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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trailing of The Sheep: The Most Wild and Woolly Festival in the West

Ever since I caught wind of its existence, I had been fixated on attending the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. This wild and woolly annual event takes place every October in Sun Valley-adjacent Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho. It celebrates a 150+ year tradition of moving sheep from their summer pastures in the mountains to winter grazing areas. But it’s also a cultural event, filled with craft and cooking demonstrations, multi-cultural entertainment and sheep poetry. The latter roped me in—after all, who could resist a sheep bleating Keats and spinning yarns?

Image Courtesy Trailing of the Sheep
As my obsession grew, I knit together a fantasy about becoming Queen of the Sheep Parade, which takes place the last day of the festival. Nearly 2,000 sheep form a wall of wool as they saunter down Main Street Ketchum on their march toward their winter home. They are joined along the way by musicians and dancers of every stripe. My dream was to show off my good breeding by donning a tiara and walking amongst my little lambs as adoring flocks cheered from the sidelines.

And so, my little lamb chops, with this in mind, off I flew to the Gem State. How to become Queen of the Sheep…I ruminated over this ruminant dilemma and decided the best way to win the title was to start lobbying town elders and festival organizers. But upon arriving and grazing the landscape, I realized shepherding them might be tricky.There were many places around town and at the festival to look. I could hoof it to lamb cooking demonstrations or check out Sheep Tales  and Readings from the Land at the local library. I herd it through the ovine that the big kahunas might flock to the Championship Sheep Dog Trials held over several days or perhaps they might be buying knit hats, gloves and muttons, or learning grooming techniques at the Sheep Folk Life Fair.

Finally, I settled on tracking them down at the Sheepherders Ball Saturday night. After all, a ball seemed fitting for a potential queen. I snagged a ticket. Shofar, so good. Then, as I hunted for a Prince Charming sporting mutton chops, I was told that, as the end of the parade route comes into sight, the sheep sometimes start stampeding to quicken the journey to their winter digs.

Suddenly, I envisioned myself in my own private Pamplona (this being the home of Hemingway, after all), overtaken by a mad mob of sheep goring me with their puffballs of wool. The dodge of ram would leave me with tiara askew and my garb transformed into the world’s largest livery of lint.

Alas, at midnight, my sheep dreams (and nightmares) were punctured after being told the shear truth—the Sunday Sheep Parade had no queen. Shorn of my dream, this piece of news got my goat. Baa humbug, said I. This year, I'm getting out of my rut and shuffling off to the Custer State Park Buffalo Round-Up in South Dakota instead. Watch out my little bubalus. There's nowhere to hide as I search for my crown.

Image Courtesy of South Dakota Tourism

The 20th Annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival takes place October 5-9.

Original version here.

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