Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rusty Sheep

The story you’re about to read is true. I warn you, however, that I make up some of my true stories and you’ll have to decide for yourself.

For many years, I taught Industrial Arts Metalworking. During the course of instruction, as technical processes and tools were introduced to the class, students would ask questions as to their origin and development. Finally, after listening to the same questions over and over again and, sensing a need to liven up drab, technical information with a little humor, I began fabricating creative responses to student questions. One such inquiry dealt with the source of steel wool: “Mr. Koch, where does steel wool come from?” It was time to tell the “…rest of the story.”

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a special breed of sheep that lived in North Dakota. These hybrid sheep were raised for their unique type of wool. Genetically, because of a unique endocrine and metabolic system, their follicles had extremely high iron content enabling these sheep to produced steel wool. Because of their metallic hair, and subsequent heavy body weight, these sheep needed exceptional care and tending.

Ranchers involved in raising these animals were licensed under Federal Agriculture Law—#0000-000-00-0-1-2-3-4. They were mandated, by sworn oath, to protect the health and well being of these sheep from life-threatening hazards and injuries. In short, ovine managers pledged to keep these sheep out of the rain. Should these iron-saturated mutton munchers get wet—they would—in a short period of time, corrode out of existence.

Unfortunately, fate was not kind to these sheep. During the annual Steel Wool Growers Association (SWGA), meeting in Indianapolis, a time when watchful steel wool ranchers were away from their flocks and out of town, the unexpected happened. Severe thunderstorms deluged the North Dakota pastures where these sheep grazed.

Sadly, the majority of the steel wool-bearing sheep had been left out on the open range unprotected from the elements. As sheep after sheep became soaked by heavy rain, thousands of them succumbed to iron oxide corrosive syndrome. Aerial photographs, taken after the severe weather showed pathetic, reddish-brown blotches against the landscape’s green meadows: stark physical evidence of the now-terminally rusted herds.

These storms had a devastating corrosive effect on the steel wool industry. It was nearly rusted out! But as bad as things appeared, all was not lost. Luckily, several breeding pairs of steel wool sheep had survived. Fearing possible extinction, the Federal Government immediately placed these animals on its endangered species list and banned all scouring: then took deliberate measures to restore this vitally important breed of livestock.

Follow-up studies by the U. S. Department of Agriculture revealed the surviving sheep suffered from deep depression. (Under the circumstances, it was quite understandable) The symptoms included cloudy eyes, listlessness, and (forgive me), sheepishness. Even though massive doses of a high potency iron tonic were administered, the depression was so immobilizing surviving sheep didn’t even have enough strength to point North. Ranchers were being fleeced.

As last resort, sheep specialists from the United States and Mexico recommended a geographical change. They proposed rebuilding the herd by relocating them to a dry, rain-free environment. By moving the herd, veterinary-scientists hoped the sheep would overcome their mutton malaise, thrive, and produce enough steel wool to relieve a growing worldwide shortage. After scouring the map, such a location was found on the Northwestern peninsula of Mexico just south of the U.S. border.

Not only did the herd thrive and propagate; and, not only was the steel wool industry saved from economic ruin, but the sheep overcame their depression.

Once the sheep had rid themselves of the “mutton Malaise,” they became happy animals. The more time sheep spent in the hot, rain-free, dry climate of their new west coast homeland, the happier they became. Soon they were laughing: BA-HA, BA-HA, BA-HA. Hundreds of thousands of happy laughing sheep could be heard all across the land: BA-HA, BA-HA, BA-HA.

The nearby residents looked upon these gleeful sheep as a good luck sign. Somehow the citizens knew that better times were just around the corner. To recognize their impending good fortune, Hispanic city officials, decided to name the land after the laughing sheep. And so they did. That was a long time ago.

Even so, to this day, this land is still known by the name it was given because of the laughing sheep. I know you’ve heard of this place. It’s called: “Ba-Ja” California!

Always a Warm Winter

With the season of winter well underway, one needs to fortify themselves from the onslaught of inclement weather in order to maintain desired levels of health, stamina and strength. Of constant concern is warding off winter chills. During the day, residents of northern latitudes supplement their raised thermostats with hot broth, hot tea and chocolate and steamy cups of coffee. These beverages are a nourishing and quick way to keep internal temperatures normal. As added precaution, vitamins and over-the-counter remedies are consumed to reduce sore throats, runny noses, sniffles and pesky coughs.

When venturing out of door, layers of warm clothing are foundation to down-filled jackets, car coats and parkas. Hats, scarves, mittens or gloves complete the ensemble for protection against blustery, uncomfortable conditions—the main objective is to maintain wellness and warmth. Everyone tries to keep their resistance to germs in tip-top shape. Long before winter’s arrival, pneumonia and flu shots are available for those susceptible to these maladies. Winter chills are not welcome.

Even so, regardless of the precautions and preventive measures, not everyone stays warm. We forget that generating warmth is a team effort involving mind, body and spirit. Although we keep our body well fed and wrapped in heat-retaining fabrics, we need a core supply of energy. Whether this is called attitude, outlook, or personal sunshine, the desired outcome is comfortable cozy warmth.

