Heroes among the dales

I came up to this small Welsh village the other day to celebrate one life lived in one place over 83 years at one with the land and with God — the kind of life that is dying out in a restless world. The life belonged to Alun Jones, born in 1929, the youngest of seven children, on a farm in central Wales called Ystradolwyn. He never moved from there. He knew every inch of the dales and, it seemed, every one of his sheep. He loved the lambing season. London, a five-hour drive away, was a remote universe. He liked a bit of banter in his cheery voice. But, as his Presbyterian minister Jenny Garad put it at his funeral service, he believed above all that, "You got on with it."

Jones died last week after his lungs, the source of that voice so often raised in joyous song, gave out. He was a neighbour of sorts. My father bought the next-door farm 40 years ago. His amazement at my wandering never abated. "Well, boyo," he would say, and shake his head; and when once again after a couple of days I made the unwise decision to leave those dales, he would bid me "Tara" with a wave of his stick. I was talking to his son Tony, who runs the farm now, a couple of days before the funeral service. We mused on Alun's life and his loss. Then Tony brought the conversation to a close saying he had to finish building a fence up in the wood. "You got on with it."

Urban livers wallow in emotion — about death among other things — because of a dearth of necessity. Cut off from natural patterns of life and death, they become sentimental. Reality shows take the place of the realities of life. You do not find heroes among the dales. The word would be considered indulgent. You do what has to be done. A vast human experiment is under way: What happens to humanity when it is cut off from the anchors of rural life? As early as the 11th century a French cleric named Marbod noted that, "Town takes a man out of the truth of himself."

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