Updated: Mar 25, 2021
A couple of weeks ago, I happened upon a shepherd leading his flock through the fields behind the houses on my path. The massive copper bells worn by many of the animals chimed and clanked, announcing their arrival.
At the end of those fields, the sheep turned onto another road, jingling along happily. That is until they saw me—dead stop. The shepherd came around the corner behind them, shouting something to get them going. I retreated quickly lest the angry words came my way.
The flock started up again, so I tentatively stepped onto the edge of their path, filming their arrival. They lumbered along just fine for several seconds until one of the leaders saw me. With a waggle of his ears, he ceased movement, as did the rest of the troop, instantly. Surprised that I caused that much alarm, I darted back around the corner.
Once I was out of sight, the bells started up again. With their eyes on the next field, they finally stopped worrying about me and passed on by.
For centuries, at least back to medieval times, la transhumance, the seasonal moving of sheep from higher to lower pastures, has been a significant part of the culture of the Cévennes. The animals are typically moved to the highlands as summer arrives to enjoy fresh grasses and back to lower ground for winter. Colorfully adorned with traditional pompons, some now cheekily call this sheep parade “fashion week.” Many villages hold festivals to celebrate the occasion.
More than once, driving along, I've found myself surrounded by a huge herd of sheep on their journey. You just have to laugh and wait (and try to get photos, so far unsuccessfully!)
The second time this happened, I was driving home around 2 am with a friend from an evening of ministry in Montpellier. The country roads were dark; we were fighting fatigue, and out of the mist comes sheep after sheep after sheep. So many sheep. We couldn’t believe our (tired) eyes; it was the definition of surreal. I finally took an alternate route home.
The sheep I keep running into here in St. Hippolyte du Fort reside in a bergerie–a lovely stone sheepfold–on the edge of town. I’m guessing the shepherd, and his trusty sheepdog, lead them to the pastures closer to me for the first tastes of spring.
Speaking of that sheepdog…oh my goodness. One unintelligible shout from the shepherd, and that dog races down and around the sheep. He corrals in those who’ve strayed too close to the road, oblivious as they voraciously munch away. Last weekend, I was apparently also of concern as the sheepdog ran around me as well while I stood watching from the street. The shepherd yelled something (at the dog, I hope), and we all took off–dog and sheep back towards the bergerie while I hurried down the road.
Our local shepherd also possibly moves his sheep to facilitate birth. Many of them are obviously pregnant (with lamb? what’s the terminology here?) As they passed by, bellies swaying and bulging, it was pretty clear their time was near.
One day as I passed by, the flock was already in the fields near my home, nibbling away. Quite far away were a couple more sheep. I wondered why they were on their own, seemingly ostracized.
To my delight, the reason became evident as I drew near: the baby lamb had just been born. Wobbly and wet, the newborn struggled to stand while Mama sheep licked and nuzzled. I hid behind a tree as both shepherd and sheepdog kept a watchful eye on me across the field. Even the new mama glanced my way several times. I didn’t stay long.
A few years ago, I walked with a friend down the same path, next to the large field. Again at a distance from the rest of the flock stood a mama sheep and two little lambs. Apparently, twins are not uncommon among sheep. There were signs they’d just been born–such a blessing to witness the first moments of life.
The well-known and loved 23rd Psalm describes Jesus as our good shepherd–who never yells in anger–who provides all we need. Protecting us. Deep breath. This truth and the life available here bring profound rest and peace.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.”
(Psalm 23:1-3; NLT)
True life is beautiful…
La vie est belle!