Before we left for Italy we swung through Manhattan to see something surprising: a flock of sheep grazing within a fence in Bryant Park, on Avenue of the Americas behind the New York Public Library. It was an art installation of sorts, sponsored by British royalty, which also included a wool-wrapped marble fountain and tea-cozyish squares enveloping the back of the rickety park chairs. New Yorkers, not dumbstruck by any phenomenon, shook their heads and went back to their bag lunches. I was happy to see sheep in midtown, leaning against each other and walking aimlessly around, as they would have 300 or so years ago.
It also reminded me of the time I was researching the colonial at the Historic Hudson Valley library in Sleepy Hollow, New York, which happened to abut the restored Philipse house/farm complex. Emerging from the dusty archives on an early spring day I would look out the kitchen window and see the new lambs kicking up their heels, bleating, their still-long tails dangling. It was another conjoining of books and sheep (like the sheep out back of the NYPL) – perhaps a pairing preordained somehow by nature?
The question naturally arises of how the flock got to midtown. Were they English sheep? Had they crossed the Atlantic? Or had they made their way in to Manhattan by way of the Midtown Tunnel like the circus animals traditionally do on their way to Madison Square Garden?
The question we had looking at the scene in Bryant Park was, who were the real sheep on the scene?