I am not familiar with Mr. Klinkenborg's column, but have enjoyed rural life observations from favorites such as Gladys Taber, Mary O'Hara, Haydn Pearson, and Rachel Peden. I was not disappointed with this thoughtful book of essays about life on a northern New York State farm, as well as other Western locations he has visited. Occasionally, I thought he was too detached from his observations, but chiefly I just enjoyed his lovely descriptions of countryside and animal life. These short entries are perfect to read before going to sleep, a welcome respite from our frantic electronic world.
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.
This book is a really good read for anyone but especially if you have lived in rural America, it will definitely appeal to you. My folks lived in a town of about 500 or so in rural Kansas and this book epitomizes the sights, sounds, and smells of rural and country life. The details of the observations of country living are incredible, so much so you can almost smell the earth from a plowed field and hear the wheat rustle as in blows in a Kansas wind! I also am partial to books that give the date in the title of the chapter (or the season or day, etc). I have always liked these sorts of books that take you to a simpler time and bring peace to your mind as you read them. They are like a mini vacation and this book is no exception. Yes, there are struggles in any rural living but the good outweighs the bad. This book is highly recommended.
on July 13, 2013
Verlyn Klinkenborg's "More Scenes from the Rural Life" is his second collection of essays from his regular "New York Times" editorial column. As the title indicates, the essays concentrate on Klinkenborg's life on his farm in upstate New York, although they also encompass his sojourns in places as far away as Los Angeles and Finland, his appreciation of various writers, his childhood and family reminiscences, and his thoughts on the general state of agriculture.
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."
This set of diary or journal-type entries takes one not only into rural farm life but the philosophy of life, in general, and the pleasure of simple observation.
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.
This book, formed of essays and columns the author has written for such publications as the New York Times and National Geographic, are so peaceful and soothing to read. Having lived in upstate New York, i can see so many of the scenes that he is writing about. He draws wonderful word pictures and we see the patterns of snow on a horse's thick winter coat. These essays can be read and savored as I have done or read in one gulp. He makes us wish we could all be transported into a corner of his pasture to see for ourselves. This is a love of a book.
on May 29, 2013
Ten years since Klinkenborg's The Rural Life, this book gathers his newest nature writing chronicling life on his New York State farm. Klinkenborg's writing is quiet and contemplative, and you need to read it slowly and patiently. I was reminded of Edward Kanze's Over the Mountain and Home Again: Journeys of an Adirondack Naturalist, another book about nature in New York. Klinkenborg writes that he is counting the animals on his farm; Kanze inventoried all mammals, birds, and insects on his property.
on August 5, 2013
This is the second volume (the first was The Rural Life) from this author, who is the popular columnist for the New York Times and also teaches creative writing at Yale. What you get with Klinkenborg is two estimable things: superb writing and devout ethics of gardening and farming. "Lapidary" is what they call this style of writing, prose that is so finely honed and brilliant that it seems etched in shining stone or glittering with jewels. He writes about his farm and garden with extremely acute observation and sympathy; I am not the first person who thought of Thoreau when reading him. His prose is incredibly spare and pure. He has so stripped it of adjectives that, when he allows himself to use one, it gleams with distinction like an ornament on a Christmas tree an "oaken autumn", a "wooden light". Verbs and adverbs drive the narrative with muscularity. The lack of adjectives means more prepositional clauses and they add a drumbeat of meter to the prose that almost converts it to poetry. He has deep convictions about the farmer/gardener's role as ethicist and he challenges each reader to examine himself for shortcomings. The book is built around eleven years of observation, eleven chapters, each with a short article written once a month or so and following the sequence of the seasons. After about a hundred pages of luminous prose, he offers an "interlude" of 20 pages of sober, sometimes disturbing issues of farming ethics that every thinking gardener should think about: the accelerating global shrinking of biodiversity, the link between population growth and the ruthless monoculture of big agribusiness, genetically modified crops and the shift of knowledge and intellectual property from individual farmers to big corporations, the horrors of cloned meat and the appalling state of our beef and dairy cattle industries. If you are serious about what you do in the garden, you should read this book.
Verlyn Klinkenborg and his wife live on a small farm in upstate New York. His latest memoir "More Scenes from the Rural Life" about his life on the farm is a collection of 173 of his most eloquent, inspiring pieces since his last book "The Rural Life" published a decade ago.
