Friday, September 28, 2012

The Music of the Mountains

As Edith and I stood along the road watching the various animals grazing peacefully in the huge valley, we noticed that one large flock of sheep seemed to moving with purpose down the valley. Then we spotted a large white Pyrenees sheep dog among them who was apparently directing the show. Soon we were joined by two trucks, one of which brought the real director to our pull-out. The herdsman couldn't have been more 'French shepherd' in his black beret, woolen sweater and calf-high leather boots with little tassels. As we watched in amazement, he began whistling 'commands' to both sheep and sheep dog. They immediately obeyed, lining up single file and moving more rapidly. We struck up a conversation in my pitiful French. He was very gracious and actually understood what I was asking. Yes, they were his sheep and his dog. And yes, those tiny white spots 'way up on the mountain top were his also...about 250 sheep in that flock. They, too, must have heard the whistles as they lined up and began moving down the mountainside to join the rest of the flock.
It was fascinating to watch. We felt so lucky to be able to witness this piece of local culture as sheep and the wonderful Ossau-Iraty cheese produced from their milk are what this valley is famous for. Edith asked the men if we could have a photo. Again with great grace and a bit of French humor, they humored us!
As we traveled down the valley ourselves, we came upon yet another shepherd, his flock and his faithful dog. While Edith spoke with him, I managed to capture some of the sounds of the flock on the move in this video.While you don't get the full effect of how much noise they make, you can hear the clanging of the bells. What you don't hear is the deep shuffling noise their feet make as they walk. It almost sounds like someone is playing a boom box with bells accompanying!