The Shepherds Come Home.

Come on now, how can you actually think that I must be missing your Paris, so dull and so noisy? I am so much more at home here in my mill! The little place I had been looking for is so lovely, so full of scents and of warmth, a thousand leagues from the newspapers, from the horse–drawn cabs, from the fog.

And what about the charming things that surround me! It is barely eight days since I moved in and already I have a head chock full of impressions and of memories.

Now hear this! Not a whit later than last evening I was there as the drovers and their flocks returned to a farm just at the foot of the hill and I can tell that I would not exchange that show for all the first nights you have had in Paris this week. Now take a look at this.

You need to know that it is the custom in Provence when the weather gets warm to send the livestock up into the Alps. Man and beast spend five or six months up there living in the open air, with grass up to the waist. Then at the first chill of autumn they come back down to the farms to graze frugally on the coarse rosemary-scented grass of little hills. And so it was that yesterday evening the flocks came home. Since morning the main gate had been waiting, its two wings wide open. The sheep pens had been filled with fresh straw. Hour by hour people would say:

‘‘Now they are at Eyguières, now they are at Paradou.’’ Then, all of a sudden, as the evening was approaching there was a great shout:

‘‘There they are – there!’’ and down below in the distance we saw the flock moving forward in a halo of dust. The whole road seemed to be moving forward with them as they advanced.

Out in front were the veterans, the old rams, their horns pointing forward, looking quite fierce and untamed. Behind them followed the main flock of sheep – the mothers. They looked tired and weary, with their sucklings scampering around their feet. Then came the mules with red cockades on their heads. They were carrying the day‒old lambs in pannier baskets, rocking them as they walked along. Next came the dogs in a lather of sweat with their tongues hanging right down to the ground.

Last of all came the two tall rogues of shepherds wearing cloaks of red wool which came down as far as their heels like the copes sometimes worn by priests.

The entire procession, overjoyed, broke ranks before us and as they scrambled through the gateway the stamping of their feet sounded like the falling of raindrops.

You should have seen the excitement that spread through the whole place. From their lofty perch the big peacocks, all in green and gold and with webbed crests, recognised the newcomers and welcomed them with a great trumpeting fanfare. All of the inhabitants of the henhouse woke up with a sudden start.

Now they are all on their feet: the pigeons, the ducks, the turkey cocks, the guinea fowl. The entire poultry yard is like a madhouse; the chattering among the feathered folk looks set to go on all through the night!

It is said that in its fleece, along with a kind of wild Alpine perfume, each sheep brings back home some of that lively spirit of the mountains which makes one feel tipsy and in a mood to start dancing.

It was in the midst of all that train of events that the troop reached its billet.

I can imagine absolutely nothing whatever more enchanting than that homecoming.

The old males softened just a little as they saw their pens again. The lambs, the really tiny ones who had been born on route and had never seen the farm, looked around them in total amazement.

But still, the most delightful of all were the dogs, those wonderful sheepdogs, fully occupied with their charges and seeing only them in the farmyard.

The guard dog barked gently at them from the depths of his kennel; even the bucket at the well, full to the brim with fresh water, beckoned to them: but they had eyes for nothing, ears for nothing until the flock had been stalled in, the big latch on the little wicket gate had been closed and the shepherds had seated themselves at table in the back room.

Only then were they willing to enter their kennels, and once there, as they lapped their bowls of soup, they told their farm comrades the tale of what they had been doing high up in the mountains, a dark land where wolves prowled and where there were enormous purple foxgloves that wore a blush of some hue of rose right up to their edges.

From ‘Lettres de mon Moulin’ (‘Letters from my Mill’) by Alphonse Daudet (1840 – 1897).

Français / French

Translation: Barry Tobin.

This stunningly poetic short piece was written by one of the greatest prose writers of 19th century France.
My evening class holiday French is however sufficient for me to be moved ‘‘in the deep heart’s core’’ (W.B.Yeats) by this lovely account of a kind of ‘carnival of the animals’ as shepherds return from their summer-long sojourn in the high Alpine meadows of Provence with a troop of dogs, mules, sheep and lambs to spend the winter at their home farm.
This passage alone justifies the struggling efforts I have made to learn my smattering of French.

Another piece from the same book.

Le Français – la langue de la France / French – the language of France.

The Natural World

Europe and some of its languages.