Life of a Shepherd

The last 2 days of my yoalin experience have been something that I will never forget. I spent 2 nights in one of the most amazing national parks in which I have ever been, le Mercantour (south-east of France). I planned to sleep in a bivouac my second night. Unfortunately it was occupied. Two young shepherds were there with their flock for the summer period. They were checking from the little house 1.200 sheep that were browsing in the valley in front of the Bivouac all day long. Apparently no place to sleep in the bivouac, I had a tent with me but in the night the weather would have been cold, so what to do?
Sébastien and Jeremy are two young shepherds from Marseille (even if Jeremy was born in Portugal). The sky was cloudy and there were some thunders above the valley. Jemy, looking at my tent, asked if I would stop there, showing me the upper floor of the bivouac. In less than one minute I was inside, I wanted to know that guy who seemed to be so similar to myself.
Jemy said that he and his shepherd dog (Mousse) were going in the other side of the valley to check the flock with the binocular. I joined him. After a short while the sky got dark and rain started picking up, so we came back in the bivouac, where Sébastien was waiting for us.
Back in the bivouac I had a full training about the job of shepherd in high mountain. You always have to think about the sheep: unfortunately the are not so smart and many times they can put themselves in troubles! They can try to climb a mountain ridge, they can move rocks near trails with people walking, they can try to run up to steep slopes. You have to listen to the sheep: if they are bleating loud a wolf could be nearby. Sometimes could happen that a big flock try to split: so you have to run after after the group of sheep that don’t stay with the bigger group together with your shepherd dog. This could be a very hard and dangerous job and some months ago Mousse (the shepherd dog of Jeremy) lost one eye running after a sheep that entered a forest! This is a sad story indeed, but, even with only one eye, the dog is still the boss of all animals up there!
After some stories about weird sheep behaviors, I went with Sebastien to put salt on some of the rocks that were around the bivouac. Sheep like salt and it is a good way to help their stomach to digest. A shepherd should be like a doctor for the sheep: he has to check if they are healthy and if they are feeling good. Every 2/3 days all the flock has to come back near the bivouac where Jeremy is going to check the sheep and take care of those that are sick or injured. A shepherd love his flock!
I understood that the job of the shepherd is quite complex and you should have some years of experience before going alone in the mountain with the flock. The guys told that sometimes they are missing the city, friends and family but also they are happy because they like their job and they just stay 3 months in the alpine area, then the come back in the area near the city. They also had several visits from friends and relatives in the weeks spent in the mountains.
In the end, we spent the night toghether, eating and talking about everything. I shared some italian recipes and they shared their food. They offered some Pastis, I offered two eggs cooked the day before. I learnt that “copain”, a french word that means friend, is used when the bread is shared. I learnt that nobody want to feel alone. The day after we went together in the village and Jemy left me at the train station. See you in Marseille!
Emanuele Rossello