This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.
The Blog

Triangles and the "Real Thing"

Denis is a bona fide shepherd. His life revolves around three things: sheep, dogs and family. The family phone is always ringing with people asking for his help. Though he is a true teacher, it is easy to imagine that he is just as happy being completely alone, on the moors, in the forests, not explaining anything.

Music, cars, barbecuing

Tattoos, music, skateboarding

Road trips, music, dogs

Music, fashion, peers

Family, gardening, music

People and their passions. Often three. Passions. A triangle. Sometimes all three are really the same thing, disparate as they may seem. As I mentioned in my last post, for me, one point on my current triangle is sheep herding. Accidental but fascinating. And it is in the world of sheep herding that I met one of those people I'd call 'the real thing.' You are polished and brightened by them, updated by them, reset by them. One such:

Something about the way that my sheep-herding teacher in Ontario spoke about Denis made me sign up immediately for his next visit to Canada. Denis is from Ireland. Wicklow area. He has been a shepherd since age three. His life revolves around three things: sheep, dogs and family. He is a bona fide shepherd. 'Driving' 200 sheep to the next village with one dog (often 'Jan') is all in a day's work. He is well-known in sheep-herding circles, both trialling (as a shepherd and judge) and local. The family phone is always ringing with people asking for his help. "Denis, we've been trying to load the sheep for four hours, but they won't get into the truck. Is there a hand to be lended?" "Certainly!" Arriving, he accepts tea, sets Jan to it and sheep are loaded in two minutes. Denis looks at his cup with great interest during this time. The others can't take their eyes off Jan, the wonder-dog.

I love the story he told about when little Jan had an especially heroic run at the trials. And how, at the end, she jumped into his arms and the crowd went wild.

Yes, he drinks tea "with milk, no sugar, that's grand." Likes his food plain and simple. No fancy variations desired. Sweet potatoes? Prefers not. Just regular ones. Doesn't fancy cereals. Pasta, Denis? "Certainly not!" He has never had a needle. Puts his hat under his chair at meals. He is a mesmerizing storyteller. His already thick Irish brogue is even more breathtakingly unintelligible as he advances on the exciting parts. He often cracks up along the way, remembering. We crack up, too, uncertainly. Often not quite sure what he said. If you're lucky, he ends his story looking directly at you, his cornflower eyes inches away, holding everything in suspension until he is satisfied with "something." Then he sits back with "and tats ta troot as I'm sayin' it!" Pause. Emphatic nod.

He believes self-respect is essential. Not enough people have it. A story about a nudist colony brings forth that comment. Agree or not, it says something important about something important. He loves being around young people, the more the better. Apparently people who knew Denis as children still want to jump into his arms with complete abandon when they see him. Telling. I'd have children just to take them to him.

At the end of the workshop, his comments to each of us are spare but potent. What we need to do to achieve excellence. Which he assumes we want. This small assumption is oddly confidence-building. To be seen as someone who strives for excellence. Though he is a true teacher, it is easy to imagine that he is just as happy being completely alone, on the moors, in the forests, not explaining anything. Lucky us. He outlasts and precedes us at the kitchen table. On my first morning under his tutelage, my breakfast task is to cook the bacon. Unsure how I fit into this new and fascinating world, I lay the bacon carefully, finally whispering to it, "That'll do, Pig." When I look up, Denis has a big smile on his face and I'm ready for the day.

Denis is the 'real thing.' The 'real thing' is rare. It changes us.

Your faithful reporter,

Jane Siberry

* Some Irish vernacularisms may exist only in my imagination.

(Next: how sheep-herding is not so different from being a musician)

Suggest a correction
This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada. Certain site features have been disabled. If you have questions or concerns, please check our FAQ or contact support@huffpost.com.