The imagination is a powerful thing – it can bring video games to life as my son shows me daily. It can bring a person to tears, even though she knows that she is reading fiction. It can also make us concoct a dream world out of a place where reality, though more stark and mundane, is far superior.
I’m very glad to have had my Lake District dream world – full of Jane Austen characters and time-worn walking trails – completely debunked. This is thanks to James Rebanks whose memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, tells a more complete story. From his memoir I’ve learned that a young boy can detest school because it vies with the way of life he loves – and this does not make him inept or unambitious. I’ve learned that this same boy can go on to Oxford, can be capable of attaining the modern dream, and still return to the farm that is home. I’ve learned that the hills are called ‘fells’, that ‘winter is a bitch,’ and that selecting the best tup at auction is an art form.
But more importantly I’ve had the privilege of being reminded of an ancient lifestyle of hard work that far exceeds the cozy daydreams in my mind because of the honesty in Mr. Rebanks’ recounting. I’ve found myself waxing romantic and wishing that I could somehow return to such an existence. But that is hardly Mr. Rebanks’ point. Rather, it is to educate – to offer a better understanding to those of us who know little of the farming life and who want to wake from our daydreams. I’m very grateful to have learned, and I feel better off for it.