For love of all creatures

Many years ago I read a series of books about a young 1940s veterinary surgeon beginning his career in Yorkshire, England. The stories are captivating, hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking; the characters—some of them animals—are larger than life, unforgettable. I fell in love with these stories right away.

And so I have again, with the Masterpiece Theater version of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. When the series premiered in 2020, it was deemed “the surprise runaway hit of the year.” The second season recently ended and I do not know how I am going to endure until Season Three. I have begun watching episodes over and over…and over…

I have to ask myself why.

Maybe it’s that I loved these stories so much when I was young. I recall encountering the name “Tristan” for the first time and being so enchanted by it (and by the comical character, another young vet) that I thought about naming one of my eventual children Tristan (a thought which earned a resounding Are you serious? NO from my eventual husband). Maybe it’s that I find details of long-ago rural veterinary practice fascinating. James delivers calves and tangled-up twin lambs; in the show he must figure out how to untwist a mare’s uterus to deliver a foal, or both will die. Or maybe it’s James’s ongoing struggle for acceptance by the local farmers who are often mistrustful, preferring their familiar “old ways” (I so relate to this as an instructional coach, sometimes).

I suspect it’s all of these. And more.

Beyond James’s love for the animals and his gentle spirit is a compelling, refreshing sense of purity. Times aren’t simple, life is hard, loss is always imminent, yet there’s a richness in it all, a sacred honesty born of living close to the land, a sense of true interdependence and valuing all living things…

Not to mention the scenery. The Yorkshire Dales are breathtaking. I have to go there someday. I feel like I have seen this place before, in some of my most beautiful dreams. Place is a character in itself, alive, vibrant, calling in its own voice, and the Dales will not be outdone by human nor beast…speaking of which: the animal performances are astounding (how DO the directors manage this magic?).

As the series progresses, so do relationships. I will not say anything more than this: Conflict, humor, and great love are all bound together by cords of civility. Reputation matters. Honor matters. Honoring life matters…

And just as one is getting cozy at the end of 1938, and snow begins to fall, and farmers lead draft horses through the town streets at the close of day, and young people are gathered together, beginning new chapters of their lives…the first war plane flies overhead in the darkening sky…

And I’ve an overwhelming desire to stop time, to hit rewind, to savor peace… which we almost never realize we have, until we don’t…

Yorkshire Dalestricky (rick harrison). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

*******
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

24 thoughts on “For love of all creatures

  1. Fran, the day you wrote about the calf at the fair I knew there was something…..you had these books coursing your gains from
    A young age and they have instilled in you a love of creatures that comes through so tenderly in your writing. I love this part

    Times aren’t simple, life is hard, loss is always imminent, yet there’s a richness in it all, a sacred honesty born of living close to the land, a sense of true interdependence and valuing all living things…

    And I also love how you point out that place is a character. Fran, this may be why I love traveling so much. I’ve always known place was a character, but I never really made the convection that I’m always looking for the nuances of what I love about all the characters I visit.

    Again, what a lovely piece! I love the name Tristan. One of my most polite and good natured students ever had that name.

    Have you ever read Also Leopold’s Sand County Almanac? There is a piece about a
    Chickadee in there that would take your breath away. And thanks – I will be looking for this series to watch. Briar will be glad there is something I will watch because not much appeals to me, so the Herriot show will probably be right up my alley. He loves Yellowstone, but the drama is not what I want my mind feeding on. I needed this recommendation!

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    • I haven’t read Sand County Almanac but I must check it out – my stack is growing by leaps and bounds! – I am know you will love this show. The actors’ dialects are another layer of the charm and there are DOGS! Thank you for the incredible gift of your words, dear friend ❤

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  2. I haven’t seen this show, Fran, but it does sound lovely. The lady line you write about savoring peace while we have it is prescient. Who thought moving beyond and out of this crazy pandemic would bring us to the verge of WWIII. This momen, as well as the part few years, have made us nostalgic, but I always wonder about tbr not said, the left out parts w: period dramas. Still, worth exploring.

