Circular Sheep

The world is a wide, weird, and (literally) wonderful place. Sometimes odd things happen that defy easy explanation: things like hundreds of sheep walking clockwise, for days, in a perfect circle on a farm in Inner Mongolia in northern China. The remarkably creepy sheepy behavior was captured on a surveillance video and is so strange it has been covered by news outlets across the world. You can watch some bizarre, ghostly footage of the circular marching sheep on the New York Post website.

The rotating sheep are in one of 34 different sheep pens on the Chinese farm. According to the farm’s owner, Ms. Miao, a few days ago a few of the sheep in one particular pen started walking in a circle, then the whole pen joined in. To make the whole story even weirder, the pen where the eerie marching sheep are found is pen number 13–and none of the other sheep on the farm are exhibiting the same curious behavior.

So what’s the cause of the sheep in pen number 13 marching around like strikers on a farmland picket line? No one knows for sure. A British agriculture professor speculates that the synchronized sheep began marching because of frustration at being stuck in a pen, and that once one a few sheep started with the marching the rest of the sheep just played follow the leader, as sheep typically do. But if that is the impulse and cause, why has the behavior occurred only in pen number 13–and why have the sheep marched continuously for days in a perfect circle, using only part of their pen?

It’s the kind of mysterious conduct that leads people to indulge in conspiracy theories and fantastic explanations, like witchcraft or the sheep responding to the call of aliens who have grown tired of making crop circles and decided to make sheep circles instead. As for me, I’m just grateful to the sheep for showing, again, that the world is a pretty interesting place.

Cold As A Witch’s . . .

As we stepped outside into the frigid air this morning — the temperature was in the low teens — I thought:  “It’s as cold as a witch’s [body part].”  And then I wondered, why do we use that colorful phrase?

According to Wikipedia and some other sources, a “witch’s teat” or “witch’s mark” was supposedly a mark left on witches by the devil.  And since witches are presumed to be mean, soulless creatures, they would presumably be cold, or indifferent.

I don’t buy that explanation for the phrase.  I doubt most people associate witches with cold (or indifference, for that matter).  After all, the best known witch in modern American culture, the Wicked Witch of the West, first appeared in the Munchkin Land in a pillar of flame, and she was able to threaten the Scarecrow by hurling fireballs.  These are not powers you would expect to be possessed by some icy person.  It would be as if Iceman from the X-Men traded powers with the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four.  That simply doesn’t happen.  You’re either hot or cold, and the Wicked Witch of the West was definitely hot.  (Speaking only of her temperature, of course.)  Indeed, Dorothy killed her by throwing water on her, like she was dousing a fire.  That wouldn’t work on a block of ice.

And, even if witches were generally cold, why refer specifically to that particular body part?  When I am cold, it is the extremities, like feet, hands, and nose, that feel the coldest, not the torso.  Why not give witches a break and use the phrase “cold as a witch’s nose,” instead?  Given the size of the honker on the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s a safe bet that the tip of her proboscis got very cold on a bitter day.