The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Little Prodigal Lamb

By Ronnie E. Knight © 1990

Issue: July, 1990

Several years ago on a sultry summer afternoon a friend Mike and I, both about age sixteen, were rambling around the countryside, over the hills and valleys, visiting the folks along the way. Our trek lasted for several hours, and along toward evening we ended up at another friend's farm.

I'd begun trading in livestock a couple of years previously and every now and then I'd buy a calf or a pony or possibly a sheep or even a flock of chickens or the like from the neighbors around the area. On this occasion I got a chance at purchasing a young lamb weighing about forty pounds. Figuring I'd clear three or four dollars on the purchase, I agreed to take the lamb off of the farmer's hands. Hemming the little booger up in a corner of the fence, I caught him and started off up the hollow carrying him in my arms toward home. It was over two miles up the hollow, across the ridge, and through the woods to where I lived so it was necessary for Mike and I to take turns carrying the lamb until at last, tired, greasy from the wool, and smelling like a sheep ourselves, we reached the rickety old barn across the road from my house.

We placed the wild and woolly creature in a stall in the rear of the barn and presented him with a fork full of hay and a pan of grain along with a fresh bucket of water. Satisfied that I'd made a good deal and that my lamb was safe, Mike and I continued finishing up my chores before he walked the three miles back to his home.

I checked in on the raggedy little lamb again before bedtime and decided that he was all right for the night. Again, feeling a certain pride in being sharp enough to latch on to the lamb at a good price, and satisfied that come market day he'd trade for a profit I went to bed.

Early the next morning I got out to check on my new purchase and to milk a Guernsey cow I was keeping as an FFA project. When I got to the barn my cow was awaiting my arrival by the fence with her udder full and droplets of milk dribbling from her swollen teats. I poured her grain in her feed box, squatted beside her, and began milking her while she ate her feed. In a few minutes, with a ten quart aluminum bucket brimming with white foam, I drove the cow out to graze and went on about my work. The next thing I did, after finishing the milking and carrying the fresh milk into the house for my mother to strain and refrigerate, was to head back to the barn to feed my lamb and call up a few chickens so that they too could be fed. Funny thing was though, my lamb was gone. Evidently he'd found a hole in the pen and squeezed out during the night.

I looked everywhere but the lamb had simply disappeared. Along in the day, after searching the fields and going back and forth to the neighbor's houses in a radius of about half a mile of home, the telephone rang. The folks I'd purchased the lamb from informed me that the lamb had come home.

Learning the whereabouts of my lamb, and knowing that my last few dollars weren't lost, set my mind to ease. I thanked the lady of the house for calling and asked her to tell her son, from whom I'd purchased the lamb that I'd be down later in the day to pick the little fellow up again.

Sometime in the afternoon I called Mike and asked him if he'd be interested in going back down on the creek to pick up the lost lamb. He was as anxious as I was to get back the lost lamb. Since his father wasn't working that day the two of them along with Mike's younger brother came by to pick me up in their old rattle-trap truck. We drove around the road, off the mountain and up the creek, a distance of over seven miles the way the road ran, and soon had the little lamb back in our possession.

Mike's brother was especially interested in sheep and wanted to swap for the lamb as soon as he laid eyes on it. By this time I was rather put out with the ornery critter so I agreed to trade the lamb for some chickens and rabbits along with an old bicycle. Still some profit in the deal I figured; satisfied I returned home.

It wasn't but a few days until the lamb was weaned and content in his new home with a half dozen of his fellows. In the end things turned out all right, but I've always wondered how the little lamb was able to track himself back through the woods, across the ridge and down the hollow to his old home and family after having been carried the entire distance of over two miles the previous day. Do little lambs, like sons of men, have a homing instinct?