Sheep and Writing by Johanna Harness

28 Sep

Recently, Pam Asberry wrote a blog post asking how writers refill their creative well. Too many rejections, heavy criticism, bad luck: it can all feel overwhelming at times. Why don’t I give up when the path looks bleak? It’s simple really: I like writing.

I’m the same way about raising sheep. This hasn’t been our best year. Lambs didn’t fare so well this spring. Our ram was struck by lightning and died. I got thrown by an agitated ewe and broke my elbow. You would think I’d just give up. Why keep going against such bad luck? It’s simple really: I like sheep.

So what do I do to recharge? I remember to enjoy the things I enjoy. I give myself double points when those interests overlap.

The Trailing of The Sheep Festival

In just a few weeks, I’ll be attending The Trailing of The Sheep Festival in Ketchum, Idaho. There will be spinning, a fiber fest, cowboy poetry, and sheepdog trials. Plus there will be 1500 sheep trailing down main street. I’m attending a symposium in conjunction with the festival: “Women Writing and Living the West.” For me, this is an inspiration banquet.

A Little Sheep Music

The Sawtooth Bluegrass Association holds its annual Bluegrass Festival at Round Valley, Idaho. Over Labor Day weekend, we camped and soaked up wonderful music. My newest favorite Idaho band is The Panhandle Polecats. They hooked me when Hank introduced his sister, Molly, the sheep-shearing song writer. The song definitely fits into a story-telling tradition that’s alive and well in Idaho. It took me a little too long to grab my camera, but here they are singing (most of) “Sheep Shearing Blues.”



Yes. Sheep do often make their way into my books. A writer friend even wrote our ram into one of his books after the lightning incident.

Over on Escape Into Life, I have a short story inspired by a petroglyph found just down the river from where I live. The story is Evil’s Day Off and this is the petroglyph:

In case you’re wondering, I do have the usual inspirational sources of family and kids, but the unusual interests really spur me on as a writer. Think a sheep interest is crazy? Mmm. Just wait until I tell you about my cemetery ramblings and the way thrift store objects nearly write their own stories.

So how about you? Do you have unusual inspirations that replenish your creative spirit?


Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Idaho, inspiration


Tags: , , , , , , ,

23 responses to “Sheep and Writing by Johanna Harness

  1. P. L. Parker

    September 28, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    Great post!

  2. Janis McCurry

    September 28, 2011 at 7:17 AM


    I loved your short story. Should I say “spoiler” here?

    The bathtub thing is funny because I immediately saw a sheep. Not sure actual “inspirations” replenish me or not. I do know that I usually think about what ifs and how would a person react to a certain circumstance. The psychology of it all. Thanks for the short story today.

    • johannaharness

      September 28, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      So great to know you read the story, Janis. Thank you for that.

      I love that you stop to ask whether inspiration is replenishing. For me, it always is, but maybe not for others. I hadn’t considered that. Good thought.

  3. Meredith Conner

    September 28, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    I love the “Sheep Shearing Blues” song!

    I try to incorporate the ordinary into the extraordinary. And your comment on the second hand items made me laugh – I just wrote one into my story yesterday.

    • johannaharness

      September 28, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      Someone on twitter connected with the thrift store comment too. I may have to share some of those photos in a couple weeks. (It’s good to know I’m not alone!)

  4. Peggy Staggs

    September 28, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    I think as writers we refill our wells with the joy of day to day living. Everything is fodder for stories. The things we love, the things that touch us, and the trials always find their way into our writing.

    I know what you mean about this last spring being destructive. We desert dwellers aren’t used to all that wet stuff falling from the sky.

  5. ValRoberts

    September 28, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    Johanna, I’m so jealous you get to go to Trailing of the Sheep! I’ve never made it to one and I’m a fiber geek in my spare time, which of course means I haven’t touched wool in years, since writers have no spare time. The Ketchum festival has always been on my to-do list, because it sounds like a wonderful time for everyone–including the sheep.

