Tales of sheep, rabbits, and the woman who tends them

  • Article by: KATY READ , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2010 - 2:11 PM

Keeping Watch by Kathy Sletto

People's stories about their pets are often about as entertaining as detailed accounts of their dreams, or of sitcom episodes you didn't see. Ho-hum. Guess you had to be there.

But in "Keeping Watch: 30 Sheep, 24 Rabbits, 2 Llamas, 1 Alpaca, and a Shepherdess With a Day Job," Kathryn A. Sletto manages to make her animal stories compelling, funny, poignant and sometimes genuinely sad.

Sletto and her husband tend the livestock in the title on picturesque property near Alexandria, Minn. In her "day job," she is a part-time freelance grant writer, but shepherding is clearly her true passion; Sletto's love for animals apparently strikes even her ever-yielding husband as excessive.

Stopping just short of anthropomorphizing her woolly and furry charges, Sletto observes them closely and respects the emotions behind their dejected bleating or excited wriggling. It doesn't hurt that she has a gift for comic pacing, spinning her tales with just enough exposition, description and touches of Minnesota color. Or that her stories often gain drama from the tension between modern life and one of humanity's oldest occupations.

In one anecdote, for example, just after locating a stray, postnatal sheep, she receives an important call. "On the blustery hillside I crouched beside the ewe, the icy wind whipping around us. With the cell phone clutched in one stiff hand, I negotiated the terms of a contract with a disembodied voice in far-off Washington, while cradling a wet and shivering newborn lamb in the other arm."

With cheerful aplomb, Sletto just as effectively satisfied this reader in far-off Minneapolis.

 

  • KEEPING WATCH

    By: Kathryn A. Sletto.

    Publisher: Borealis Books, 217 pages, $24.95.

    Review: A Minnesota grant writer/shepherdess spins entertaining stories about her sheep and other animals in this engaging memoir.

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