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Posts Tagged ‘Les Landes’

They say an image is worth a thousand words. This one, drawn in 1855, made me pause. It’s from Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle by Matthew Forrester.

French shepherd sitting on raised stool and stilts. Book illustration, pen drawing. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the accompanying text (p. 65-67):

The Shepherds of Les Bas Landes.

In the south-western part of France, bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by the Pyrenees, a chain of high mountains separating France from Spain, there is a large barren tract of land, that, from the number of its heaths, has conferred the title of Les Landes on the department to which it belongs. Being generally a level plain, intermixed with shrubs and swamps, it is naturally described as being the most desolate and dreary portion of France. A few spots, like the oases of the African deserts, are to be found at long intervals of space, and here only can rye be grown, the rest being a dreary waste, dotted with heath, firs, or cork trees.

The climate is very unhealthy, the heat in summer being scorching, and in winter the marshes are enveloped in dense fogs. From the « level nature of the land, and from the fact that a considerable portion of it is under water, the shepherds have recourse to stilts, and the dexterity which is manifested in their management has often elicited wonder and admiration from the passing traveller, who rarely meets with many traces of civilization. You will see a picture of one of these shepherds on the preceding page. There he sits from morning till night, knitting away, and watching his flock.

The shepherds in these parts are very careful of their flocks, whose docility is remarkable. Not less so is the good understanding between the sheep and the dogs. The celerity with which the shepherds draw their flocks around them is not more astonishing than the process by which they effect it is simple and beautiful. If they are at no great distance from him, he gives a peculiar whistle, and they leave off feeding, and obey the call; if they are afar off and scattered, he utters a shrill cry, and instantly the flocks are seen leaping over the swamps, and scampering towards him. When they have mustered around him, the shepherd sets off on his return to the cabin, or resting place he has secured, and the flock follow behind, like so many well-trained hounds.

Their fine looking dogs, a couple of which are generally attached to each flock, have nobler duties to perform than that of chasing the animals together, and biting the legs of stragglers. To their protection is confided the flock from the predatory expeditions of wolves and bears, against whose approach they are continually on the watch, and to whom they at once offer battle. So well aware are the sheep of the fatherly care of these dogs, and that they themselves have nothing to fear from them, that they crowd around them as if they really sought their protection, and dogs and sheep may be seen resting together in perfect harmony. Thus habituated to scenes of such gentleness and magnanimity, the shepherds themselves are brave, generous, and humane, and though, as may be imagined, for the most part plunged in the deepest ignorance, are highly sensitive among themselves to the slightest dereliction from the strict paths of true morality.

Given this bucolic description, would the shepherd’s heart be torn asunder once his sheep were ripped from his protection and driven to market?

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