Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shepherds on Stilts






Early 20th century shepherds from the Landes/Gascony region of southeastern France used to tend their flocks from stilts so they could see the sheep better and, allegedly, to move faster over flat pastures.

Question: If this was really done, and was a good idea, how come it is not still being done, and how come it has not been generalized to sheep country all over the world?  How does one get up and down from stilts, and what happens when you break your leg when you are out alone? What prevents the feet of your stilts from sticking in the ground?  Why are the shepherds knitting?

5 comments:

geonni banner said...

"If this was really done, and was a good idea, how come it is not still being done, and how come it has not been generalized to sheep country all over the world? How does one get up and down from stilts, and what happens when you break your leg when you are out alone? What prevents the feet of your stilts from sticking in the ground? Why are the shepherds knitting?"

I suspect an ancestor of yours had a similar sense of humor to yours and spread the tale on whatever passed for a blog at the time. (Scarlet Point Terrier indeed!) ;)

TEC said...

I have grazed sheep on unfenced terrain over long periods for weeks at a time, so will take a run at these questions. Several of the paintings/drawing/carvings portray low lying land with marsh-like features, such as standing water and small watercourses having what looks to be water-loving vegetation. Wikipedia, under "Landes Forest", confirms the wet nature of this pine forest near the sea, and in fact mentions stilts shepherds of the locale used to keep their feet dry. Traditional pastoralism (read, sheep herding) was abolished in the mid 1800's, and reforestation has been initiated, ending common land shepherding. Wet feet (whether from heavy morning dew, marshes, or small streams, etc) is a bane of shepherds, which high quality well fitting rubber boots and an extra pair of wool socks have largely alleviated. A content flock grazing on green grasses leaves little for a shepherd to occupy him/herself (other than keeping an eye for predators). Small rolls in vegetation-covered terrain can obscure sheep and dog quite easily, so I can appreciate the tall vantage point, which allows shepherd to manage a more widely spread flock. I would imagine that utilizing graze time for knitting was for their own needs (socks,scarfs,sweaters), or for an extra franc or two at the local farmers market/craft show. Several of the illustrations show a group of shepherds likely living in what would be called a sheep-camp in the West. I do not know, but they no doubt assisted one another get onto the stilts, or had a favorite tree branch for assistance. The marshy soil of that particular region must have been such that stilts did not sink deeply, and they were able to move about relatively freely..that is a good question. Injuries? Stilts were and still may be common to tend tall vine-like plants in the hops growing industry. I like to think that an athletic person became proficient/confident, and happy to trade dry feet and ease of movement for slight risk of injury. The illustrations show relaxed people atop the stilts. The above is sprinkled with "likely" and "no doubt", but based and/or extrapolated from my experiences. I look forward to hear other answers to Paul's questions. Tending sheep is something more should try. It is settling to the spirit. You become more integrated with the environment, e.g. clouds, weather, sounds, feels, insects/animals, vegetation -- all the senses and surroundings become more intense. -- TEC

Susan said...

Fascinating thoughts, TEC. I'd never seen such pictures. Thank you for the post Terrierman.

Susan said...

And now that you've piqued my interest, here is some more info on stilt walkers in France: http://www.illustratedpast.com/people/Stilt-Walkers/index.html

Mary Pang said...

Knitters are calm, patient and good at math.
I think fisherman used to knit as well.