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'I Know All My Sheep by Name,' Says Louis Gorez, the Last Shepherd in Belgium

January 24, 1988|MILAN RUZICKA | Associated Press

HENRIPONT, Belgium — The modern world whizzes by, but the only heed Louis Gorez pays to it is an occasional wave--for what he does every day of every year goes back to the beginning of time.

He is a shepherd, the last of his kind in Belgium.

Gorez figures that he has walked more than 130,000 miles in the 45 years he has tended sheep 20 miles outside bustling Brussels, never with a vacation or a day off.

At 64, he still puts in 10 miles a day and has no thought of retiring.

"I love sheep," he told a rare visitor as he drove his 100 sheep and lambs down a country road.

That's why he left the family farm and why he lives alone in this hamlet.

"I know all my sheep by name," he said.

He cuts a lonely figure against the gently rolling horizon of central Belgium where he has spent all his life.

Rain or shine, Gorez leads his flock every day from his home through fields and down country roads. It gives him little chance to speak much, yet he is eager to talk to anyone willing to chat.

As he speaks with a visitor, Major and Doran, his two mongrel dogs, fret nervously, unaccustomed to seeing him so animated and so close to a stranger.

Gorez has herded his sheep without ever seeing another itinerant shepherd, and when he goes, he said, there will be none in Belgium.

He began in 1942 with 180 sheep. Not much has changed since then, he said, except the flock has dwindled to 100 and is likely to shrink even more.

The greatest menace, Gorez said, is not the growing car traffic or disappearing pastures but Belgium's imports of mutton and lamb.

"The government even pays a premium on imported sheep," he complained. "It's getting impossible for me to sell my sheep."

When his ewes are about to give birth he likes to stay close to home.

"This one will have a lamb today . . . and that one too," he said, pointing with his long staff.

A rolled-up burlap bag is his standard equipment during the lambing season. Once the ewe has licked her newborn dry, Gorez puts it into the bag and takes it home along with the mother, who gets a day off.

His other tool is a long stick with a hook and a small spade at the end. With the spade, Gorez picks up globs of dirt to throw at sheep that stray. The hook is for grabbing them by their hind legs.

Gorez's sheep graze the year-round, even when it freezes and the ground is covered with snow.

"They can always find something to eat," he said.

The only break in his routine came in 1969 when he fractured his skull falling off a bike. He spent two months in the hospital.

The accident has not kept him off the bike, which he uses to go to Ecaussinnes, 3 miles away, for groceries.

He use to stop for a chat and a drink at the bar, but doctors forbade him alcohol after the accident. So the chat is out as well.

As he drives his flock, Gorez gets friendly waves from passing cars. He always waves back and often that's the extent of his encounter with the modern age.

"Sometimes I don't speak with anyone for days," he said.

He is known in the area simply as "the shepherd." Few know his name or, for that matter, anything else about him.

He is part of the scenery, like the hill or the bend in the river or the rutted country roads that run up and down the landscape.

He was asked to be part of the scenery for a recent visit by King Baudouin.

A local aristocrat, who played a host to the touring monarch, asked Gorez to come with his flock to the chateau to complete the peaceful image he wanted to create.

Gorez obliged, but he never saw the king.

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