One never knows about the weather at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, held in mid-October at the beautiful Dutchess County Fairgrounds near Rhinebeck, NY. Some years, I’ve shown in shirtsleeves and others I dressed for snow. This year’s event definitely called for layering, with cold rain on Saturday and nighttime temperatures almost in the 30s on Sunday. As for the sheep, not to worry; the moderate temperatures made for excellent travel conditions, and they were more than toasty in their lovely fall fleeces.
I consigned four Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs to the New York Bred Ewe Sale, held in conjunction with the festival, and they fetched satisfactory prices in a tough economy. I do not yet know the identity of some of the purchasers; as soon as I do, I will thank them for their winning bids. Most importantly, I trust the girls are heading to good homes where they will earn their stripes as brood ewes for many years.
At right: Wits End 924 was sold at the New York Bred Ewe Sale in mid-October.
The Saturday sheep auction was followed by a very competitive and well-subscribed sheep show on Sunday. This year’s judge was Judy Moore, who demonstrated her world-class abilities by whittling down large classes into manageable lineups of champion sheep. The Romney entries enjoyed consistent success—best wishes to all their hard-working sheep breeders, including Katherine Moore of Birch Branch Farm in Lee, NH, whose pens were next to mine. Her ewe was champion long-wool ewe. Two years ago, her ram was the supreme champion, and three-quarters of the sheep she brought this year were sired by him. Who was Katherine? She was the willowy blonde in the red boots. A self-described ‘Hamp girl’ in her youth, she’s about the nicest person around.
At left: My husband Dave with the lovely Border Leicester ewe lamb, Wits End 901, purchased during the festival by Chris and Eileen Testo of Westerlo, NY.
I was thrilled when a gentleman in shorts and a parka approached my sheep pens. It was Tom Brown, a prominent sheep judge who survived some challenging health issues during recent years. He said he was very happy to be there, this time enjoying the competition seated in a chair in the show ring. He was quite interested in Bluefaced Leicesters, saying he had seen them all over Great Britain.
“They have such a fascinating heritage, you know,” he said.
I took time to visit many of the yarn and fiber booths that filled the large fairgrounds, where I saw friends and met new ones. My favorite purchase was a hand-knitted hat, made from fine-wool yarn spun, dyed and knitted by Gretchen Wittenburg. Her friend and neighbor, Lisa Letendre of Boulder Meadow Farm & Fiber Mill of Fitzwilliam, NH, said Gretchen heads knitting and spinning groups and is an inspiration to all who know her. Besides the wonderful colors, I chose the hat because it was actually large enough to cover my oversized cranium without reducing vital blood supply. I have a very silly picture of the hat below.
I made another new friend when Neysa Minahan approached my pens looking for a Bluefaced Leicester ram lamb. She was in luck: I had a lovely fellow who would meet the needs of her cross-bred, long-wool flock. Handsome, easy to handle and sporting a beautiful natural-colored fleece, the beloved ram lamb that I called Cadfael trotted off with her to his new home in Lakeville, CT.
The trip home began Sunday night, when I drove almost 100 miles to Milford, PA. At the Hiway Diner over the $3.95 breakfast special, I learned there were extensive traffic delays on I-81 near Scranton, PA. I pulled out my map and soon decided to take scenic, two-lane Highway 209 along the Delaware River south to Stroudsburg. There, I’d take I-80 west to I-81 and, with luck, miss all the construction. It turned out to be a shorter route home and, most importantly, a really lovely one. Most of the trip to Stroudsburg was through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, where forested cliffs were on my right and farmed floodplain and the Delaware River were on my left.
At right: My new hand-knitted hat takes in the pristine beauty of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
All of this beauty almost was lost in the 1960s, when the Army Corps of Engineers conceived a plan to dam the Delaware River north of the gap for hydroelectric power generation. Downriver, the water gap would have become a 37-mile reservoir. The corps acquired by the area through eminent domain, uprooted some 15,000 residents and managed to demolish 3,000 to 5,000 dwellings, many of which were historic. Because of unceasing local efforts and strong environmental opposition (bolstered by an unacceptable geological assessment of the dam’s safety), the property was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978 and the 70,000-acre recreational area was born. Locals still remember the struggle.
At left: The sounds of someone singing echoed over the water. Soon, a canoe rounded the bend and the two ‘Keiths’ halloed. They were on a three-day, 30-mile trip down the Delaware River, which is designated a national scenic river in this stretch.
I pulled over to photograph an old mill house. Beside it, a stream meandered by the Wyoming-Minisink Path, which crosses the park westward. The path was one of three important Indian trails that linked the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, and was the one most heavily used. During the colonial period, settlers from Connecticut used the path to migrate west. The region has seen much conflict over the centuries; Europeans and Native Americans hacked away at each other during early colonial settlement, and the gap area was an important front during the French and Indian War.
I was soon heading west on I-80, leaving behind the crystalline water, multi-hued forest and 400 years of human conflict.