One morning listening to the Diane Rehm radio interview show on NPR, I heard a man from northern England, James Rebanks, talk about his life working sheep in a sheep herding family of some centuries in the same location, the county Cumbria, bordering Scotland. He had written a book, The Shepherd's Life, recently published. He caught my attention for being from the northern part of England, where my namesake ancestors lived at Morley, Cheshire county, one county between Cumbria and Cheshire. The Worthington coat of arms has three pitchforks, I love it, known for cattle farmers. I don't know what kind of work my ancestor did who left for the new world, only that he was exiled for being a Quaker, went to Dublin, Ireland, a few years and on to the Quaker Pennsylvania colony, crossing in the month of August, 1714. He was 51. His kids ranged from 30 down to childhood. Nearly all of them died and his wife died fifteen years later. He remarried, started a new round of kids, applied for and received a 3,000 acre land grant in Orange County, Virginia, 1734. He built a new house and died a year later, the age I am now. He surely was a tough old knot. If wisdom comes through suffering, he died a wise man, and likely believed himself a fool. A Quaker bonded to the faith by the trials of his exile.
I listened closely to James Rebanks talk about his part of the world, best known as the Lake Country of Wordsworth. I wanted to know about the landscape, how the people live. He said his emphasis in the writing is on how the people have lived there for multiple generations. He chose to work the family farm instead of going to the city for a job that pays. I wondered how it was he spoke like somebody with a better command of the language than a farmer. He went to Oxford. And chose to stay at home and work with the sheep. Reminds me of a fourth cousin who lives at Ninemile, Tennessee, went to Vanderbilt, came home and worked as a butcher. And there is I, who went to College of Charleston and then to the mountains to work a farm. I felt appreciation for where Redbanks was coming from, I understood him and he was giving me descriptions of the region of England I was curious to learn about. I made a note of his name and the book's title. Going by awareness of how each county in the mountains has its own personality in the people, I imagine it would be even more pronounced in a place that goes back to Neolithic. I'm guessing the culture would be about the same but for personality differences from county to county, like kids in a large family.
I put the title on the wish list at amazon for next book order. Ordered it with the Philip Glass memoir, which had to be read first. This morning I opened The Shepherd's Life and read the first two pages. The writing pulls me into it by its own beauty. I can tell already I'll enjoy every page of his book. I see that he is going to tell me what I want to know about the region, the way of life, the history, what the people are like, the customs, beliefs. Maybe I'll learn why Quakers were run out. I can feel it that his is one of those books I hold dear, like Laurens van der Post's, Lost World of the Kalahari, Paul Zweig's, Three Journeys, Julio Cortazar's collection of stories, All Fires The Fire, just to name the first ones to come to mind. The memory these titles trigger feels good like the memory of a dog that died thirty years ago. Reading the writing of Patrick White of Australia, I am in direct touch with his mind, his thinking. This is someone across the earth I could never have known, but would like to have in my circle of friends, someone to know. But I don't need to know him in person to know him directly in his mind composing a story and characters. I don't need to know him to know the most interesting thing there is to know about him, his beautiful writing.
Over a period of around ten years I read new fiction coming out of mainland China, read some good writers, read some biographies and histories, became familiar with how the Chinese people have lived through the 20th Century of their history, saw a long list of Chinese films for visuals and well told stories. Liking to read subtitles gives access to films from everyplace on earth. Had I chosen a life of not reading, I'd have missed Lawrence Durrell's, Alexandria Quartet, Naguib Mahfouz's, Cairo Trilogy, Chekhov, Turgenev, 20th Century American poetry. These are first ones to pop up. Reading is the greatest enjoyment of my life and a good source for learning whatever I want to learn about. Like when I wanted to know about China's history, I found a good, one volume history at amazon. I don't know what to feel about people who don't read. I know a world of entertainment that voids television by being so much more interesting. I have had times in the past when I felt a degree of sadness for them, but realized they don't want to and have their own curiosities and experiences that are at least equally valid. So I don't feel anything like sorrow about non-readers anymore. It's a matter of one's own choice.
robert therrien himself