As a shepherdess, much of my work with the sheep occurs outside in our barns or fields. I know that such work can be dirty – that fact is a part of the picture that I accepted long ago. Yet even that knowledge sometimes falls very short of the facts. It just still amazes me how very much dirt I must deal with on a daily basis!

When I am on my way out to work with the sheep, I always stop off in the laundry room and put on my work gloves to protect my hands. I have several different pairs of work gloves, multiple gloves of multiple types meant to be worn for specific jobs – but I always wear gloves when working. Yet as soon as I return to the house and strip off the gloves, I find dirt under my nails. Literally every nail is edged with a rim of dirt! Where does this come from? I can’t figure out whether I haven’t cinched the wrist straps tight enough or whether the dirt finds its way through the cloth backs of the gloves, but regardless, my hands must be washed and nails scrubbed with a brush each time I return from my work outside.

But that isn’t all of it! I cannot tell you how often I come in and either hit the restroom or disrobe to take a shower and find hay, straw, chaff, or dirt in my underwear! OK, now that is really beyond reason! When I make my way outside, even on the hottest days, I am wearing a top that layers over the top of my shorts or jeans so that it covers my phone in my back pocket. Anything trying to get into my clothing would have to go under the t-shirt and over the top of the jeans in order to get in, and that seems impossible to me. Yet the facts are what they are – I often find bits of barn work inside my underwear once I’m inside, and I can’t imagine how that happens!

My work areas outside are generally kept neat, but I cannot say that they are clean. I do clean them often, using a wet rag or disinfecting wipe, but it only takes hours before there is a thin film of dirt over everything. I’ve come to the conclusion that this makes some sense when there are sheep in the barn; perhaps they kick up dust in the pens that then lands in layers over everything. But what about when the barn is closed off, windows and doors closed tightly because the sheep are living on the fields in the summer? The layers of grime appear even then, and I have no explanation for that! We’ve begun to store all containers upside down so that the dirt will layer over the top surface and not the inside of the container. This way, we only have to wipe out the cobwebs on the inside. Yet, I can’t help but wonder where all the dirt comes from!

Anything sitting out in the barn ends up with two different types of dirty stuff that must be continually cleaned. We do have some birds who nest in the barns, so it is not unusual to find nesting materials scattered hither and yon as I begin my work. This can be feathers, bits of straw or grass, or even bits of fabric or wool; pretty much anything that might attract the attention of a bird can end up on my work surface. I will admit that I don’t mind these, since I find it interesting to see what they have found to make their house a home.

It is the layers of dirt that are most puzzling. This stuff is a combination of road dust and some other grime that settles on any horizontal surface so quickly that I can wash things off one day and find a thick dirty coating over everything two days later. I usually can’t simply wipe it off because it tends to smear and leave a very fine residue – it is much easier to use a wet or damp cloth to wipe it up. But I can’t help wondering where this comes from and why we can’t seem to stop the accumulation.

Yes, shepherding can be a very dirty business, even when the sheep are outside in the fresh clean air, grazing in the fields!

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