    Thank goodness sheep are small, or you might have broken more than an elbow (and I hope it has healed completely, with no complications). We had cows when I was a kid, and new-mother cows are just as crazy as new-mother ewes, but they weigh a thousand pounds. This is why I don’t raise cows now that I have a choice.

    Cemeteries are fascinating, and each one has a different vibe. I used to live next to the Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise, where William Borah and Frank Church are buried. Definitely a place to get story ideas; some of the tombstones tell stories all by themselves.

    • johannaharness

      September 28, 2011 at 5:26 PM

      So true about the cows, Val–and pulling a calf is a totally different adventure than pulling a lamb. 🙂

      I grew up near a cemetery and we’d ride our bikes along the paths and sit on the grass. I still feel at ease among the headstones.

      I hope you make it to Trailing of the Sheep one of these next years!

  6. Liz Fredericks

    September 28, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Johanna, you’ve raised such wonderful memories for me with this post. My family homesteaded in Idaho and my great-pa and grandpa were radicals who had both sheep and cattle in the Gooding/Shoshone area. The drives, the smell of branding, the sound of shears (electric and traditional) – thank you for reminding me.

    • johannaharness

      September 28, 2011 at 5:28 PM

      You are so lucky to have those memories, Liz! I’m so glad I could bring them to mind.

  7. angela parson myers

    September 28, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    I literally “dream up” many of my story ideas. The first page of my novel (still at the publishers waiting to be accepted or rejected), When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing, is from a dream. Also, I dreamed one night that I was writing a short story, wrote it from start to finish in my dream, then woke up and actually wrote it. I’ve another novel on the back burner that is based on a dream. but it will have to wait until I finish the 3 novels kicked off by the first one I mentioned. Refilling the energy well comes from attending writers’ conferences or just about any kind of travel.

    • johannaharness

      September 28, 2011 at 5:30 PM

      Mmm. The travel does not surprise me with you, Angela. 🙂

      I am jealous that your dreams are so clear from start to finish. I get snippets from my dreams and I often work out plot problems, but I never get a full story.

      • angela parson myers

        September 28, 2011 at 10:11 PM

        Didn’t say they were any good. I think Gibbous Moon is good, as far as it went, but not sure about the short story. : – )

  8. john ross barnes

    September 28, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    Yes. Yes you do like sheep. We don’t hold this oddity against you because we’re all so grateful for the way you embrace our oddities. 😉 I actually never gave sheep much thought beyond them being backdrops for 4-H events and Tony Hillerman Navajos – until I started reading you. I can certainly see how Baxter could be all kinds of inspiration – what an adorable little guy!

    Thanks for sharing this with us, I gotta go check out this Evil Takes a Day Off story.

    • johannaharness

      September 28, 2011 at 5:39 PM

      What a nice compliment, John. And hey–I celebrate oddities! There’s plenty of normal in the world as it is. 🙂

  9. Lynn Mapp

    September 28, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Johanna, thanks for the reminder. I write because I love it. Way to cut to the heart of the issue.

  10. pamasberry

    September 28, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    I connected to this post on SO many levels, Johanna! I didn’t know that you raise sheep; I love to knit, and without sheep I would be knitting with acrylic yarn–yuck! And I am a big fan of bluegrass; my boys bought me a mandolin for my birthday, which I am trying to learn how to play, so I thoroughly enjoyed your video. Finally, and most important, I related to your remark about not giving up the writing because you LIKE writing. I feel that I have no choice in the matter. We are truly kindred spirits. And now I’m off to check out the website of the Panhandle Polecats!

  11. Carley Ash

    September 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM

    One of my earliest memories is of my parents taking my sister & I to a sheep ranch shortly after lambing season. I’ve been in love with lambs every since, and adore your photos. Thanks for sharing them.

  12. Clarissa Southwick

    October 1, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    Johanna, I love the sheep posts. Keep ’em coming 🙂

  13. Mary Vine

    October 2, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    It’s not unusual, but sitting by a creek in the sun inspires me. I do like old cementaries, too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: