fall turned to winter, the light changed and last year’s dry grass gave way to this year’s green. The ewes began to show that they were pregnant, culminating with the start of lambing season in late February. The lambs grow, as did the wool on the ewes – and then the ewes were shorn. We started irrigating – and then the lambs were weaned, and the ewes went back to our oak-studded rangelands.
I have realized that it was more than just a year-long social media experiment – it was an artistic endeavor. I realized that I was trying to tell a story – not just about what was happening on any particular day, but also about how each day in a shepherd’s life relates to the days that came before and to the days that would follow. I see now that art does resemble life (or perhaps it’s the other way around). This year-long project required both dedication and discipline on my part (which I didn’t fully appreciate until I no longer had to think about what I would post that day). Similarly, raising sheep requires dedication and discipline – there are days that I’d rather not leave the house at sunrise to move irrigation water before work, just as there are evenings that I’d rather go home than swing by the ranch to feed guard dogs after the sun has set. To take this analogy even further, I’ve realized that a rancher works with animals, water, sunlight, and soil to create a body of work. Science and technology are certainly a part of my daily work, but there is an art (that I’m still learning) to putting these things together.
As my project wrapped up, I was invited by Placer Arts to participate in the Auburn Art Walk on October 7. I selected 24 of my favorite photos (2 from each month) to exhibit in the gallery at Auburn City Hall (1225 Lincoln Way in Auburn). Placer Arts hosted a free reception in the gallery and my photos will be on exhibit (and available for purchase) through early December. While I’m under no illusions that I’m a great photographer, I’m excited to have a further opportunity to talk about the work involved in raising sheep in the Sierra foothills!