Yesterday, an Episcopal priest in Idaho carried on an annual tradition in the town of Ketchum – he blessed 1,500 sheep herded through Main Street in the town’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which marks the time of the year when sheepherders move their flocks to warmer pastures for the winter:
October is a critical time of year for Idaho ranchers and their sheepherders. They must drive hundreds of sheep south from the high summer pastures in the Sawtooth Mountains to warmer grazing land in the Snake River Valley. In the old days, the flocks were driven down side streets to avoid a fuss. But in 1996, when locals, led by John and Diane Peavey, launched the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, they rerouted the animals down Main Street. Ever since, for a brief shining moment once a year, the walking bundles of wool are cheered like conquering heroes.
A Folklife Fair, described as a “homespun lovefest” by the Huffington Post (the above and below excerpts come from that article) happens at the beginning of the festival, with music spanning “Scottish bagpipe, Peruvian panpipe, Polish violin and Basque flute.”
Fr. Brannon has been blessing the herds for more than 10 years:
No frenzied stampede flattening everything in its path. No thundering hooves. And yet, the sight of hundreds of sheep on the move, en masse, is formidable. One man stands alone in the path of their relentless advance: Father Kenneth Brannon of Ketchum’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Father Brannon has performed the blessing of the sheep for more than a decade. The wooly surf flows harmlessly around him. “Once I realized I wouldn’t get trampled,” he tells me later, “I realized this was a great honor.”
Vigilant sheepherders and their Border collies make sure that no ewe makes an unauthorized U-turn. Great Pyrenees guard dogs prowl along the perimeter, alert for troublemakers, whether of the two or four-legged variety. The sheep horde surges ahead, unstoppable. As quickly as they come, they are gone.
Photo: Paul Boorstin, Huffington Post