We were driving north about an hour out of Bucharest when I saw the cluster of sheep on the horizon. The land at this point had flattened out into a billiard table plain and the only feature besides the road and the power lines running along side was this flock of sheep. We pulled over and trudged through the soft ground. The sheep dogs came out early and challenged us and the fixer I was with, froze in fear. Lots of issues with feral dogs in Bucharest. The shepherd appeared from his shack and admonished the dogs and the dogs were still barking at us and the fixer called out that we wanted to talk to him for a bit so soon the flat plain was full of shouting and barking.
Everyone settled down soon enough.
The shepherd was happy that we were there as he did not get a lot of visitors. He did not have any tea to offer but a bottle of palinka, the Romanian fruit brandy grain. The shack where he lived was just clapboard and blankets, a small stove and pots and mugs. This was not his flock of sheep, he said, but he acted as a caretaker for two villages who pooled their sheep and goats together. He milked the goats and delivered the milk daily.
I turned around slowly in a complete circle to take in the vast plain. Except for road gutting it down the middle, there was nothing but those two villages and some hills on the horizon. The through line to the past was strong and a straight line in that moment. I asked him if there had been a shepherd here, in his role for a long time. Maybe hundreds of years? Without hesitation he said that this had always been pastureland and the two villages had been there for at least a thousand years, so yes, there was always a shepherd here.
I was taken back to all the folktales I had read, stories from when I was a kid in the states of harsh winters, woodcutters, strange visitors from the forest.
And what about wolves, I asked.
Not much anymore. Too many people, he said. But that is why I have the dogs.