I often joke about chucking it all and moving to Montana to herd sheep. I don’t mean it of course; my little experience with said animals is wearing their fleece (I do like a good wool sweater) and eating their young. But I’ve a romantic ideal about the age-old trade – how its continuation allows us to stay in touch with our collective history, if but vicariously. Modernization has in some ways led to life as simulacrum rather than as physically connected to the world. That’s one of the things I (as someone who doesn’t do it for a living) likes about hand tools – to me, they offer a deeper connection to the wood and to a long history of makers. I feel as if in some small way I’ve a physical connection to an important past, and in helping to keep it alive today. (Plus, flattening a board a day keeps the arm wattles at bay…at least for now.)
If you’ve read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz, you know that for him, a connected (he calls it “ethical”) life centers around woodworking, tools and making things — and buying things from other makers and family businesses (butchers, bakers, clothiers) instead of corporations. And you know that while the book is ostensibly about making a chest (it’s a great chest) and acquiring a good set of tools to fill it (excellent list), those are secondary to the central philosophy therein: “Though woodworking might seem a traditional, old-time skill, it is rare and radical stuff in this age.” It’s one of my favorite books (even if I oftentimes take the prologue’s title, “Disobey Me,” to heart).
And to that list – and for many of the same reasons – I now add James Rebanks’ “The Shepherd’s Life” (Flatiron). It’s a book ostensibly about just what the title says, but the central conceit is to champion a way of life in England’s Lake District that’s been virtually unchanged for centuries – a way of life that while always hard, is more challenging to sustain in the face of modernization. “We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true,” writes Rebanks.
It feels a like lot anarchy by Chris’ definition, but with (a little) more lanolin.
Now I want to move to the Lake District and herd sheep; I’ll just need to pack a few sweaters and my ATC.
Follow James Rebanks on twitter @herdyshepherd1 to see his gorgeous photos (all shot with an iPhone) of the Lake District, sheep and his dogs. And read his book. Don’t disobey me; you’ll be glad you didn’t.