Friday, November 11, 2016

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

In a minute I will regale you with the story of the time I went sheep shopping, but first I want to tell you about the latest author to visit our library. Actually, there were two authors. There was James Rebanks whose book The Shepherd's Life examines his family's heritage as sheep farmers in England's Lake District. He was interviewed (or at least shared the stage with) Wendell Berry who, if not a national treasure, is definitely a Kentucky treasure.

Both men respect the land, honor community, and at the same time are fiercely independent. It was a pleasure to be in their company. 

Mr. Rebanks doesn't sugarcoat his role as farmer. His book follows the arc of the seasons: baling hay for winter's feed, moving sheep from mountain to valley, attending livestock auctions, shearing the herd, tending to wounds, birthing the lambs. 

It is relentless and grueling labor, but it is work that his family has done for generations. It is a life that he loves.

Sheep farmer and author James Rebanks.

Before attending the event I read about half of The Shepherd's Life. The book is broken down, not into chapters, but numbered dispatches that are part memoir, part history of the Lake District and his family's life there, and part instruction manual on How to Raise Sheep for Fun and Profit. 

OK, not so much Fun. And really, not so much Profit either.

I found him to be well-spoken, funny, and very sincere. I look forward to finishing his book. His voice is in my head.

And now for the sheep shopping story.

A friend of mine and her family live on what is known as a 'hobby farm.' She comes by that life naturally as she was raised on a dairy farm. Her children were all in 4-H. The farm was home to chickens, a couple of goats, and two sheep. 

The time came - this was a few years ago - to add two more sheep to the flock for a 4-H project. I got it into my head that I would go with them and buy a lamb for myself. I figured I could keep it on their farm, pay for its upkeep, and visit it now and again. 

So we all piled into their green Honda Pilot and headed to the nearby sheep farm to see what was on offer. 

I was immediately disabused of the notion of the fluffy lambs that populate children's books. We met the lambs in the barn and their woolly selves were matted with straw, thistles, and stuff that I won't mention. Not a pretty sight. 

Not so cuddly after all.

Since then, when I visit my friend's farm, I give a cheerful wave to the three sheep in the meadow (one of the original flock, Grayson, has since died) and I smile at the memory of that day and my rude awakening to the realities of sheep.

Mr. Rebanks has my full respect.


  1. I think many of us have romanticized ideas about farm life and farm animals, forgetting the sheer amount of labor that must be involved. (I see that with my one horse that I other words, I don't do the daily work of feeding and watering him, though I do shovel manure from time to time!) That doesn't stop me from enjoying books about farm life. Your description reminded me of the All Creatures Great and Small series.

    How lucky to see Wendell Berry! I just put a book of his poetry on hold at my library.

    1. Kathy, I can barely tend to a houseplant so I don't know what I was thinking about buying a sheep! I sometimes get carried away with an idea.

      Although Mr. Berry was only there to interview Mr. Rebanks, it was a pleasure to see him. They really seemed to enjoy each other's company and had spent the day together on Mr. Berry's farm.

  2. Thank you again for reminding me how much I enjoyed the McNally books, thereby sending me into the boxes of books in the garage and pulling out other Sanders books. I just finished The Anderson Tapes which was well written and completely different from any other book I've read. I finished part one of The Timothy Files and will take it up tomorrow. So glad you reminded me how much I enjoy Sanders writing.

    1. Hi, Patsy. Well, once I get through the Archy books I will try other offerings by Mr. Sanders. I love his use of vocabulary. Thank heavens for the Kindle's ability to offer definitions at the touch of a finger! Isn't it great to 'discover' an author we once loved?