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    • The show was more than a bit of needed escape since 2020. There are strong women in it – one of the roles has been expanded from the books and it’s magnificently played. As a whole the series really is lovely; something much more than nostalgia pulls on the heartstrings.

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  3. We’ve been watching it too! I never read the books or watched the first series, but I love it. Did you watch Around the World in 80 Days? It made me want to read the book. And while not as good as ACG&S, I like the diversion of PBS. We haven’t finished ACG&S, but will make time soon. Love these words from your post: “Conflict, humor, and great love are all bound together by cords of civility. Reputation matters. Honor matters. Honoring life matters.” Cords of civility, oh, that we could turn back time! But I like that you pointed out the difficulty of living then too.

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    • So glad you have been watching All Creatures, Ramona! I have a hard time ever saying what my favorite book or show is because I love so many…but this TV series is one of my all-time favorites. And while longing for simpler times pulls on our souls…those simpler times really weren’t. They were hard (made me remember The Waltons, too). I had to think about what the allure really is…and honor and civility rose to the surface. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

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  4. I agree with Kim about your post about the calf. And then there was the goat. I have an affinity to animals too. Going to check out this version of All Things Great and Small. I yearn for the Yorkshire countryside. I’ve been watching Britain’s Hidden Villages hosted by Penelope Keith on Amazon Prime. I think I was British in another lifetime!

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    • British in another lifetime… so: I had my DNA ancestry tested a while back and I’m 92.7% British and Irish; turns out that some of the strongest evidence of my ancestry is in Tyne and Wear, where James Herriot (the pen name of James Alfred Wight) was born, Glasgow City (he graduated from Glasgow Veterinary College), and South and West Yorkshire (not the Dales of the North, but still!) I long to visit as well. It just calls…

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  5. Oh yes, I’m from England, so I read the books, watched the TV series and we have just started watching the new series… nothing beats the setting and all the enchantment you describe so perfectly! As you say the animal performances are amazing. How about Tricky Woo?! Although the Yorkshire Dales are actually quite bleak and awful weather wise (but worth a visit!!) Do you like the Secret Garden? Same setting and one of my favourite books…
    I especially love your paragraph about honour mattering… so so true…

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    • The Pekingese that plays Tricki Woo is phenomenal – I’ve watched every episode several times now and marvel at the performances, especially when he was sick… how do they stage this?? I can well imagine how bleak the Dales are, weather-wise. While the show doesn’t fully depict it (lots of glorious sun and sky over those idyllic hills), the characters reference it, especially the fog. I imagine it’s pretty rough in winter. I do hope if I make it there, the sun will be cooperative. Love The Secret Garden, too… British lit, in general ❤

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  6. Fran, my husband is a veterinarian. I remember coming his yellowed, dog-eared copy of that book and thought, yeah. I found myself a good one!

    I’ll have to tell him about this TV series. Maybe it’s one that the two of us can get into together – whether it’s for the cinematography or the stories themselves.

    As for the specter of war…well. The dark sky, the sense of foreboding…I wish I could also hit pause button for us, for ALL of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Did I know your husband is a vet -?!?!? Anyway, I am delighted to know it now! That he had a dog-eared copy of that book…I read “finding a good one” as in a good book AND a good man. My husband and I watched – and have re-watched – every episode together. It was one of the great gifts of escape in the time since 2020. I do not think I will tire of watching.

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  7. We’ve been watching this, too. It is so perfectly wonderful that even my boys – 11 & 13 – love it. We were all sad when this season ended, though I have little desire to see this place during war. (And, like you, I loved the books when I was younger.)

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    • I want to reread the books now, Amanda, while I wait for the next season! Like you, part of me dreads what’s to come. Yet I know the character endure…I am so thrilled to know your boys love this show! That absolutely makes my day 🙂

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  8. Yep, we watch James Herriott’s stories on PBS here, too! I remember reading my mother’s Book of the Month Club copy of All Creatures Great and Small, when I was ten or so…possibly one of the first “grown-up” novels I ever read! I’m also a fan of “Call the Midwife”–the period piece shows pull me in!

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