Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Really nice photo report, Alex, thanks! All those mushrooms, while here it's dry and there are none!

Just one thing: as a former mountain shepherd, I can tell you that tourists' dogs running about free are a damn nuisance (most of all, those who have a natural tendency to want to herd sheep). You say there's no such rule as having to keep your dog on a leash, but it's at least recommended and is one of the rules of mountain etiquette applied by those who know the mountains well. Perhaps this shepherd was unpleasant about it, but he did put up a notice as a reminder. Why was your reaction to think: "Huh, it's not official, who does he think he is?", instead of thinking you were coming into a sheep area and it might be an idea to take care? As for him yelling at you, if you'd asked me why I didn't have my dog on a leash, hmmm... Also if I'd been told by however nice and reasonable a girl that I lived off tourism, hmm-hmm... I honestly think you said some pretty provocative -- and unfounded -- things.

More broadly this poses the problem of the increasing appropriation of the mountains as a leisure zone, and the feeling of those who live and work there that they are considered, not only a dying breed, but one people are in a hurry to see gone and departed. I know you're a vegetarian, but don't you think meat (and dairy) production are better carried out by extensive methods on permanent grassland (like the alpage), than by the intensive methods currently favoured by the agri-industry? Don't you know the mountain slopes you see now would not be the same without their use as pasture, and you'd have a job finding a path to follow in the vegetation? (As for the dog roaming free, forget about it...)

As for your other points, well, we could debate them if you like because they're debatable. BTW, the shepherd won't be living in that mountain hut during the winter... But maybe you were joking?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 02:57:51 AM EST
The thing is, if you had to tie your dog whenever someone says you have to, you'd end up tying your dog all the time, or leaving your dog in your car all the time.

Plus, this dog reacts well to calls, even when it's running towards a cow, so we knew we'd be able to tie her the moment we heard the cling clang bells of goats or sheep ... thus why tie her all the time? We could have discussed this with him if only he had talked to us (he could for instance have noticed how well the dog came back to us as soon as I called it). We were provocative because the guy was nasty from the start (he could at the very least have said "bonjour"). My reaction was not to think "who does this guy think he is" but "if you're not going to be polite, then why should I be polite?".

It's only as simple as that, for the rest I could easily have been sensitive to his situation. I will just not bow down to someone screaming at me (unless they have a gun and such scenarios ...). We're civilized people, not animals. And I resent him calling me a polluting tourist when my carbon imprint is almost certainly much lower than his.

I might want to put up a "abandon your car" sign at my town's limits, arguing that I live off my town (and can't work there if it becomes unbreathable) and see if anyone coming from outside follows it ...

Ok before you ask, I am indeed exaggerating. And I knew you were an ex-shepherd and that we would be talking about this ;)

ps: I will start fetching subsidy and pollution figures for mountaineers if I have to! To the death shall we debate!!

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 04:05:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ps: On the way down, we saw his sign again, and noticed it had a former version on the back (partly covered). The front and current version said "tie your dog", the older version at the back said "please tie your dog".

This does illustrate that the guy has probably had lots of trouble with dogs and lost patience.

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 04:09:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't you know the mountain slopes you see now would not be the same without their use as pasture, and you'd have a job finding a path to follow in the vegetation? (As for the dog roaming free, forget about it...)

I know that generations of shepherds have displaced lots of stones and carved out lots of paths, but I also know that they now get paid for it by the State.

We pay our taxes, and these help pay subsidies to shepherds, who in turn sell us goat cheese. It's an econ-system of its own. And someone in that loop wants more subsidies all the time ...

I mean just look at the Slovenian bear story. I have no opinion on the idea of (re)introducing some in the Pyrénées, but I know how the story goes:

  • the State decides to reintroduce bears there
  • shepherds say they cannot do so without providing them with extra security measures
  • the State plans for security measures
  • shepherds then say they can only accept these security measures if they are accompanied by extra subsidies for the losses they'll suffer
  • the State then plans for extra subsidies
  • shepherds then say they can only accept subsidies if the bear plan is scrapped

As for the rest I disagree. For instance if you look at that picture from above the lake in the clouds, there was no path ... my friend's dog showed me the best way to go while I was climbing in thick and wild vegetation. And the dog was roaming free.

