Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

Though clearly written by someone who is not a 'writer', The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (2015) by James Rebanks was a compelling book about a lifestyle that hasn't changed much in centuries.

The book was filled with details and observations about the life of a shepherd in northern England -- a lifestyle pretty far removed from my own, and I would guess most modern readers' -- and peppered with beautiful turns-of-phrase and witticisms. It was well worth reading despite its' flaws, mostly in structure. I was especially surprised that the editor didn't do more to make sure the book flowed in a way that made sense; it really jumped back and forth a lot, bringing up points then dropping them, going from the past to present and vice versa without much (or any) transition. The style was much more of a stream of consciousness memoir than a clearly organized autobiography.

But the book really did a great job of capturing the tone and feeling of what it means (at least to the author) to be a shepherd, to live and farm on the same land (or at least in the general area) as his father and his father before him, going back for generations.

Also, knowing a bit about Beatrix Potter, it was nice to connect what I know about her and her experiences farming in the Lake District and preserving the traditions there to this story, and in fact James refers several times to Potter and how effective her efforts were, which was a very interesting aside that I greatly appreciated.

The story felt very true, real, and personal, and perhaps it was as much because of the style as despite it. Either way, well worth a read for any Anglophile and/or anyone interested in food and farming, and the rural way of life.

"My job is simple: get around the fields and feed and shepherd the different flocks of ewes -- dealing with any issues that arise. First rule of shepherding: it's not about you, it's about the sheep and the land. Second rule: you can't win sometimes. Third rule: shut up, and go and do the work."

"Autumn comes quickly here. The life bleaches out of the leaves and grass with each passing day. A landscape of green turns brown. The heather on the fells turns until it is the russet of a kestrel's wing." 

Keep reading! Beth

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