James Rebanks describes a touching element during a class visit to his farm, where one little boy finds solace in simply gathering some eggs or watching the dogs work with the sheep. 

One day a class came from a distant town, and we were told that one little boy was having a rough time at home.  He could barely speak, was as grey as concrete and flinched each time an adult moved near him.  At lunchtime, his teacher and I took him to collect the eggs from the waist-high little mobile hen hut that stands on the grass by the barn.  We spoke gently about the hens clucking around the yard, and how they come back to the nest boxes to lay their eggs in the hay.  He reached in and lifted out the warm eggs, and his face glowed for a second with the simple joy of it.  As the day went on, he seemed to get the colour back in his cheeks and find his voice and a little more confidence.  He loved seeing the sheepdogs work our sheep.  And when he said goodbye, he smiled to us as if he really meant it.  His teacher said he had had an amazing day, his best for a long time.  When he left, I cried with frustration and sadness. 

Who knows what the boy had experienced to flinch when adults came close, and who knows where or how he is now.  One can only hope he found refuge from a clearly harsh environment and will find a kinder, gentler future.

Rebanks’ English Pastoral is a slim and quietly impassioned account of his family’s involvement in the transformation of farming from its age-old practice to a full on globalised industry with a number of doubtful outcomes, followed by an endeavour to move forward (not backward) to a more sustainable approach to farming.  It’s a succinct overview of the complexities of making that transition.  See our tribute to Rebanks’ earlier book, which touches on similar issues, A Shepherd’s Life.   

Source: James Rebanks, English Pastoral: An inheritance (London: Penguin, 2021), pp. 244-45

Photo credit: Pexels at pixabay

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