(I'm provoking you, my friend)

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 04:23:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not going for the provocation. There are too many over-simplifications and urban approximations here, and you know it.

Just to point out that most shepherds are employees, even if some farmers run a kind of shift system where they take turns to go up and do a stint of a week or two. That if a shepherd uses a 4x4, at least that means someone who is using one for good reason in an understandable context, that of rough mountain tracks, and not farting around narrow city streets in one.

I don't know what goat cheese is doing in there. Has nothing to do with shepherds keeping mountain sheep.

As for subsidies, I don't know what Spain does with regard to mountain farmers. I doubt if you'd be right to suppose shepherds live off them (any more than off tourism...), though they are part of the income mix. I know we're going to have to discuss agri-subsidies here at ET one of these days. I'm building up strength for it. One of these days...

Other sectors get subsidies too, as you know. I don't think people get the notion they have some kind of individual right to demand a particular kind of personal behaviour from the recipients. If Security at Airbus offices in Blagnac gets nasty with me because I don't want to do as a sign asks me, I might legitimately be annoyed by the unpleasant manner employed, but would I shout: "You get subsidies! You get subsidies!" ? (I know, it's not an exact equivalent. But all the same city-dwellers seem to conceive a particular hatred of the rural world because of subsidies, that doesn't even cross their minds elsewhere).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 09:27:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We crossed goats before crossing sheep, after talking to that shepherd. They herd both in that region.

This was in France, not in Spain (I corrected the "40km south of the Spanish border", it is "north").

I'm in favour of subsidies in whatever field, for instance for people whose job depends on a lot of external factors (such as shepherds). I mention them specifically here because in this case the recipient wants the donor to get off "his" mountain, yet he doesn't own the land ... if he did, it would be a different story. In fact, the State also pours in money to maintain the mountains as they are, to maintain the fauna and flora as they are, to develop B&B's and Guest Houses ... not only for his herd, and I am thus entitled to visit these mountains as much as he his to herd his sheep/goats there.

So repeating this argument and putting it back in context: if security at Airbus holds you back, it's because they own the place, it's their right. But a mountain man has no right to tell me to fuck off to "my country" when I'm walking on public land (which is the same as his, except unlike him I don't vote Front National).

So like I said, I am all in favour of subsidies, as long as people know where they stand. Maybe the government should attribute mountain land to shepherds, it would make it a lot easier for everyone. Then it would be their land and no one would walk over it with dogs. Nor would I then mention subsidies ...

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 09:55:32 AM EST
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A complete study (on the Luberon, with comparisons to the Pyrénées) about dog attacks on mountain sheep (PDF):

Some important conclusions:

First of all, the study concludes that stray dogs (chiens errants) are very rare.

11.5% of herders experience at least one dog attack per year, 21% less than one attack per year (on average). During the 4 year duration of this study, 74% did not experience a single attack. 74 + 21 => 95% of herders almost never experience dog attacks (the study reaches this conclusion, not me).

However, 70% of attacks concentrate on 5% of herders, who are, quote: "traumatized".

It concludes that there are however a greater number of herd displacements due to dogs, which concludes that dogs not on a leach are a hassle more than a danger.

Finally, 90% of the dogs identified in sheep attacks are residential dogs from surrounding areas (10% are the dogs of trekkers). Attacks caused by stray dogs are extremely rare. So maybe our shepherd should focus first on people in his own "country" ...

Note: the same website states that tourists should tie their dogs when approaching a herd because it can make the herd panic.

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 11:00:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most dogs are not going to attack sheep, especially when they know they are "with" their owners. Attacks aren't the problem. The problem is that dogs can try to herd the sheep, or just scamper about, possibly barking, and set them running, that this can scare and stress the sheep, and in some cases put them in danger. The shepherd's job is to watch over sheep that are as calm as possible and fully engaged in the process of quietly feeding or tranquilly ruminating. Two or three episodes of interruptions by perfectly nice dogs a day, and the shepherd is losing out in his work.

