Friday, September 19, 2014

Sheepy time!!!

Yes, it's that time of year again.  It's the mad Meeker dash with folding chairs for that coveted spot next to the handlers facing the pen. It's jostling mega millimeter lenses. It's 4 am freeze and 4 pm swelter.  It's time for spinning wool and catching frogs in the irrigation ditch.

It's pancake breakfasts, 

funnel cake, kettle corn, lemonade, custom Powder River cowboy hats and  hand tooled leather.

(Bob Klenda's work)

 It's time for Sheepdog Trials!!!

This year it's a trifecta- Soldier's Hollow, Meeker and the National's at the Strang Ranch all in 3 weeks time. Well, a trifecta for some, I only got to Meeker and Strang's.

There are no "Have you seen Babe?" jokes here… oh no…. this is serious business… this is a tight knit caravan of sheepdog fanatics who follow the handlers and the dogs with an intensity matched only by the most fervent baseball statistician. I try and explain it like golf, you're either on the edge of your seat watching or bored to tears after one run.

This is Meeker (and that's Sky in the tub cooling off)

This is the view from the Strang Ranch with Mount Sopris in the background.

The culmination is the "International Double Lift" on the last day.

Handler and dog walk to the post.

That's Amanda Milliken and Dorey.

The dog is sent on the "outrun"and the 30 minute clock starts. 

The dog runs full out toward the first group of 10 sheep. You lose points for "crossing center" (the imaginary line between the handler and the sheep) so the dogs run on a sweeping ellipsoidal arc away from the handler and away from center.

Those sheep are over 500 yards away from the post.
See that little dot of sheep way up in the left hand corner?

Next task is the "lift" when the dog gets the sheep to lift their heads. 

Then the drive toward the first set of fetch panels. This should be as straight a line as possible between the "lift" and the handler.

Through the fetch panels and to the orange cone…

and then, perhaps the hardest thing for the dog, the "look back". The dog looks back, sees the second group of 10 sheep and is off like a shot to the second "lift" (hence "double lift"). I've seen lots of heartbreak at this point. The dog wants to drive those sheep straight to the handler. Leaving the first group of sheep takes a huge amount of trust and training.

The second "lift" is much like the first - run as straight as possible, through the "fetch" panels and group all 20 sheep into one bunch.

Then it's herd those 20 around the handler at the post. The tighter around the post the better.

Think Buzby Berkeley

Around the post and up to the first set of "drive" panels. This is a "left hand drive". Through the panels and drive those sheep across the field to the second set of drive panels. If the sheep stops to eat- you lose points. If the judge sees a sheep face instead of a sheep profile, you lose points.

The drive portion finishes with 20 sheep herded into the "shedding ring".

Now it's time for the handler to leave the post.

That's Ron Burkey and Sky (everybody look left)

See those sheep with orange scrunchies? Those 5 should be the only one's left inside the ring.

A very delicate dance starts between sheep dog and handler...

No not that dance...

The handler sorts out the 5 collared ones from a cluster of sheep, the dog applies pressure on the opposite side and the sheep mill.

It's very non-Euclidian. 

If a collared sheep rejoins the non-collared you regroup and start over. So that's one thing both dog and handler try and stop.

Scott Glen and Don turning 2 collared sheep back.

 It may be best to let your dog take a water break at this point. Remember, they've been running full out and fighting stubborn sheep for at least 20 minutes at high altitude and they're hot- very hot. 

That's Gail cooling off and Alasdair keeping a sharp eye out.

These are top notch stock dogs pushing the limits of endurance and they need hydration just as much as any marathoner or triathlete. 

If you manage to separate the 5 …

and run off the other 15 far enough away….

Then, and only then, do you "pen" the 5 collared sheep.

Remember, this whole time the handler can't touch the sheep with their crook, the gate or anything else. Likewise if the dog bites ("grips") the sheep it's a disqualification.

…and we're talking vicious mutton here… these are not Welsh Sheep with a Samsung contract.

These sheep have been on the range all summer and as far as they're concerned dog=coyote=death.

Prey animals fight back. 

One, and only one, handler got a pen at this year's finals at Strang's… Alasdair MacRae and his young border collie Gail penned those sheep and won the Nationals.

Alasdair MacRae

Well done Gail!

Ron Enzeroth and Mick walking away with a win at Meeker.

Mick getting a well deserved dip in the tub.

I highly recommend the documentary "Away to Me" which follows handlers at the Soldier's Hollow competition.

…or you can just get the game…

Here are links to more pictures of sheep and dogs.



and more from me…

(I want a bigger lens)
(photo Allan Trumpler)

Ockham's children- updated

I'm venturing out onto very thin ice with this one….

Watching Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos (thank you Netflix) has brought up that old argument of religion vs science. Mr Degrasse Tyson spends quite a bit of time explaining the origins of religion, myth and the need for "pattern" seekers to find causality in what they observe.

Here's Cosmos #1 with Mr. Sagan.

The corresponding Cosmos episode with Mr. Degrasse Tyson is "When Knowledge Conquered Fear" which you'll need to look up on Netflix or Hulu or something which wants a subscription (well worth it IMO)

I like to flip arguments upside down and see what happens. So in that spirit, let's look at "When Fear Conquered Logic."

William of Ockham is most known for his razor. The "razor" is the logician's scale that all proofs being equal the simplest (shortest) answer is the preferred (true) answer. The method was co-opted by Scientists in that hazy 17th century soup when Science and Protestantism were emerging as separate from Catholicism (highly recommend "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Ian Pears for an easy immersion in 17th century England)

What most people forget is that this was a proof given in the 14th century and the only thing the European Philosophers were concerned with in the Middle Ages was proof of God. The razor proves the existence of God since "Faith" is the simplest answer to anything the Devil's Advocate may think up to refute the existence of God (William was a very good Devil's Advocate). This little wiggle got William off charges of heresy in Avignon and saved him from a rather warm welcome into hell at the hands of the secular arm. Clever boy.

Amazing how the threat of burning can concentrate the mind.

Got it?

What we can't prove through empirical means, through observation, through thought, a theorem, an equation or  experimentation is proved through the very existence of faith- ergo - Faith proves God.

There we have it;  the birth of the Ignorance=God.

Curiously enough there may be a Darwinian argument here. The desire for a "something bigger than ourselves" seems to be a Universal Human trait so it may be an evolutionary building block. We're driven to explain the inexplicable even if the only explanation is "We don't know."

That's where I would love the discussion to start.. not "Is there a God?" but "Why do humans believe in a God?" It's a much easier place to start. There must be an evolutionary advantage. It has to be a deep one since we keep killing each over over minor variations on the same premise. It can't just be "thinning the herd" we've certainly found other ways of doing that for numerous other reasons (territory, food, sex, megalomania). Is it as simple as the need for causality? Is it as simple as curiosity? Is it just that "rush" we get when an answer "feels right"? Then why do some things "ring true" and others not? I do believe that when we find a trait which is pervasive in a species history there is an Evolutionary Cause.

In my experience the Devout of different religions have one thing in common- a deep and abiding Faith.

This image is from the Sherpa Photo Fund 
(Plug: Buy a photo- help a Sherpa) 

What are the "Universals" of Faith?

Is there a link between spirituality and happiness? (Why Athiests need Spirituality)

Is there a link between science and spirituality? (Hannah Arendt's The Life of the Mind or physicist  Alan Lightman)

Isn't it time we started to study what is similar instead of what is different?

David Sloan Wilson- podcast "What if Richard Dawkins had it all wrong?"