This week's Faroe Islands fact is all about sheep, the Faroe Islands have more sheep (about 75,000) than people (about 50,000). While my blind, completely unjustified obsession with the Faroes remains, this is cause for some concern.
You see, several years ago, I had a famously negative encounter with some Scandinavian sheep. It is a story that has been told many times by many people, and people still mock me for it
. But only two people were actually there, and I was of them. And now I will tell you what really happened.
The year was 1999 and Bill Clinton was still in the White House, and we saucy Generation X-ers were getting fat on the billions of dollars investment bankers were throwing at dot-com startups that would be bankrupt a year later. It was during these heady times that I accepted an invitation to visit Norway with my friend Thomas... who is Norwegian. In the great tradition of Scandinavian socialism, Thomas offered to pay for a large portion of my trip.
I don't consider myself a lover of The Great Outdoors, and I've never been a fan of hiking. But once I landed in Norway, all that changed. Perhaps it was my Viking roots kicking in, or perhaps it was the sea air. Whatever the case, I found myself not resisting as Thomas dragged me up into the Norwegian country side for a series of marathon hikes. As a matter of fact, I really enjoyed the hikes. We'd hike through vast Nordic plains and past shady hills that still had patches of snow in August.
These hikes were in some pretty isolated areas. It wasn't uncommon to hike for 5 or 6 hours and never see another person. While this allowed us to have vast stretches of unspoiled countryside all to ourselves, it was also a bit disconcerting for a city kid like me. We were miles from... anything. What if I broke my leg? Where's the closest hospital? What if we're attacked by young thugs who hang out by glaciers? It all seemed a bit risky. But Thomas was a native, and he didn't seem to mind the isolation, so I just kept my mouth shut and kept on hiking.
Then came the sheep incident.
About two hours into our hike we came across about a dozen sheep grazing in a pasture. I thought it a bit odd that sheep who clearly belonged to somebody would be left out in the middle of nowhere, but Thomas said there were sheep all over the hills.
As we walked closer, about three sheep walked onto the trail and stood facing us. As we walked closer, the sheep didn't move. They just stood there looking at us. Now I'm no large animal veterinarian or anything, but I know one thing about animals: when we humans walk towards them, they're supposed to move out of the way. They can scamper off if they want, but they definitely have to clear off hiking path when I get within 10 yards. These guys weren't budging, so I stopped walking to assess the situation.
"What are you doing?" asked Thomas.
"Something's wrong with those sheep."
"There's nothing wrong with those sheep."
"Yes there is, look at them, they're just staring at us."
At this point, Thomas gets out his video camera and I protest further.
"They're looking at us and holding their ground as we move forward. That's very aggressive."
"That's not aggressive."
"Yes it is, I'm sure I read about this somewhere."
At this point, Thomas is laughing so hard he can barely hold his camera. He decides the scene needs a little more action and pushes me towards the unyielding wall of sheep.
The sheep do not give way, but one sneaks up behind us and nips at my heels.
"OK, that's definitely an aggressive maneuver!"
"No it's not"
"How is that not aggressive? That sheep is trying to bite off my foot!"
At this point, I'm doing the grim arithmetic. There are about 12 sheep out there, and only two of us. They can run faster than we can and are good at biting. We are wearing shorts and t-shirts are are armed with nothing more than a video camera and a bottle of water. If these sheep wanted to gang up on us, they could easily subject us to death by a thousand tiny little bites.
Meanwhile, Thomas is giggling like a girl as he watches me figure out what to do next. Eventually, he rolls his eyes at me and strides with confidence through the wall of sheep. Apparently, there's some sort of arrangement between Norwegians and their sheep where each will allow the other safe passage , because they part like he Red Sea as Thomas walks by.
This annoys me a bit as Thomas is no less a city kid than I am. Sure, he grew up in a small-ish Norwegian town
, but he's lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade and is an editor at Access Hollywood
. If anything the sheep should be attacking him for filling the world with too many Britney Spears stories.
After much coaxing, I slowly make my way through the throng of hostile sheep, and the rest of the hike is fairly uneventful.
But when we get back into town, Thomas begins telling this story every opportunity he gets. Mostly he tells it in Norwegian and I can tell when he gets to the part where he pushes me towards the sheep because everyone in the room looks at me and starts laughing. I just kind of smile and nod.
We fly back to Los Angeles and the story makes the rounds of our friends. When I met the woman who would later become my wife, various versions of the story are told to Julie. Even today, when Julie reads a story that includes sheep to our little twins, she adds an aside like, "Baa, baa, black sheep... who wants to eat your daddy!"
The thrust of all these stories is that I am a stupid city kid (correct) who was giving into a baseless fear of a bunch of cute little sheep (incorrect). In fact, in 2005, Thomas finally admitted that, "Those sheep were behaving quite strangely."
Now I ask you, Thomas, where do I go to get my good name back?
I still have a deep desire to visit the Faroe Islands, but I need to ask my Faroese readers (yes, there are some now) one simple question: Do you have aggressive sheep, and what must I do to defend myself against them?
Once I get that figured out, I can start booking my travel to the islands.
Today's picture of Faroese sheep was found on this guy's Flickr photo stream
Labels: Faroe Islands, norway, sheep