The fact that you can see animals or not isn't necessarily a criterion. Just round a mountain flank there may be five hundred sheep, and your dog may get there first. Up in the rocks, heads down into the shade, there may be a number of sheep that a doggie movement and bark may set on the move over potentially dangerous ground.

To be honest, I've often walked in the mountains with a dog (or friends' dog) off the leash. But if the dog's obedient, he should be kept walking close to his owners. If he's not obedient, or not trained, he should be on a leash. There are heaps of web references to advice to mountain walkers to keep their dogs on the leash in the alpage (the cow and sheep parts of the mountains), along with all the places where it is obligatory (some national parks) or dogs completely forbidden (other national parks and nature reserves).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 11:57:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"unlike him I don't vote Front National"

Now you really are going to piss me off. What do you know about this man? First he's living off tourism, then he's living off your taxes, then he's living off goat's cheese sales, then he's driving a 4x4, then he's spending the winter in a summer hut, then he's letting sheep shit in a mountain stream, then he's got one of his own sheepdogs off a leash (!), now he's National Front...

Sorry, Alex, a whole string of idle suppositions based on ignorance.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 12:04:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey I'm not the only one taking shortcuts:

  • I never said he was living off tourism, I quoted my friend M. saying that.

  • I'm saying he's living off subsidies, yes, and that he's not the only item of the mountain for which the State pays subsidies, thus he shouldn't act as if he owns it. Hell everyone besides farmers/herders in those tiny villages up there is employed by the State: EDF, ONF, DDE, and they don't act as if they own the mountain.

  • I never said he was living off goat cheese sales, I mentioned an economic ecosystem with (goat) cheese in it. Who knows how much of his income is down to goat cheese, if at all.

  • Maybe he isn't driving a 4x4, but since I've decided that I don't like him, let me have my fantaisies about him.

  • I don't know anything about summer/winter huts. The guy was just settling in to this one.

  • Someone is letting something shit in mountain streams (we ran out of water on that same climb higher up, but didn't dare drink stream water because there was shit at different levels). Maybe it's only bovine shit.

  • I'm thinking this white fluffy dog was not a sheepdog but a companion / protection dog, but I may indeed be wrong based on ignorance. My ignorance probably revolves around me wondering why a sheepdog is busy sleeping at his master's feet and not herding sheep (we only saw sheep further up, I should say much further up, but here again I admit to being ignorant about sheep moving patterns)

  • People who tell others to go home to their country may not all vote Front National, but they sure talk the same. Allow me a swipe at him for this.

afew you're getting angry because you read in my shortcuts that I'm challenging a lifestyle you once held. You know that not all shepherds are completely like this, and not all people commenting on shepherds are completely ignorant. And you should know that I'm angry with this guy and only using aspectual factors of his as a shortcut to swipe at him, just like he has done for me, the polluting tourist from another country (same country).

To cut it short: the polluting tourist from another country swipes at the 4x4-driving and front-national-voting shepherd.

None of this would have happened if I had told him "ok, sure my friend will tie his dog, and now how about a bonjour with a smile?" instead of reacting to his agressiveness with a swipe at his dog without a leash (this is standard me: I once told a hostess at an airport to make the pilot get off the plane so that I could have a seat, after the airline had cancelled my mega-confirmed booking).

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 12:47:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not angry at all. I just think there's a pile of assumptions there (on your part and that of your friends) that aren't backed up. This shepherd may be a dreadful bloke. I knew plenty who were. And of course it's not his mountain. (Beware, though, all mountains are not public, or there may be specific rules re reserves or parks; and EDF certainly owns its bits and lays down rules).

Anyway, you didn't get off "his" mountain, did you?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 01:24:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well we did go down another slope to avoid passing in front of him again. So I suppose technically we did get off his mountain ;)

In our group of friends, one was actively defending the shepherd (he's a teacher), the girl was actively recollecting her childhood in that very region (how much she disliked regionalists), my friend with the dog didn't say anything, and held his dog on a leash most of the time (only let him loose when we were out of sight of the shepherd, very near the top) and immediately put it back on a leash as soon as he saw goats/sheep. And I, well, I was disappointed at myself for letting that "why isn't your dog on a leash" slip my mouth, and angry at him for getting me angry, or something like that (I don't like it when strangers don't get along).