More important than heavy clothing, blankets or quilts, flannel or fleece is the inner warmth we create. So many people glide through the winter months with joyful exuberance, gleeful hearts and sparkling eyes; they seem not to notice the extended hours of darkness, cold frigid temperatures and limited sunshine. In spite of limited economic resources, fixed income or ailments, they glow with a tranquil and unflustered composure. What is the source of such satisfaction?

I suspect it is the understanding of the important things in one’s life. We are all on a similar journey. Although the roads travelled, and rest stops along the way are different, each of us decides what is important and what is not. As one accumulates years, our inventory of experience allows for the choice of treasure or trash. Which memories should be savored? What moments to remember should be treasured? Winters must be cold for people who do not have warm memories.

No article of clothing can warm a vacancy of the heart. No thermostat can fill the emptiness of the spirit with comforting warmth. No, entrĂ©e can relieve the pangs of loneliness. Only the inner source of one’s personal sunshine can fill, comfort and warm. So many times during life, one is challenged to draw strength from one’s faith, and beliefs. At times, faith and beliefs don’t seem all that important, but in difficult, stressful and troublesome times it is all we have to hold on to. Of all living things on the earth, only humans pray—or need to. And it is our prayerful words which fuels our inner sunshine providing warmth to the mind, comfort to the spirit and nourishment to the body. And, when this personal sunshine is willingly shared, darkness gives way to light, coldness no longer has dominion, and one enjoys always a warm winter. Those who keep in personal contact with family and friends, who make the effort to focus on doing for others, are healthier, happier, and more vibrant. Winter doldrums are inevitable, short days and long nights gnaw at one’s spirit. Cabin fever and Seasonal Depression Syndrome takes a toll on one’s energy and enthusiasm. But for those who understand the importance of tending and adapting to the seasonal changes within us, they are rewarded with an abundance of peaceful easy feelings, cherished memories, and, always--a warm winter.

Season of Peace

With all the unrest and turmoil nationally and internationally, it may seem wrong to refer to this time as the “Season of Peace.” As the economy continues to struggle, demonstrators clog public thoroughfares, and elected officials fail in their responsibilities to serve their constituents, hollow words, weak leadership, and misapplication of power and authority enables corruption, greed, and reckless spending to erode the founding principles of America. Decisions which are counter-productive to business, economic growth and the well-being of United States citizens made with abandon in order to appease selfish agendas, narrow-minded visions of ideology and curry favor with special interests, give rise to frustration, mistrust and anger. In extreme cases, personal discouragement and anger crowd out feelings of goodness, appreciation, and peace.
Perhaps these were factors which led Sy Miller and Jill Jackson to write “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Recorded by a number of celebrities and sung at countless worship services, the words set forth a challenge for each of us to choose peace over discontent. Many times during the year, news stories relate efforts worldwide in the search for peace. Video images of destruction, violence, chaos, and killings flood video screens. Peace seems so elusive—but why?
Of all the people one knows and comes in contact with: family, colleagues, co-workers, friends, acquaintances and strangers, we can only change one person for the better-- and that is ourselves. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we control only one person. Even though there are different genders, races, religions, creeds, cultures, ages, and stations of life, we are the same. Regardless of diversity everyone wants the same things. We want to be appreciated, valued and belong. We want to feel successful, important, necessary, honored and respected. We want someone to love—and if we’re very fortunate, have someone loves us in return. We want an abundance of blue skies, green lights, tranquil days and peaceful nights. We want our hearts filled with happiness and joy, our spirit to soar and burgeon with charity, kindness, goodness, thoughtfulness and faith. We want peace of mind, body and soul. We want a full measure of God’s blessings.
For a few brief shining hours each year, we set aside differences and thoughts turn kind. Throughout the world, people celebrate the one perfect birth of this earth and give serious consideration to peace on earth, good will toward men. Seasonal songs and hymns of Christmas fill airwaves, houses of worship, shopping malls, and all places where peace can find residence. Again and again, familiar melodies and lyrics announce the season of seasons, beckoning everyone to bestow peace on one another.

“Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father,
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.”

Think about the magnitude of that challenge. Peace has to start with me! We have to decide that peace on earth begins within each of us. It is our responsibility how peaceful the earth will be. We have to decide that the blessings of Christmas: Faith, Hope and Charity are dispensed each and every day. We have to willingly share all that is good and decent, kind and pure of heart.

“Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.”

During the 1440 minutes of each day, goodness, kindness, caring, compassion, and concern for all who have touched our life must be willingly dispensed, shared and presented as a gift of peace.
Another Christmas provides each of us an opportunity to put into practice by prayerful thought, word and deed the true meaning of human kindness. This Holy day enables each of us to share blessings and gifts of the First Christmas with loved ones and strangers, adversaries and friends, rich and poor, servant and official. Most importantly, Christmas allows each of us to present one of humankind’s most sought after, treasured desires. Celebrate the season of peace: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Merry Christmas, everyone.

Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!