Pamela Royes lives with her family in Joseph and raises cattle and hay. Her first book, chronicling her four years as a wandering shepherd together with her husband, Skip, was published recently. “Temperance Creek: A Memoir” is rooted in the grit and pleasure of daily life. She is working on a second book, a fiction tome.
How much did those years living in the wilderness create the person you are today?
The experience taught me to slow down and cherish the simple rhythms of the day to day. To keep my eyes open, be aware of my surroundings. It took time to really feel confident out there. There were so many things I had to prove to myself, separate from the things I’d learned, or relied on growing up. It was a provocative, fascinating place to indulge the deep-rooted curiosity I had (and still have) about the natural world.
The book is a celebration of sheepherders and sheepherding. What do you think the area lost with the disappearance of such people and practices?
Well, we’ve lost some real characters. And we’ve lost touch with an ancient culture. That of the nomad. Due to over-population, automation and environmental pressures, nomadic cultures have all but disappeared. It’s a paradox, because here’s this incredible resource (grass), but due to reasons I don’t understand, we can’t use it. Not only did we lose a viable, sustainable industry, but perhaps more importantly, one that kept us intimately in touch with the land. For instance, what the sheepherder once did in managing and utilizing the grass, catastrophic wildfires are now doing. But at the cost of a million dollars a day.
It is also an explanation to people who questioned your desire to seek out that life. Was writing it an attempt to yell out across the urban/rural divide? What did you want to say?
My motivation, to begin with, was to jot down a few stories for my family. But for some reason, I didn’t stop there. Certainly I hoped to connect with a wider audience. To share how that challenging, adventurous life connected me with a vital piece of myself. How through that experience I started getting strong physically, mentally and spiritually. That although the whole college, hippie scene hadn’t worked (square peg — round hole), there was this other extraordinary thing that did. Maybe what I wanted to say was live passionately. Be brave.
It’s a love story too. Do you think that your romance with your now-husband Skip could have blossomed anywhere else?
Maybe on a sailboat. Or a desert island … or any captivating, isolated place providing few distractions and meaningful work. I think part of the magic was we didn’t get up in the morning and go two different directions — we worked side by side. Because of this, we were spared all kinds of temptations and were able to focus on and commit to what has been an unusual but fulfilling forty-year relationship.
What is your favorite spot in Wallowa County?
The mouth of the Imnaha in February … or maybe Pony Bar in April when the meadowlarks are singing … or perhaps upper Prairie Creek on a summer day right before they cut the hay. Is there any one place?