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...The part I hate is that every death brings with it every other death, going all the way back through my life."
In the last chapters titled "Coda" (which means the end of a music composition) Verlyn points out the astonishing discoveries about the universe since his Dad's birth in 1926. In 1920 cosmologists believed
there was only one galaxy, the Milky Way. Today we know there are at least 100 billion. Verlyn says, "cosmologists have no idea how much of the universe lies beyond the threshold of observability. There's even sober speculation that we live in a multiverse...the recentness of what we know doesn't annul the old knowledge; it transfigures it."
In the Appendix Verlyn describes the fascinating life of William Cobbett an Englishman who fled to America in the early 1800s. Cobbett wrote and published a book called "The American Gardner" in 1821 and later "The Cottage Economy." Verlyn says the books are "two-parts practical knowledge, two parts rural economy - and one part self-satisfaction...and nearly all Cobbett's gardening advice is good advice."
Verlyn comes from a family of Iowa farmers. He wrote a popular editorial column titled, "The Rural Life" for the "New York Times" for many years and teaches creative writing at Yale University and Pomona College. He is the author of a number of books.
This is such a pleasant collection! -- 173 vignette-ish essays, most previously published in Klinkenborg's column in the New York Times. They're gentle observations on nature, animals, farming and living the rural life, grouped into 11 years (chapters) and organized by month. In the middle of the book, a harsher "Interlude" section cleanses the readerly palate with op-ed about modern agri-business. At the end, a "Coda" section muses on the cosmos (the ultimate rural life?) and the evolution of scientific knowledge. A delicate, perfect, pen-and-ink drawing (black and white) by Nigel Peake opens each chapter.
I wished for a bit more of a gathering narrative to the collection, but in the end simply enjoyed it as a book to dip in and out of, e.g. by reading a year's (a chapter's) entries each day. Five of my favorite passages:
"A couple of months ago, I began getting up at four in the morning. I'd been reading a lot of William Cobbett, who believed that an hour in the morning was worth two in the afternoon. [...] The dogs are thrilled to get up at four, because it means they can run around outside for a few minutes, have their breakfast, and be back in bed by four fifteen.
"I go outside at night now just to admire how steep the temperature gradient has become, how the mercury seems to roll off the table once dark comes. Fall is here.
"For the past few weeks, I've been wondering, just how sharp can an icicle get? In early afternoons the icicles outside my office window lengthen themselves drip by drip, and I conclude that an icicle can only be as sharp as a drop of water. But in the morning, when the rising sun turns that curtain of ice lavender, the icicles look as sharp as needles.
"When I walk across the pasture [...] I can feel the history of this winter underfoot. Sometimes the snow crust from the Christmas storm bears me up so that I'm walking only calf-deep through the January snow, and sometimes I break all the way through to November.
"My wife and I recently drove from the farm to California. The trip had a narrative. It was called MIDDLEMARCH, by George Eliot. We slipped the first cassette into the car stereo somewhere near Albany [...and we finished the last one...] somewhere between Bakersfield and Fresno. [...] It so happens that America is as wide as MIDDLEMARCH is long...
If you like one-liners and fairly obvious humor, this probably isn't for you. This is a series of vignettes or short essays on rural life, as the title suggests. The beauty of this book is in the finer points of how winter, cabin-fever, veterinary concerns, the purpose-driven skunk, and the fragrance of last season's barnyard set a farmhand philosopher to musing. Instead of vignettes, I would say 'a series of musings' is the best way to describe this book. I'm a muser myself, so I smiled almost constantly as I could imagine myself or my grandfather arriving at the same sorts of internal debates the author brings to the fore. They aren't earth-shattering, but it is striking what you end up thinking about, given enough time and bad weather to really exercise those muscles.
You'll get the most out of this book if you have some shared experiences with the author. Having never set foot on a farm would be a serious handicap to the reader. Coupled with that, the style is verbose and (IMHO) enriched by better vocabulary and literary allusions than would be needed to convey the point, but help to set the tone as more of an audience with a well-educated gentleman farmer (which is precisely what it is), than tall tales told by the average Joe. To be more literal would have the author pretending to be someone else. As I said, I dig it. If you're familiar, you might say Old MacDonald meets Lemony Snickets... It may be a bit too eccentric for your tastes, so I'd say know thyself on that count. A number of perfectly literate and intelligent people I know would likely rather eat this book than read it. Fortunately, it was just my speed.