Sheep have been a part of my daily ritual since 2004, the year we purchased our home in Italy.
Each morning I head to the terrace railing, cappuccino in hand, and listen. The clear sound of church bells from the nearest village (tolling promptly at 7:00am) mingles with the gentle tinkling of sheep’s bells, as our neighbors’ flock grazes its way into the valley below.
In spring, when the grasses are vividly, vibrantly green, the flock sometimes forms (what I’ve affectionately come to call) sheep shapes. Circles seem to be their favorite. Standing side to side and nose to tail, with several in each row, they eat their way around and around, creating a flattened, circular area. A sheep’s version of crop circles, I suppose.
About mid-morning, particularly on hot, sunny days – drowsiness sets in and they lie down and sleep, and in late afternoon the shepherd stands on a distant hill and calls them in for milking. Well, he yells at them, really, and like children they ignore him. Cussing under his breath (and sometimes quite loudly) he trudges across the pasture towards the flock. As soon as he’s close, the sheep suddenly hear him and scurry towards home. Selective hearing. We all know that story.
So I’ve grown very fond of sheep over the years and one day, back in 2007, I found myself on a quiet lane in a tucked away part of Tuscany where I snapped a photo of a sheep that was standing alongside the road. That photo of that particular sheep became symbolic for me. It represented the kind of tour company that I’d been dreaming of creating, one that would steer guests away from the crowds and into Italy’s culturally rich, less-traveled areas. It was sheep inspiration.
The following year my small group tour company, Off the Beaten Strada, was born.
This year, to celebrate the hundreds of guests we’ve hosted since 2008 (all the while staying true to our original vision) I sent my original sheep photo to collage artist, Elizabeth St. Hilaire, and she worked her magic. She created for me Spring Sheep (see below) a delightfully colorful sheep, and the perfect, updated symbol – and reflection – of the unique, boutique, small-group tours we create and host off the beaten strada in Italy. (Thanks, Elizabeth!)
So here’s to grabbing inspiration whenever, wherever and however it comes along. Even (or especially) from a sheep, on a quiet strada in Tuscany.