Two thousand milling and leaping sheep made a surprise appearance at Sunday's picnic that raised money for the 15th year of the Trailing of the Sheep festival, which will take place Oct. 7-9 in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.
The nearly 250 people who celebrated at the John and Diane Peavey family's Flat Top Ranch in the Little Wood Drainage looked on from tables safely away from the mob.
As puffy white clouds drifted in a blue sky over expanses of wildflowers and spring-scrubbed sage, a gaggle of herders, dogs and grandchildren pursued recalcitrant sheep and drove them to the pens from which they were to be shipped the next day.
This, said the Peaveys, is the continuation of a livelihood that has sustained human life with food and fabric for warmth for eons and has existed locally since the 1880s.
This year, for the first time, the festival will explore the experiences of women on the ranches of the West. Diane Peavey is putting together panels of ranch women for storytelling and urged anyone with modern-day stories or historical diaries to contact her or festival organizers at www.trailingofthesheep.org or by phone at 720-0585.
The family has protected most of Flat Top with conservation easements to ensure the co-existence of domestic livestock grazing with fragile sage grouse populations and the far-ranging antelope that migrate in a 140-mile arc from the desert outside Arco to the ranch, according to John Peavey.
An obelisk that marks the place where the ranch's original homesteaders are buried overlooked the festivities, which were capped by the auction of a trip on the ranch's annual cattle drive across central Idaho's desert to the beckoning pastures of the Pioneer Mountains.
Former Sun Valley Mayor Ruth Lieder, who once made the drive, said it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with great food and an opportunity to brush up on friendly poker skills with the ranch hands.