The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape Cover

James Rebanks lets us feel the contours of an old way of life, tending Herdwick sheep in the Lake District of Northern England.  An inherited life, closed to all but those in the family line, Rebanks tells of how he lives it along with other families working together with their flocks through long established seasonal patterns of lambing, grazing, movement and marketing. Gawking tourists, rural vacationers and romantic poets take a drubbing from the author in his smoothly written memoir.

Rebanks writes of values inherited from his grandfather and their shepherding life:

We don’t give up, even when things are bad.
We pay our debts.
We work hard.
We act decently.
We help our neighbors if they need it.
We do what we say we will do.
We don’t want too much attention.
We look after our own.
We are proud of what we do.
We try to be quietly smart.
We take chances sometimes to get on.
We will fail sometimes.
We will be affected by the wider world…
But we hold on to who we are.

I sometimes think we are so independently minded because we had seen just enough of the wider world to know we liked our old ways and independence best. p. 61

Shepherds hate other people’s dogs near their sheep. Whilst our sheepdogs are our proudest and most loved servants, other people’s dogs pose nothing but a threat to all our work… p. 132

Snow. Shepherds fear and loathe deep snow and drifting winds. Snow kills. It buries sheep. It buries the grass and makes the sheep even more dependent on us for survival. p. 190

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