Our Land of Lincoln Border Collie Association conducted its annual sheepdog trial on the farm of Jason Weaver, just south of Vandalia, Illinois, on August 15 and 16, 2014. It was the club’s first time at this location.
Many volunteers made the event a huge success. Kathy Kawalec heads up the LOLBCA and served as course director, and Tresa Laferty, as always, did a wonderful job as trial secretary, as a host of others helped with setting out sheep and other duties. Before the trial began Jim Jones, did the mighty work of securing the trial site, setting up fencing and transporting a immense amount of club equipment from the old trial site of Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL.
But I believe all those who brought their dogs to this event will agree, what made it truly delightful was the kind hospitality and cheerful curiosity of the many Old Order Mennonites who came.
Almost all of the Mennonites came via horse and buggy or bicycle, although one minivan was used to haul much of the food they sold to us to help support their local school.
I, myself, couldn’t help but think that these people must be doing something right with their way of life. There was a lot of kindness and mutual respect among them. There was no fuss, no cell phones, no loud talk or loud buzzing, no hurry, no arguments, no sulking, no clutter.
It was a completely intergenerational group. One grandmother there told how she left her Maryland neighborhood years ago because people were building a lot of elaborate mansions. She came here, to be followed by all of her children and 35 grandchildren, where they are farming, running a quite large vegetable shipping business, and improving the land.
I believe some who are new to the Amish and more conservative Mennonites are afraid to approach them in conversation, but these folk were all quite eager to talk, especially about anything related to farming and the simpler aspects of life. Many of the menfolk would ask questions about the dog trial when they were approached in a friendly manner. In fact, they followed the handlers’ every moves and smiled broadly whenever eye contact was made. The children loved to wave. They were full of compliments about the dog work, in spite of the fact that the running was quite ragged with these sheep who had never been worked in small groups by a dog before and were very jumpy. The men and boys loved to talk about their own farm dogs, which included a couple of Border Collies, but mostly mixed breed dogs.
But I cannot remember a more winsome lot of children and teenagers. All of them were happy to spend one or two days in the open air, the second day most of them getting quite wet from the frequent showers, and the children all milling about without shoes, pulling the odd thorn or sharp twig out of their bare feet. Two of the young boys asked me if I might sell them a shepherd’s whistle. I gave them each one and brief lessons on blowing them. The second day one of the boys proudly showed me that he had already learned to make a tiny sound with it.
Such handsome faces—such beautiful faces on all ages. And no obesity problem here! All these people have bodies obviously used to work.
I thought of all the advertising that could be done with these faces and these handsome, homespun clothes—advertising meant to pretend that products were natural and wholesome. But these people don’t pretend. Their lives are simple and honest by virtue of their deeply held beliefs. They are convinced and convincing.
The owner of the farm, and our host for the weekend, walked the second and third mile with us. The sheep were afraid of us strangers and our dogs and were almost impossible to get off the field at the end of each run. So Jason stood at the opening to the exhaust area and called to them, “Come on, come on.” After hours of this duty I asked him if his voice was holding up and if he was not getting tired of it all. But he said, “I’m enjoying it.”
Anyone else and I would have doubted his word—chalked it up to practiced etiquette. But Jason was completely honest. He lives in the glorious moment. And so did his son who took up his post on the next day while Jason went to the top of the field to help us set out the sheep there.
The only concern Jason and the other Mennonites had was that we handlers might be put out by the difficulty we had working these sheep who weren’t used to dogs.
How could we. The sheep were real and so were the people.