Upon moving to Appalachian Ohio with their two small children, Richard Gilbert and his wife are thrilled to learn there still are places in America that haven’t been homogenized. But their excitement over the region’s beauty and quirky character turns to culture shock as they try to put down roots far from their busy professional jobs in town. They struggle to rebuild a farmhouse, and Gilbert gets conned buying equipment and sheep—a ewe with an “outie” belly button turns out to be a neutered male, and mysterious illnesses plague the flock. Haunted by his father’s loss of his boyhood farm, Gilbert likewise struggles to earn money in agriculture. Finally an unlikely teacher shows him how to raise hardy sheep—a remarkable ewe named Freckles whose mothering ability epitomizes her species’ hidden beauty. Discovering as much about himself as he does these gentle animals, Gilbert becomes a seasoned agrarian and a respected livestock breeder. He makes peace with his romantic dream, his father, and himself. Shepherd, a story both personal and emblematic, captures the mythic pull and the practical difficulty of family scale sustainable farming.
Shepherd: A Memoir
Part One - Land Ties
Part Two - Sheep Over the Mountains
Part Three - Water and Earth
Part Four - A Way to Be
Shepherd is the most graphic, honest, heartrending, and heartwarming account of undertaking an adventure in farming that I have ever read. Embracing both untamed nature and human nature, this book makes compelling reading for both those who farm and those who don’t.
—Gene Logsdon, author of All Flesh is Grass: The Pleasures and Promises of Pasture Farming
Shepherd explores one man’s realization of a boyhood dream. But as they say in southern Ohio, “It weren’t easy.” Richard Gilbert writes with honesty, in gorgeous prose, about the joys and setbacks, bringing to vivid life an enchanted Appalachian valley filled with unforgettable characters.
—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire
What a delightful book. So authentic in its descriptions of those peculiar critters, sheep. It brings back so many memories of my life at Malabar Farm and the spring lambing season, which seldom failed to deliver to me an orphan to be brought up on a bottle. People say sheep don’t have much sense. But from the sheep I’ve known, this strikes me as being a very precipitous judgment. Anyone who reads this book will be encouraged to see what I mean.
—Ellen Bromfield Geld, author of The Heritage: A Daughter’s Memories of Louis Bromfield
There’s no book like it.
—Bill Roorbach, author of Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey
Shepherd is the story of one man’s dream of returning to the land, but Richard Gilbert’s glorious memoir is more than that. It’s a universal story of families, the ones we try to redeem and the ones we strive to create and maintain. Gilbert writes with a keen eye and a quiet grace. His portrait of the natural world takes us into the interior landscape of its very human, very likeable guide—an honorable, courageous man. I’m so very happy to have had the chance to meet him in these pages.
—Lee Martin, author of Such a Life and From Our House
Gilbert’s descriptions of landscape and characters and, most impressively, of the work he does—and why—are terrific: often poetic, sometimes funny, and always infused with love.
—Ana Maria Spagna, author of Potluck: Community on the Edge of Wilderness
With topics ranging from the specific compartments of a ruminant’s stomach to spirituality, to neighbors, and to history, Richard Gilbert’s book unfolds the true slow-motion adventure of a clear-eyed, realistic, modern back-to-the-lander. It is the best fence conversation you’ve ever had, from an instinctive storyteller. He searches carefully in this book for something we’ve all begun to wonder about: where is, he asks, “the wisdom of those who stayed put?”
—Liz Stephens, author of The Days Are Gods