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Vertical Shepherding

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When I accepted a job in the camping industry, I never expected to find myself dangling from a cliff 50 feet above the Frio River. That's how I learned about vertical shepherding.

One Wednesday afternoon, some campers at Echo Valley spotted a wild mouflon lamb trapped on the cliffs across the river from the Ranch House. We could see the lamb's mother about a hundred feet above. We could hear her bawling for her lamb. A group of us who help maintain the camp property judged the lamb to be less than two weeks old.

There were five of us. William, Alan, Rudy, Juan, and me. Someone was going to have to cross the river, climb up to the cliff, catch the lamb, and return it to its mother.

"And John," they said, "be really careful when you climb over the wet slippery spots!"

Alan volunteered to join the mission, so we grabbed a canoe, paddled across the river, and began our assault on the face of the cliff.

I've often sat on the porch of the Ranch House, casually sipping a cup of "joe" and wondering how difficult it would be to climb the bluffs across the river. I don't have to wonder anymore.

Down below, I heard Rudy ask, "Do we have the phone number for Critical Air?"

William reminded us, "That water is only a couple of feet deep. If you lose your hold on the cliff, try to land belly buster so you don't hit the bedrock too hard." I doubted the sincerity of their concern when Juan laughed so hard he fell off the tailgate of the truck.

Alan climbed ahead of me and scared the lamb back in my direction. When the lamb got close enough for me to grab it, the only part of my body that wasn't clinging to the cliff was my tongue.

The lamb jumped around me and took the path of least resistance down toward our canoe.

Short of stealing our canoe, it was trapped. Alan positioned himself in the middle of the only possible escape route. When I returned to the canoe, the lamb ran straight to Alan who tied its legs together. As we paddled triumphantly back to the safe side of the river, we were greeted by cheers from staff and campers. They rushed toward us, and we felt like heroes.

They only wanted to touch the lamb.

Eventually, we released the lamb on a higher section of the bluff behind the River House where it returned safely to its mother. As mother and child were reunited, I was reminded of a verse from the Prophet Isaiah, who wrote, "All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way" (53:6).

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