NATURE CALLS + "THE SHEPHERDESS"
NATURE CALLS + "THE SHEPHERDESS"
The Nature Calls collection is one that is inspired by people who find their lives and meaning outside, whether it be for pleasure, their profession or somewhere in between. This season, we had the honor of working with and supporting our friends Percy Dean and Lois Pendlebury in the creation of their short film, “The Shepherdess”. They are both from the UK, Percy hailing from Liverpool and Lois from Bradford, their lives having been intertwined for years through the UK skate scene. Reunited in an entirely different setting, their film is a beautiful vignette into Lois’ life as a former pro skateboarder turned shepherdess in the French alps.
In conjunction with the film, Percy shot the Nature Calls collection entirely on location at Lois' high-altitude base with fellow shepherd Antoine Rousseau and her sheep dogs, offering a glimpse into the rugged place she calls home. After the shepherding season calmed down, we had the chance to catch up with them both to learn about the intentions behind the project and a life well led through answering nature’s call.
Introduction by Percy Dean-
I’ve known Lois since she was a kid, Liverpool and Bradford skateboard scenes were always very tightly connected and she was always around.That was at a time when a female voice in skateboarding wasn’t really present. Lois just being there and putting her heart into it when there wasn’t a strong female community showed who she was from an early age.
The reasons for the project are mixed and still quite confusing to me, I think i’d just found myself in this never-ending cycle of work. It was work I loved but it was always for others and never for myself. Work soon becomes everything, the years pass by and before you know it a decade has gone and everything you’ve created has been on a clients terms. I’d gotten to a stage in my career where that wasn't enough. I’d known this was wrong for a long time and I needed to stop the cycle. I think as work got more intense I found myself running trails in wilder and wilder places to try an attain some sort of balance and over the last few years this drive to access somewhere un-inhabited has become a need. I think knowing where Lois was and where I needed to be just began to make a lot of sense. I went with no expectations just one camera and one lens and an old hi-8 camera.
I think it was a simple as I wanted to be a part of her mountain and experience life up there, it’s where I aspire to be if I could have everything… I think the film just happened as a by-product of two old mates re-connecting at 2000m in the French Alps and figuring out how we both got here. It's a combination of extremes (on the mountain), the claustrophobia of the cabin cut with a wild mountain vista that just connotes self-reliance and freedom. Lois is there by herself for 7 months of the year, that solitude and mental strength must be tested in ways that we will never get close even imagining. I love being out there and in all those remote places, but I’m home after a week or two and I think that knowledge alone changes everything.
Also it’s only me I have to be responsible for, Lois has 2 sheep dogs, 4 guardian dogs, a donkey and 1500 sheep on the side of a mountain with no paths & no help, they all rely on her for life every single day. That feeling of responsibility when the weather closes in or it’s dark at night and the wolves come down to her plateau... I know I’m strong, but I’m not sure I could do that, but Lois does it with a smile, alone. Sometimes I’ll be home and I’ll have to park my car 200m away from my front door because there’s no spaces left and I’ll be absolutely raging, then I think about Lois, that soon shuts me up.
I think her evolution has been constant, to be a female in skateboarding back then showed who she was from the start. She’s never needed a support group, If she wanted it she would have done it with or without others. I think the shepherding has merely given power to that side of her and created a beast of self-reliance. When you’re up there with her and you know if anything goes wrong it’s 2 hours hike too the nearest person and you're slipping on a rock scree slope, the flock has split and half of them have gone over a ridge at 2500m and the sun's going down. There’s just no left doubt in her, there’s no questioning what she’s going to do and where her responsibility's lie, i’m envious of that.
An interview with Lois Pendlebury
-First off, how are you doing Lois and where are you now? What part of your shepherding season are you in?
Hello, I'm going good thanks. I'm buzzing from this season, its gone really well, I've enjoyed it immensely and learnt so much. We are right at the end of the season, the flock has been pastured at the highest part of the alpage (between 2200 and 2400m) and the weather has been glorious. The perfect conditions meant I could explore some of the higher terrain such as the Roignias, a 2995m peak that really challenged me mentally. Imposing walls, jagged ridgelines, massive exposure, no track, loose rock and shale and a reception dead zone. I turned back on the first attempt but went back for it another day.
-You live in an amazingly beautiful place. What is the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning and look out your window?
Sometimes I see nothing but white and we are stuck in the clouds for days on end. Wet. Cold. Minimal visibility. Terribly difficult to guard the sheep. Otherwise I can see some of the lower part of my alpage, the
town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Mount Pourri, the glaciers of the Grand Sassiere, the valley that leads past Sainte Foy and up to Tignes and Val d'Isère. I can see the frontier with Italy and the pass of Petit Saint Bernard that takes you there.
-Let’s be honest, there probably aren’t many skateboarders from the UK in the high Alps working as shepherdesses. What took you up into the mountains to live this life?
-If you could think of one skill you need to have (physical or mental), that you need everyday in this line of work/life, what would it be?
Endurnace. Physical and Mental.
- In a given day, how long are you out in the elements and are you walking everywhere you go?
Ouf 8, 10, 12 hours depending on the time of year and the weather. Oh yeah my feet carry me everywhere, thanks feet. I have a donkey, Anemone, I use her to carry equipment and supplies around the mountian when its not feasible to do it myself.
-How essential to the herding job are dogs and what is your work/life balance with your working dogs?
A good dog makes all the difference, it means the works is pleasurable. A dog that doesn't listen, doesn't stop or that works for itself creates so much stress and danger.
Having such a connection with a dog that they understand what you need them to do is mind blowing. Border Collies are such smart and sensitive dogs its wildly impressive what they are capable of.
My dogs are not just work tools they're company and great conversationalists.
-It is hard to compare the two things at face value (skating and living the shepherdess lifestyle), but for you is there any crossover in terms of mentality or philosophy?
Nothing that immediately comes to mind. One of the most important parts of skateboarding for me was being part of a community, sharing ideas, experiences, sleeping bags, cigarettes and sharing in each other's journeys. Up here, by myself, I have to draw on my own resilience and to cheer on my own successes. Most of the time I completely forget that I'm by myself, every so often it hits me that I have in fact spent the day / week / fortnight by myself.
-What do you think has drawn you to both things?
-What is your favourite part of your life as a shepherdess now?
I enjoy the physicality of the job, I could never push myself to do this amount of training in a gym setting. I love being immersed in nature being outside all day. I am enamoured by the guardian dogs, such big, loyal beasts. The sheep are wonderful; their movement as a flock are mesmerizing, it never gets old and as individuals they're hilarious. Seeing that they have eaten well at the end of the day is so satisfying. I enjoy trying to manage the pasture in the most regenerative way and learning about agriculture as a whole. So much to like about the Shepherdess life!
There's a Frensh expression referring to the learning curve of a shepherd/ess in the mountian pastures:
"La premiere saison tu cours, la deuxieme tu gards et la troisieme tu regards." (The first season you run, the second you protect, the third you watch.)
And I have never found an expression to be truer. I think seeing this progression in my abilities has been one of the most rewarding aspects. Its good to know we can keep learning and continue to find new passions as we progress through life.
-What are your off season plans? Or is there no off season?
Its a seasonal job due to the fact that many pastoralists in France still maintain transhumance practices. This means its possible to have agency over when, where and for how long you work.
This winter I'm doing a 6 months specialist sheep course near to Limoges in the middle of France.
-Any advice for this of us that would like to get out in the wilderness like you? More as a life choice and not just an activity?
I don't know, everyone has different things that hold them back but I would recommend becoming a Shepherd/ess.