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The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (2015)

by James Rebanks

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8773121,455 (4.01)75
Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.These modern dispatches from an ancient landscape tell the story of a deep-rooted attachment to place, describing a way of life that is little noticed and yet has profoundly shaped this landscape. In evocative and lucid prose, James Rebanks takes us through a shepherd's year, offering a unique account of rural life and a fundamental connection with the land that most of us have lost. It is a story of working lives, the people around him, his childhood, his parents and grandparents, a people who exist and endure even as the world changes around them. Many stories are of people working desperately hard to leave a place. This is the story of someone trying desperately hard to stay.… (more)
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English (30)  Dutch (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
I loved this book. Every time I picked it up to read, I realized I was happy and excited to continue with it. The subject matter is close to my heart. There were plenty of things and ideas that resonated with me as I have lived my life taking care of livestock albeit on a much smaller level. For example I have to continually defend my dislike of winter snow and over abundance of unseasonal rain to my non farm type friends. Here I could say ' yes! Exactly.' The book itself is very well written. I felt like I could see the landscape described and could envision each scene as the author described it.

The story encompassed much more than a story about sheep. There was a lot about family and history and the importance of tradition. I recommend this book! ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
I loved this book. Every time I picked it up to read, I realized I was happy and excited to continue with it. The subject matter is close to my heart. There were plenty of things and ideas that resonated with me as I have lived my life taking care of livestock albeit on a much smaller level. For example I have to continually defend my dislike of winter snow and over abundance of unseasonal rain to my non farm type friends. Here I could say ' yes! Exactly.' The book itself is very well written. I felt like I could see the landscape described and could envision each scene as the author described it.

The story encompassed much more than a story about sheep. There was a lot about family and history and the importance of tradition. I recommend this book! ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
I picked up this memoir the second time I saw it in Bent Books (Brisbane) and glad that I did, notwithstanding the reviews I have read since are very mixed.

Rebanks tells of his life as a shepherd in England's Lake District. This is not a memoir of a long ago time but rather of the current time and recent past, with Rebanks starting with his final years of schooling in the late 1980/ early 90s (ok, it may be 30-35 years ago, but in the bigger picture, it is more or less contemporary).

Rebanks describes the book as

'partly an explanation of our work [on our sheep farm in the Lakes District in England] through the course of the year, party a memoir of growing up ....and the people
around me at the time, like my father and grandfather: and partly a retelling of the history of the Lake District - from the perspective of the people who live there, and
have done for hundreds of years.

It is the story of a family and a farm, but it is also tells a wider story about the people who get forgotten in the modern world. It is about how we need to open our eyes
and see the forgotten people who live in our midst, whose lives are often deeply traditional and rooted in the distant past. If we want to understand the people in the
foothills of Afghanistan , we may need to try and understand the people in the foothills of England first.'

Rebanks contends that until 1750 or so, little attention was given to the Lakes District by any outsiders, but over the century, increasing focus was given to it by those who saw the Lakes District as a place of escape (in particular from the Industrial Revolution) , and an idealised landscape.

'For many people , it exists to walk over, to look at, to climb, or paint, or write about, or simply dream about. It is a place many aspire to visit or live in.'

Indeed Rebanks says that in 1810 Wordsworth proposed that the District should be 'a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.'

But as Rebanks says, the sheep farmers had, for many centuries before then, worked those lands, and were not for simply to be told to go away.

His time at school were not productive. Rebanks did not see the relevance of what he was being asked to consider/learn. But he later embraces further education (including Oxford) and the internet. Indeed, whilst still having his farm as the focus of his (and his family's life, including economically), he becomes a consultant to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris, where is work around the world s to assist in ensuring that tourism benefits host communities rather than subsuming them. As such Rebanks comes across as someone who is not simply striving to a 'nothing must change' stance, whilst at the same time, not rolling over and giving up what is important to him and his community.

The book, for me, was fascinating for 2 reasons:

- firstly, for a city dweller and at that, one who lives in sunny Queensland Australia, to learn of the workings of a sheep farm in the Lakes District, with its very different climate and expectations, including as how families, over many generations depend on each other and yet evolve; and how the community evolves and the issues that raises;
- secondly, as an illustration of the issues facing other examples around the world where different cultures, practices and lifestyles clash but seek to, a greater or lesser degree, accommodate both.

As to the later, the clear and very real example in Australia is the long standing interaction between our First Nations people (who are said to have been here for some 60,000 years) and those who came later (in the last 300 years or so).

Rebanks' almost primal scream for others to understand the history of his (and his predecessors) work and lives, but also calling on others to understand, how to co exist, and that it s not for one to subsume the other.

The comments of some reviewers who call Rebanks as being selfish or simply outdated, and someone who should just accept that his traditional way of life has been overtaken, and that he should just uncritically accept it, regrettably still reflects some commentary as to the Australian situation.

There are no easy answers, but intolerance and an unwillingness to listen and be generous in discussion is an absolute bare minimum.

Big Ship

7 June 2022 ( )
  bigship | May 29, 2022 |
Better than 3 stars, not quite a 4. ( )
  houghtonjr | Jan 1, 2022 |
The author accuses the city people who visit the peak district of searching for a fantasy experience without realising he is himself living a fantasy experience 24/7. His life is some sort of bizarre medieval reenactment society gone wrong, living in the past like it was a virtue in itself. The book itself has a very simple and tired old conceit of tying his biography to his regular day to day work which is a solid structure but the author finds it hard to stop himself from ranting in his wild tangents. I guess sheeperds life is nie stressful than I imagined. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
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Epigraph
Towards the head of these Dales was found a perfect Republic of Shepherds and Agriculturalists, among whom the plough of each man was confined to the maintenance of his own family, or to the occasional accommodation of his neighbour. Two or three cows furnished each family with milk and cheese. The chapel was the only edifice that presided over these dwellings, the supreme head of this pure Commonwealth; the members of which existed in the midst of a powerful empire, like an ideal society or an organized community, whose constitution had been imposed and regulated by the mountains which protected it. Neither high-born nobleman, knight, nor esquire was here; but many of these humble sons of the hills had a consciousness that the land, which they walked over and tilled, had for more than five hundred years been possessed by men of their name and blood... William Wordsworth, A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England (1810)
Dedication
Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather,
W.H. Rebanks,
and with respect to my father,
T.W. Rebanks
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I realized we were different, really different, on a rainy morning in 1987.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.These modern dispatches from an ancient landscape tell the story of a deep-rooted attachment to place, describing a way of life that is little noticed and yet has profoundly shaped this landscape. In evocative and lucid prose, James Rebanks takes us through a shepherd's year, offering a unique account of rural life and a fundamental connection with the land that most of us have lost. It is a story of working lives, the people around him, his childhood, his parents and grandparents, a people who exist and endure even as the world changes around them. Many stories are of people working desperately hard to leave a place. This is the story of someone trying desperately hard to stay.

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