THE SHEEP THAT HID FROM NATHAN
By Dale Wendel
Benny and Freda are Big Horn Sheep who live in Anza-Borrego State Park.
Actually they don't have big horns. They don't have any horns at all, since they
are kids. ("Kid" is what a very young sheep is called. Adult females are called
"ewes" and adult males are called "rams.")
Nathan and Natalie are also kids. They don't have any horns either, since they are
human kids who live with their parents in Redondo Beach. Right now they aren't
in Redondo Beach, they are in Anza-Borrego State Park. They have been awake
for hours waiting for their parents to wake up. Today is their first day at the park
and the day they will all hike up Palm Canyon to the Palm Grove.
Benny and Freda have also been awake for hours. They usually wake up when the
Sun comes up. With the rest of their herd, they have been having breakfast,
eating their way down the canyon. Spring is great for a Big Horn Sheep. All of
the pools are full of fresh water. The ground is covered with lush green grass and
the bushes put forth tender new shoots and lots of sweet, colorful flowers.
"Look, Freda! I have yellow teeth," called Benny.
"Oh, Benny. Don't be so silly. You just have a mouth full of dasies. You are
so dumb, some times." Freda tried to be patient since she is older and her mother
told her she had to take care of her younger cousin.
The herd had slowly worked its way down the canyon. Usually they stopped
before they reached the Palm Grove since there are always a bunch of noisy
humans around it all day long. But today was different. The grass was so lush
and the humans left the herd alone.
Freda walked up to her mother and asked, "Mother, we are getting near people.
Aren't we going to run away?"
"Freda, your Uncle Cosmo thinks that we are safe here. He thinks these people
won't harm us. I don't like it but he is the boss ram. Besides, Aunt Maude
agrees and we know she actually runs the herd."
Freda went back to graze near Benny. Between mouths full of grass she told him
that they weren't going to run up the ridge to get away from the people. In fact,
she said, they were going to continue on down the canyon.
Benny was so surprised that he dropped the scarlet ocotillo blossoms he had
plucked from the end of a low-hanging arm. It was very unusual for Benny to
loose food. "I don't mind," he said. "The food is very good here. The people
keep the mountain lions away. Anyway, I think humans are not much. They only
have two feet and they have to have paths to walk on. They can't even run up the
ridge over the rocks. Their fur is so thin that they have to live in shells like a
Nathan and Natalie were at last out of the trailer and off on THE HIKE. They too
had had their breakfast. As usual, Dad fixed his pancakes. Actually they were
pretty good, not nearly a burned as they usually are. Nathan ate 10, in addition
to the bowl of Honey-coated Sugar Bombs he ate before his parents finally got up.
Natalie ate a banana and then three pancakes.
Although it was still Winter in most of the country it was quite warm here in the
desert. They were dressed in shorts and T-shirts. Each wore a hat to protect them
from the bright Sun. Nathan had a brand new straw hat with a bright red band
above the brim. Natalie's was pink and made out of cloth.
"Comon Natalie, Mom and Dad are still looking at that bug on the flower. We're
never going to get to the oasis. Maybe if we go on up the trail we might find a
Natalie didn't care if they found a lizard but she wanted to keep up with Nathan,
so she ran. The trail was easy for Nathan as he skipped over the rocks and
boulders. It was a little harder for Natalie since her legs are shorter. She had to
scramble to keep up.
When she caught up with him he asked her, "Would you like a drink?"
"Yes," she said, "and can I have some of the crackers?"
"No," Nathan said as he pulled the water bottle out of his pack. "We have to save
those to eat at the oasis."
Everyone kept talking about the oasis like it was something special. So far this
great hike had just been hot and dull. Natalie had been to the oasis before but that
was when she was little and Dad had carried her in a child carrier. He said she
was too big to carry now. She had to walk.
Mom and Dad finally caught up. As they all started walking again they
encountered people coming down the trail. They were all excited about the sheep.
"There is a herd of big horn sheep grazing right next to the trail! They don't seen
to care that there are people all around! You can watch them as long as you like."
After 10 minutes of walking they rounded another huge boulder and moved up
some stone steps. There were several groups of people along the ridge of rocks
to the side of the trail. Nathan ran up over the boulders and Natalie struggled to
follow. When they reached the top they saw the sheep below. They were grazing
in the lush green grass growing along the bank of a normally dry stream bed.
Now it was flowing because of all the winter rain. The sheep seemed unaware of
all the people watching them. Nathan edged closer to edge to see them better. He
was closer than anyone else.
"Nathan, honey," Mom called quietly. "Come back from the edge. You might
scare the sheep."
Nathan pretended he didn't hear her at first but finally he moved back, just a bit.
"Look at the sheep, Natalie. See the two little ones over there."
Natalie thought they were OK but she still wanted some crackers.
Benny saw them and started to stare but Freda said, "Don't look at the humans.
Pretend you don't see them just like the adults are doing."
"But look, there are two little humans. I haven't seen any small ones before."
Actually Benny had never seen humans very much before today. Normally the
herd kept away from humans.
"The top of the littlest one's head is pink. The one next to her has dry grass on
its head. They look very funny," laughed Benny.
"Don't you know anything, Benny? Those humans are wearing hats. They need
things like that to protect them. Aren't we lucky to have such nice fleece so we
don't have to bother with that stuff."
"A hat made out of dry grass. I'll bet it would be good to eat."
"You think everything but rocks would be good to eat."
Benny snuck more looks at the hat. The more he saw, the more he wanted to eat
that hat. Finally the little human moved over near some large boulders and sat
down. The smaller human sat next to him. The bigger one took off part of his
clothing and took something out of it and gave it to the smaller one.
Natalie had finally convinced Nathan to give her some crackers. They sat together
eating crackers and drinking water while their parents were scrambling around
trying to get the best pictures of the sheep. It was comfortable on the rocks and
the sun was warm. Soon both fell asleep, even though it was still morning.
"Freda, I've got to get that hat," Benny said.
"Don't try it," warned Freda. "You might get hurt or they might catch you."
But Benny was young and smarter than everyone else, he thought. The adults
were all intent on grazing. He slipped up behind some boulders and worked his
way up the hill where the two little humans sat. Since he was so small and the
color of the boulders he seemed to disappear from view. He picked his way
carefully over and around and through the boulders until he was right next to the
In a flash he stuck his head around the boulder and grabbed the brim of the straw
hat. Before Nathan could react, Benny ran off with the hat. Nathan jumped up
and started to chase the kid but Benny had gotten back into the large boulders and
was standing quite still. Nathan couldn't see him.
Just then Dad came up. "Where is you hat, Nathan?"
"Dad, a baby sheep just came up and grabbed it. Now I can't find it anywhere.
I don't know where he went."
"Sure he did. I'll bet you just dropped it along the trail. We'll look for it on the
way down. You'd loose your head if it weren't attached," scoffed Dad.
As Benny rejoined Freda down by the stream he was licking the last pieces of
straw from his lips. "It was delicious, Fred, but not as good as this fresh grass."
As the humans turned to continue their hike to the oasis Dad noticed one of the
sheep kids with what appeared to be a red ribbon around its neck. Didn't
Nathan's hat have a red band around it?