National Geographic : 1959 Apr
Shepherd, Inspectors, and Dogs Drive the Flock Home from High Country Celestin, who has herded the animals alone all during the summer, walks at left. His com panions are syndics, village officials chosen annually to oversee the care of sheep. Celes tin's black mongrel brings up the rear. permanent shepherd, under whose watchful eye the sheep would browse in lush Alpine meadows until forced down by October snows. Wearing a canvas hat and a loosely fitting work suit of rough blue cloth, he darted here and there among the gathering flock, one moment returning a jest, the next scolding one of his dogs and sending it after a stray ing sheep. Most people in Saint Veran take the moun tains for granted, but not the veteran Celestin, who lives unsheltered and alone for weeks on end among their high crags. Trying to describe a night of rain and thunder on the mountains, he would wiggle his fingers and hunch his shoulders and lower his head as if to keep dry. "Mon Dieu! You sit there getting soaked, and it's impossible to see. You wonder if light ning has struck your herd or maybe scared it over a cliff somewhere," said Celestin. But when his sheep were grazing peacefully on sunny days, he had nothing to do but sit and feel the silence as clouds played their shadows on snowy peaks. Short Hay Season; Long Eating Season A day or so after Celestin left with his flocks, the village awoke at dawn to the noisy arrival of 1,000 sheep from Provence. For two hours the streets were choked with bleat ing ewes, eager to reach fresh grass after their 200-mile journey. This was the 46th summer that old Charles, a Franco-Italian shepherd, had brought his sheep to the mountains from the lower Rhone Valley.* Haying is the single most important and time-consuming activity of Saint Veran. In two months enough hay must be cut to stable feed cows over the winter. This is a job for the whole family. Men wield scythes, women rake, and their children help where they can. Awakened one morning by a sleepless rooster, Isawmenatworkinthefrostat4a.m. The dried hay is raked onto rope nets and tied in enormous 200-pound bundles. For days the meadows are dotted with these trousses, swaying down to the village on the backs of mules. Carts are all but useless in the up-and-down fields. 582 I came upon Jean Baptiste one morning as he felled the ripe hay with long, even strokes of his scythe. "Would you mind if I took your picture?" I asked hesitatingly, remembering earlier, un fortunate photographic efforts. "Not at all. Why should I?" he grinned reassuringly. "Well," I replied, "there are those who don't like it." * See "Sheep Trek in the French Alps," by Maurice Moyal, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April, 1952.