For the week of June 30, 1999  thru July 6, 1999  

Sheep jam

When nearly 3,000 sheep trailed through the valley last week on their century-old trek to mountain pastures, it brought out the worst in a lot of drivers.

Faced with a surging sea of woollies on Ketchum’s streets, many drivers tried to shove their way through, instead of waiting for the herd to pass by. The drivers were inconvenienced, they were rude, they were impatient.

Such reactions were once rare.

Eons ago, when drivers could still disconnect their minds from the gas pedal-- before overnight delivery, before cell phones and before call waiting--getting caught in a sheep jam was a local rite of summer. It was a delightful form of unavoidable delay. Car drivers and passengers alike had no choice but to stop. They had no choice but to contemplate the contrast between their own frantic hurry and the relaxed steady stroll of sheep surging around them.

Without the stress of too many obligations and too much to do, the unavoidably delayed happily took time to watch work dogs scramble and nip the ewes and lambs that tried to wander away from the safety of the herd. Stretched before them was a slower way of life, a nostalgic remnant of a more pastoral time.

Getting caught in a sheep jam used to be a kind of ritual affirmation of the fact that the Wood River Valley was no ordinary place. Transplanted urbanites would recount being caught in their first sheep jam with a kind of childish joy and amazement.

Unfettered travel or sheep jams? Courtesy or rudeness? Piece of the past or the unrelenting now? Wood River Valley or mean city? In the valley’s mountain altitude, attitude will make the difference.


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