“See the Whiffenpoofs assembled . . . .” — Meade Minnigerode
September 19, 2009
One thing a traveler can’t help noticing in Iceland is the sheep. They are everywhere.
When Chris and I first visited there, we were fascinated, amused, and sometimes frustrated by this phenomenon. Except within the confines of cities and towns, we encountered sheep everywhere we went, usually in groups of two or three, as in the clotch at the left which I photographed last year, on our second visit.
When I say the sheep were everywhere, I mean everywhere. We often were driving in areas where there were no structures much less human beings within eyeshot, but there were sheep. We drove over an area covered with lava — black as far as the eye could see — but there were sheep.
Often the sheep would be standing in the middle of the road. They have an attitude, these sheep. As you approach them in your car, they pretend — by mutual consent — that they don’t notice you. If you sound the horn, they look your way as though to say, “Oh. I’m sorry. Were you talking to me?” Even then — as though to demonstrate who belongs in this countryside and who does not — they hesitate before moving off the pavement. This provides you with small satisfaction because in two or three miles your path will be blocked again. By sheep.
We noticed that these sheep were marked, so it seemed to us strange that they were wandering, literally, all over the country. So we did what any wise traveler does: We asked a waitress, “What’s up with the sheep?”
She explained that the sheep are driven off Icelandic farms in the spring so that they don’t graze in pastures meant for growing and harvesting hay. In September — right now, as a matter of fact — much of the population gets on horseback and rounds up these sheep which, by now, are — well — everywhere. This is done in several waves, and the sheep are identified and either returned to their farms or sent to a slaughterhouse. It’s a case, for the sheep, of who shall live and who shall die.
In the largest roundup, which occurs at Audkúlurétt in the northwest, between 12,000 and 15,000 sheep are corralled.
What’s Icelandic for “Yippie Yi Yo Kiyay”?