More Scenes from Rural Life Hardcover – 1 Apr 2013
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"It's graceful, poetic, sharp--and rewards both a straight-through reading and dipping into dates according to season." - Shelf-Awareness
About the Author
Verlyn Klinkenborg's work has appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, National Geographic, The New Republic, Audubon, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. He has taught literature and creative writing at Fordham University, St Olaf College, Bennington College and Harvard University and is the recipient of the 1991 Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
Top Customer Reviews
His first eleven chapters (one for each year) poetically describe the joys, sorrows, beauty and challenges of farm life, his relationship with the natural word and livestock (the horses, pigs and chickens) during the year's four seasons.
I loved Verlyn's amazing description of turning the horses into the pasture when spring comes at last. He said, "They trotted through the gate with the high-headed carriage they use when advancing into new ground, breasting the world around them. Then they ran, leaping and farting and kicking...Then they stopped and bounced straight upward, all four feet in the air, the way a fox does when it pounces on a vole."
In "Interlude" Verlyn expresses concern about our planet's declining biological and genetic diversity, the use of genetically modified crops, the broken global meat and dairy industry, our diminishing environmental resources and the increase in corporate control on all levels of agricultural production.
In "Year Eleven" Verlyn captures the spirit and essence of the chickens. He lets the chickens out of their pen "...because it plainly makes them happy, and because their enthusiasm is catching." He says, "...a foraging chicken feeds itself by finding surprises everywhere. It's such a bountiful view of the world."
Verlyn feels great sorrow at having to put Remedy, his 34-year-old horse, down. He wrote, "There's a lot of dying on this farm. That's the nature of living with domesticated animals on the edge of the wild...The deaths add up over the years...Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As those who have read his columns already know, Klinkenborg is a fine stylist, part poet and part philosopher. Here is how he describes watching fireflies on a summer night: "They rise from the grass, flickering higher and higher until one of them turns into the blinking lights of a jet flying eastward far above the horizon." And how he describes encountering a mangy, dying fox in his barn: "The fox and I looked at each other, only a few feet apart. If it had been a dog, I could have helped it. But even the pity in my eyes reminded it that it had come too close."
Klinkenborg is a worthy heir to the long tradition of American rural and wilderness writers, who retreat from urbanity to examine the world and their place within it. For most modern readers, that tradition begins with Thoreau and continues through John Muir, Ernest Thompson Seton, Aldo Leopold, E.B. White, Henry Beston, John Haines, Donald Hall, Edward Abbey, and Wendell Berry, among many others. But the writer to whom Klinkenborg pays tribute, especially at the end of the book, is the earliest of them all: William Cobbett. Cobbett, a Redcoat who decided to settle in the United States, was both the greatest political writer and the greatest agricultural writer of his day. Cobbett's "The American Gardener," first published in 1821, was an immediate bestseller and still, so Klinkenborg tells us, contains much that is invaluable to today's gardeners and farmers. "Cobbett tried to reconnect the rural men and women of 1821, defrauded of their agricultural birthright by England's disastrous wartime economy, with their elders, who were wise almost beyond remembering in the ways of the land," Klinkenborg tells us.
Klinkenborg sees modern-day people being similarly defrauded by factory farms and global agribusiness, and--along with Berry and a few others--argues that we forget old rural wisdom at our peril. By losing that wisdom, Klinkenborg says, we make our food supply worse-tasting, less nutritious, and less safe. "(I)f what farmers know, as well as what they do, matters, then you can't have too many farmers," he tells us in one essay. "Yet the thrust of conventional agriculture has been to drive farmers from the land, to depopulate the countryside, and to turn many of the farmers that remain into nothing more than contract laborers and heavy-equipment operators. The way we farm has divorced farmers utterly from the soil. Society and the soil suffer alike."
It was definitely the right choice as I have been enchanted by the beauty of Verlyn Klinkenborg's prose, the strength of his understanding of nature and animals, and in the vivid images which make me feel as if I am there in the country. It is almost as good as taking a vacation. I find myself deliberately slowing down, savoring the writing, and simply relaxing.
There is a section in the middle of the book called Interludes wherein are included more direct commentary on subjects like genetically engineered crops, big farming, and so forth. I read the first couple but, frankly, I found nothing that I hadn't picked up already in the more lyrical journal style writing from the rest of the book. One may agree with him or not in these more opinionated pieces and I found that about 90% of the time I did agree. However, as I say, I lost nothing in briefly skimming most of them and moving on. The essays which make up the main part of the book are more thoughtful and reflective and often make the same points in a gentler way which is more tied to the land. Therefore, I found these pointed pieces to be overkill. Your milage may vary. If it were not for these, I'd give the book five stars.
Despite the Interlude, this book is a rare find for me and one that I will enjoy rereading over the years.
If you enjoyed this volume, I highly recommend O'Hara's out-of-print but well worth searching for WYOMING SUMMER, a diary of life on a ranch in the 1930s.
Mr. Klinkenborg is an exceptional writer who also teaches writing. He definitely has the gift of prose down. The entries are quickly digestable as he discusses the trials and triumphs of farm life with humor and insight. There's always a point behind it, and even the so called mundane becomes something deeper.
His stories go beyond rural life as he travels about. He notices and expounds on anything that captures his curious mind, e.g., he lays about and thinks of all the pop machines that must currently be running in the world and the noises they make. There's profound meaning or at least interest in anything if we're willing to find it. It reminds me of Writing Class 101 in college where we were told to "discourse" on sitting in a chair or staring out the window(which I often found myself doing inadvertently). He's much more polished at it than I ever was.
Enjoyable, relaxing, fun read.