We also theorized about the shepherd having a sniper rifle pointed at us (to see if we were keeping the dog on a leash) and about the legislation if he shot my friend's dog (example: "I think it would be considered as breaking something, but you could always argue that you're depressed, and ask for reperations, which he wouldn't be able to pay").

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 01:35:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Was he carrying a gun? Because he shouldn't have been. He wouldn't shoot the dog anyway, it would bring far too much hassle down around his ears. BTW, if you really think he went too far (I don't agree with him yelling all that stuff at you), it's perfectly in order to write a complaint to the mairie of Mijanès or whichever commune it was. They are very much in favour of tourism thereabouts. The shepherd would probably be told to calm down.

Just another point about the mountains -- mountain stream water is always dodgy, it's better avoided. Which means you need to find springs. There's always one somewhere near a hut, because it's a major reason for siting the hut there. Sometimes springs are well-tramped around and possibly organized with a pipe or something, because the water's known to be good. Sometimes you just have to be patient and look around.

Regionalism, hmm. They're not powerfully regionalist, in my experience, in the Ariège. At least, you're not from a different region. I think it's more a deepening misunderstanding between the majority of the population, city and suburb dwellers, and what's left of the old rural world. In which the latter feel defensive. And I'm not even going into the bear thing... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 03:45:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The gun was part of our fantasizing about his character ;)

We actually thought it would be logical for him to have one (to fend off predators?). But we obviously are very poorly informed about this kind of lifestyle.

Then we imagined that he would confiscate our mushrooms (we found tons higher up), which is one of the reasons why we went down another road (the other being evident).

I agree that there is mistunderstanding between us city-dwellers and him.

I won't write any letter at all, because I'm quite sure his reaction was at least 51% prompted by ours. If I had just thought for a second that this guy was in a very bad mood or tired of repeat offenders, I wouldn't have taken his loud language (and no reply to my "bonjour") badly. I would have shut up and walked on. And my friend anyhow had already tied his dog, so not much point in going through all this ...

But when I met that shepherd, I had already noticed that inhabitants of Rouze were always really nice to us when they first met us at my friend's grandfather's house ("ahh it's nice that the old house is occupied, so how is your grandfather's back problem, and ahhh say hello to him ahhh"), but not always so friendly when they first met us in the forest looking for mushrooms. Not really unfriendly either, but they would look at you for a few seconds, straight in the eyes, before responding to your "bonjour", which you would always say first.

About this, I noticed on the way back to Toulouse on the Canal, that people you cross (cyclists, strollers, joggers), stop saying hello about 20km out of Toulouse. Before that everyone says "bonjour". And at about 10km from Toulouse, they don't even look at you any more, so you don't even bother to try to see if eventually it would be possible to perhaps sort of say "bonjour".

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 03:55:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mushrooms can be the source of big rows. Not, though, in general, up in the mountains. The two things to watch for are if you're on private property (they are legally considered an agricultural crop and taking them without permission can lead to prosecution), and/or if there's a local bylaw passed by the municipal council to regulate mushroom picking (say, only to inhabitants of the commune or to one or two kilos per person).

The reason for all this, which didn't use to exist, is au-to-mo-biles. People flock to the best mushroom woods in their cars. On-the-fly market salesmen fill up vans and scoot off to the cities to sell at a high profit. This has led to conflict and stricter rules about who can pick and who can't.

Generally, in mountain areas you can only reach on foot don't have these problems. A shepherd would have to be the owner of the land to give you any trouble.

A shepherd has no more right to shoot predators (protected species all) than anyone else. Pretty much all shepherds have guns, however. With the bear controversy, I should think they all have.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 05:05:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I noticed in a supermarket that the best varieties of Cèpes are sold dry at around 122 euros per kilo, so I agree that there is bound to be trouble surrounding mushroom picking at that rate!
by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Aug 24th, 2006 at 05:22:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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