Thanks and thanks again to yesterday's knowledgeable commenters. I feel rather better about the burning of the Cumbrian wool clip now, after hearing that it's not as though great whacking piles of lovely soft knittable stuff is going up in flames whilst the sheep farmers cry over lack of demand.
Our guide in the Lake District was full of information about Herdwicks (I remember a chart of their characteristic color changes being passed around), but apparently she wasn't up-front about how coarse their wool is. In fact, I remember her saying the yarn was full of lanolin and would give you lovely soft hands after you'd knit with it.
Perhaps she was thinking of wool that for some reason had not been scoured. But I'm more inclined to trust the words of reader Vivienne and Vivienne's mother, Jean. Vivienne's fingers bled after knitting a swatch of Herdwick when a schoolgirl. And her mother nearly maimed herself making a sweater from it. Ouch.
And I thought Dolores was the most abrasive sheep on the planet.
Jean Miles called me on my overly sentimental view of sheep a couple weeks ago and she was right. In my defense, I'm a very typical American in that my knowledge of animals is largely third-hand, drawn from sticky children's literature and Disney films that turn everything with fur into a variation on the teddy bear.
Disney is probably the greatest culprit, come to think of it. Bambi, for example, is generally thought of as gritty and realistic because (spoiler alert!) the eponymous fawn's mother takes a hit from a hunter. But the same film also shows the wise old owl making friends with the fluffy baby bunnies, when in reality he would be eating them for breakfast.
And Beatrix Potter Heelis of Hill Top Farm is also largely to blame, which I am sure would annoy her to no end. Although she, as I recall, referred to rabbits and mice and hedgehogs as "rubbish animals," her books have for most of a century caused people to think of these animals as living in teensy little cottages, wearing shoes and jackets.
Her stories are not sentimental for the most part–the ones that are, seem to me have been produced mostly later on, when she was running out of steam and would rather have been dealing with her sheep. But her illustrations, with that charming line and that deft handling of color, are what people remember. And they are the picture of Nature Made Cute, even when the itty bitty sweeties are trying to devour each other.*
Speaking of Dolores
She will not be appearing on Episode 17 of Cast On when it airs. We had finally come to an agreement that there would be no harmonica solo, but that she could either read aloud one of her essays on metaphor and symbolism of landscapes in Virginia Woolf; or she could sing Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" as one of the musical selections. But unfortunately, when the time came, she was accidentally locked in the linen closet. Oops.
*I must add that I love them with all my heart. It was a gift copy of The Tale of Benjamin Bunny that first made me pick up a pencil to draw, instead of scribbling as small children will.