The Shepherd's Words
As a ten- ,eleven- and twelve-year-old reader, I was obsessed with James Herriot. I read and reread and reread again every one of his humorous and ultimately reassuring tales of life as a large animal vet in Yorkshire in the 1940s and 50s. While Herriot's character descriptions -- both human and animal -- are the element of craft for which he's best known, I always found equal satisfaction in his descriptions of the Yorkshire dales.
I thought of my youthful obsession with Herriot the whole time I was readingThe Shepherd's Life, by English writer (and shepherd) James Rebanks. (Rebanks' wife is even named Helen, as Herriot's is!) Rebanks' descriptions of the Lake District land his family has farmed for generations are evocative and beautiful, and his account of building, through keen judgment and careful breeding, a flock of Herdwick sheep to graze the timeless hills of his native soil is touching and inspiring. But Rebanks provides an emotional honesty about the farming life, a measure of darkness that sometimes gets lost in Herriot's neatly concluded vignettes.
Here's an excerpt from The Shepherd's Life: "We farm in a valley called Matterdale, between the first two rounded fells that emerge on your left as you travel west on the main road from Penrith. From the summit of the fell behind our house you can see north across the silver glimmering of the distant Solway Estuary to Scotland . . . It is, above all, a peopled landscape. Every acre of it has been defined by the actions of men and women over the past ten thousand years."