Having had to return home before my shepherd friends went on the road, I made contact with three of them this morning. The first, Nicolae from Jina, was in too much of a hurry to talk to me and asked me to ring him back after three hours (when I did he said he hadn’t left the mountains yet, because it’s still too dry on the plateau and he’s got nowhere to take his sheep. He’s going to wait at Crint until it starts snowing). The second, Ghita, also from Jina, said he was near Cluj, everything was fine, and he hopes to reach Zalau in a couple of weeks. The third, Dumitru, from Rasinari, hasn’t set out yet because of the seceta (drought). He told me he will get going on Monday. He’ll be taking five other men with him and about 14 donkeys, I don’t know how many dogs, and – almost forgot – all his sheep, which number at a rough guess 1500 (but don’t quote me on this, because Romanian shepherds are rather shy of admitting how many head they own).
There is a new law which limits the numbers of dogs shepherds are allowed to take with them on the road to two per thousand head of sheep. Ghita is angry about that, and is urging for a change in the rules. I guess he is walking with about 1000 head, and two supporting shepherds. From his point of view the two-dog limit leaves his flock extremely vulnerable to attacks by other animals, and, although he didn’t say so, by people. In our short conversation he said they hadn’t had any problems. But – was it my imagination? – when I asked this question his voice changed, as though it made him tense. It all seems very remote – and archaic – from my desk in a dry house in wet west Wales, where the sheep are still on their Preselau arosfau (hefts) and will only go to winter grazing at the end of November (by truck).
In December, the Welsh National Wool Museum will hold the third 2011 UK showings of Dragos Lumpan’s photo exhibition, The Last Transhumance, which yours truly helped to get off the ground.
Tim Salmon, expert on Greek transhumance
Tim Salmon, author of Dhiava, The Green Meridian (about a walk he did through the centre of France) and many other fascinating books, has put me right about the Vlachs which John Campbell studied for his DPhil. They were not Vlachs but Sarakatsani, who speak ‘a very archaic Greek dialect’, whereas the Vlachs’ language is (of course) related to Romanian.
Of the four or five flocks I’ve been following by mobile phone, Ghita’s arrived a month ago in judetul (the county of) Salaj; Dumitru’s is in judetul Bistrita, on its way to Salaj as well; Aurelia’s sheep have been two days’ walk away in Valea Salistei since late October (and will return to her coliba in Jina’s hotarul de jos this month), and Nicolae’s never left the village. When I spoke to him today, he said that the drought which caused such concern in the summer has continued and there was nowhere else for him to take his animals. He and his brother were thinking of trekking across to the Mures Valley, but there is not enough grass in that area, and they won’t be doing transhumance this year. Instead the sheep are at home in Jina, feeding on the extra hay and maize which Nicolae has bought in. He didn’t sound devastated about not having to go on the road. I’m still planning to go back in February, as long as that doesn’t interfere with lambing.
My previous two posts were made in retrospect – the events they describe happened in September.