Senior Daphne Psaledakis, editor in chief of On The Hill, recently took first place with this story in the Feature Writing category of the annual Tri-Counties Journalism Educators Assn. writing competition. Enjoy!
Alone in his trailer with a cup of mate, Eraldo listens to the echoing coyotes that fill the desert silence. He is living his version of the American Dream – a version plagued by disappearances, suicides and even the occasional grizzly attack.
It is the lonely version of the American Dream. The version of a shepherd in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Everybody has a different idea of the American Dream,” said Andres Caballero, the fly on the wall who tells the story of the immigrant shepherd. “They don’t realize until they get here how lonely it is.”
Caballero is a storyteller. It’s what he lives for. He set out years ago to tell the story of Eraldo and the other shepherds like him, who sacrifice companionship in order to better provide for their families.
In his documentary, “Gaucho del Norte,” Caballero follows these shepherds as they complete three-month stints in which they 1,500 sheep across state land.
The documentary begins with Eraldo during his last few days at home in Chile with his family. He won’t see them for three years.
“Depending on how you look at it, it’s worth it,” Eraldo said. “It’s worth it because I get to provide an education for my kids.”
Although Eraldo and his family are not living in extreme poverty or starving, he still makes the decision to leave behind everything he knows and venture to a new country for $750 a month.
But what he finds when he gets there is far from what he expected.
Armed with fur-lined chaps and minimal protection from the environment, Eraldo is sent out to the desert in the middle of winter.
Eraldo was one of the lucky ones.
He wasn’t attacked and he didn’t disappear. Aside from coyotes, he encountered relatively few obstacles in his new profession. And the dreaded loneliness was broken up when Caballero and his camera crew would parachute in for a day or two of filming.
“He was happy to see us,” said Caballero. “He wanted us to hang out, we wanted him to ignore us so we could capture the loneliness.”
One year short of the end of his contract, Eraldo returned home to Chile after receiving news that his 85-year-old father had fallen ill.
With the newfound knowledge that it may be the last chance for him to see his father, and that money is nothing without family, Eraldo went home. He now drives a truck with construction supplies. He’s struggling economically, but socially he’s much better off.
Caballero and his crew followed Eraldo for the two years he spent as a shepherd. It didn’t take them much longer to amass all the footage they needed for “Gaucho del Norte.”
They followed Eraldo and his sheep across the desert in the winter and through the mountains in summer. Then, they continued to follow the sheep to the slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colorado, where they documented the final stage of the journey of the sheep from farm to table.
“We followed this guy, we stuck to him for a long time,” Caballero said. “The idea of this, the ultimate purpose, was to show the American public when you go to a fancy restaurant, how much it took to get that to your plate… The ranchers depend on theseShare