Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg was a catalyst to a journey for me. I have always loved animals and I’d even owned a few sheep, but I was’t serious about them. I was focused on my dairy goats and horses-both of which have completely different habits and personalities than sheep. They teach lessons too, but not the same I began to crave as I journeyed through this rich and tasty book.
After reading Scouting The Divine I had a new appreciation and wonderment for the valley I live in. There is an abundance of agriculture and the livelihoods of vey many people are centered on it. I am no stranger to farming. It’s valued and important work here. I am not a professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been enamored with all things farm since I could walk.
Scouting The Divine focuses on the lessons and illumination of Bible passages through the eyes of a shepherd, bee keeper, farmers, and a vintner. I am surrounded by all of those and have been some of those myself. I came away with a lot from that book. I developed an urge to know God’s shepherding heart better, and to understand His care for us through the stories of the Bible that describe Jesus as The Good Shepherd and through parables of sheep and shepherds. I began to pray for the understanding and felt I wanted a hands-on experience. I am blessed to live on a ranch where it’s possible for me begin a journey like that; as simply as making a phone call and handing over some cash or making a few trades.
I began some research into sheep breeds, and learned about fleeces and that’s an education in itself. I decided I’d like a dairy breed of sheep, since I’ve bred dairy goats for well over a decade now. I enjoy sheep’s milk cheese and thought I could multi-task this project. (as I always do) I combed the online farming spots for sale adds and found a woman selling a flock of Icelandic sheep. I made arrangements to visit her and meet her sheep. It turned out she keeps several flocks of three different breeds of sheep.
Valerie was a willing educator and obviously loved her sheep. Her love of them was contagious and not only did I learn much more than I had anticipated, I made a new friend. But something else happened as well, something spectacular and unexpected. As a particularly friendly sheep was letting me pet and scratch her while she wagged her stubby tail wildly to let me know she liked me too, I dug my hands deeply into her fleece and examined the crimp of it. Then I had the irresistible urge to bury my face in her fleece and smell- it was intoxicating to me. I fell under the spell of sheep that day, and their fleeces. That sounds weird I know, but when you part the fleece there’s a smell I can’t describe. You are expecting it to be dirty and stink- I know! But a healthy sheep doesn’t stink to me. Or any other sheep-loving shepherd. It smells divine.
Fast forward two years and now I have a pair of young East Friesian ewes for milking, and a small flock of rare and wonderful Gotlands for fleece. They are a Swedish sheep and not allowed to be imported here, so “bred up” through a program here in the states. They grow a lustrous fleece of spiral curls in locks, of various shades in gray mainly, although you will see blacks and creams because of the breeding up with other similar breeds.
I have since then joined a group of mostly farming and fiber artist ladies in town to learn to spin this gorgeous stuff into yarn. I don’t crotchet or knit and really have no desire to learn, but I enjoy working with the fleece- it’s texture and it’s scent as it runs through my hands. The spinning is reward enough for me. It’s a relaxing and therapeutic thing to do – taking the time to completely focus and quiet myself. Art is always like that. Good for the brain, I say.
I have learned so much, made new and interesting friends, and I am on a journey moving closer to the heart of God every day. All this began from a book? yes, of course. The artistry of words is also intoxicating to me. There is endless value in the written word and there’s a reason so many of us love to crack open a book and take in a deep breath of the smell of ink and paper, the promise of what we hope to find there, is food for the soul.
Thank you Margaret Feinberg for your gift with words and sharing them with us. You meant to inspire and inspire you have.
I have linked two posts in that last sentence.
Psalm 104:14-15 “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring food forth from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s