His grandfather called things by their Norse names: ‘mowdies’ (moles),
‘mel’ (posthammer). He screams at his dog, swears at his son, curses rain,
forms, hikers, pen pushers. In winter he pours over flock books. The Scar
holds summer snow. Selling the perfect Herdwick (how white its ears
were!), he misses it like a Rembrandt, gone from his living room wall.
1st – The Satanic Shepherd
A fiery voice inspired him, guarding his sheep while he lifted, with ease,
the huge foundation stone. His coffin, tumbled downstream from the
derelict brothel on the broken bridge, was beached and opened, eighty
years after interment. Inside was a wolf’s skeleton, skull grinning.
2nd – The Shepherd’s Son
Late lambing can take place in the pasture. The boy learns to gambol and
to flint a fire. His father may be Theocritus in fancy dress. A lamb with a
black patch on one leg, athletic shadow self, will one day carry his flag of
faith and victory at the games, to the gods’ deafening uproar of acclaim.
3rd – The Shepherd as Hamlet
Sheep skulls are empirical, though their fine zigzag cracks are the ultimate
delicacy, unimaginable, and cranial sump holes yearn for vessels like fields
for stone walls. In fern drifts a skull might be stumbled upon by a ghostblasted,
raven-harried agriculture student far beyond the battlements.
4th – The Emigrant Shepherd
Perfect ease is out of the question, as in any country. But you get the land
for nothing. The sheep, in a genial climate, are touched by neither fly nor
foot-rot. Vile bushrangers can be softened with a bribe. Any ne’er-dowell
should make a decent fist of being a shepherd in Van Diemen’s Land.
5th – The Shepherd on the Eve of Insurrection
He sits on a crag in his broad-brimmed hat, lifting his eyes to the golden
city, then back to his book, on loan under the scheme that’s teaching him
literacy. It seems to be a call to arms, though it’s hard to be sure. If so,
this book will be his weapon, not those rope-handled shearing blades.
6th – The Work Experience Shepherd
Now he knows what the crook is for: catching by the neck the ewes that
need help with birthing. His job is pin them to the barn floor while the
expert, this time, pushes the head back up the birth canal, first looping a
cord around the one foot sticking out: normally it’s both, of course.
All six – The Available Shepherd
The Internet drives tradition into its fold. Shepherding never sounded so
alluring, nor so precarious, as in this 360-degree tour of an examined life.
The water that runs through his hands is for sharing; the sheep that run
over these hills are for shearing. In summer he’s a paddle steamer pilot.