James Rebanks began tweeting anonymously a couple of years ago (as the “Herdwick Shepherd”) about day-to-day life in the land of Wordsworth, thinking that maybe a couple of people might be interested in seeing a sheep-filled photo or two of what he does and where he does it. He was wrong.
Today, 67,900-plus curious followers from all over the world are watching the seasons unfold with him, his strikingly handsome sheep and his tireless border collies in Britain’s Lake District, that brilliant green corner of the world that time (but not tourists) forgot.
Rebanks’ accounting of his world, “The Shepherd’s Life,” unfolds as a seasonal diary/memoir as he guides us through the cycle of a typical shepherding year while also reflecting on the tough and honorable nature of his people, those who have lived and worked in the appropriately named Eden Valley for the past 600 years and beyond.
The book is a bit romantic (come on, there are sheep) and a lot realistic, with what one reviewer aptly called “mud and blood.”
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It’s the sort of book that sweetly takes you to a place you have a hard time letting go of. There you are, sitting in front of a computer at work doing the bidding of the modern world, when suddenly your imagination conjures before you the head of a gorgeous Herdwick sheep snacking on long, swaying grasses.
What’s most moving about “The Shepherd’s Life” is the admiration you feel for his self-knowledge, his reverence for the animals and his heritage, his absolute surety of his place in the world and his generosity in sharing it.
While reading this gorgeous book or when checking in on @herdyshepherd1, we’ve all got a little bit of Herdwick Shepherd in us, and we’re cheering him on.
The Shepherd’s Life
Flatiron Books, 288 pages