What about the title? It's The Shepherd's Life instead of A Shepherd's Life. My hunch is that we're not meant to overlook the centrality of tradition, right from the start, right from the cover. This is not the story of a particular shepherd, but the story of a way of life that particular people inhabit. We're meant to think about the broad patterns, the long patterns over time, not just the me-centered stories that are the more familiar currency of our society. The author is pushing back, then, quietly, insistently, right from the first here on the cover.
As pertinent as the book's subtitle and the jacket copy are, these are elements of marketing. Even though the author probably had a hand in both of them, I feel like stepping past them, at least for now, and opening the book itself. The dedication to the author's father and grandfather makes it all personal and old-fashioned in a way that the author respects and hopes we will respect, too, without undoing the work that has commenced in the title, the work of a meaningful tradition.
The table of contents: two notes. First, "hefted" is new to me and I'll need to read on to know why it has been given the place of honor here at the start. Second, the cycle of the seasons that organized Thoreau's Walden is set out here too. It's an ambitious plan that a writer should not carry out lightly--it promises real knowledge of the natural world. Once again, it's not a me-centered story here, not the story we tend so much of the time to hear. There's a different touchstone of experience and meaning being promised here, and it's refreshing to think that an alternative of this kind still exists. Many of us probably assume that this other world has been lost, or that it is made up of the customs of another place and time. Its patterns, by our modern standards, may seem quaint or arbitrary. But this table of contents hints that the patterns are anything but arbitrary, and not yet lost either.
I remember camping in 1980 or so in the Lake District, in a field owned by a farmer who was listed as being willing to have tent campers there. You were to knock on the door, pay the fee, and then set up your tent out away from the house. I did so. After a time, some curious sheep came by. I was ignorant of their ways, didn't know if they'd nibble on the tent ropes, didn't know if I might accidentally annoy them there. I had no idea that they were the meaningful center of a way of life, an economy, an ecology. I had no clue how much they could mean, and when time came to pack up I was glad to be away from them because I didn't know what I was dealing with. The layers of ignorance there.... I am persuaded that the book will help with that ignorance.