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A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm Paperback – April 1, 1998
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Unless you're a vampire, you know that garlic is a critical element in good eating. For most people, this knowledge comes from happy experience with garlic-laced cuisines (and what notable culinary tradition is without it?), not book learning, and not working the fields to produce the aromatic bulb. For Stanley Crawford, the love of garlic comes from both scientific study and three decades of labor in the field to produce the exquisite bulbs, knowing full well that "if you grow good garlic people will love you for it." Crawford deserves similar affection for Garlic Testament, a lyrical memoir of his work as a farmer in northern New Mexico, one that combines autobiography, gardening hints, and a quiet philosophy of life. "Farming and writing are both labors ... conducted on flat planes in relative solitude," he writes, but in this fine book--which compares well with the work of fellow farmer-writer Wendell Berry--Crawford opens his gate and invites our company. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
More than 20 years ago, Crawford ( Mayordomo ) and his wife Rosemary settled in a mountain valley an hour outside of Santa Fe. They made the adobe bricks with which they built a house and started both to raise a family and to work what is now a four-acre farm. While the author writes that they "were a little too old to be hippies, though we tried," the couple's turning to the land was a thoughtful, considered move. This elegant and unsentimental account of how Crawford learned to grow his principal crop, garlic, and what that process has revealed about himself and his place in the world is probing. An eloquent paean to physical effort and to the land he cares for and depends on, his chronicle is a treasure trove of planting lore, from the autumn planting of garlic cloves to the winter-long "hibernation," the sighting of first shoots in spring, the formation of seed stalks in early summer, the harvesting soon after, and the less satisfying process, to him, of selling his produce, including statice and squash, at farmers' markets in Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Crawford's keen observations, penned in well-hewn prose, are as reflectively nurtured and pungently powerful as his crop of choice.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Crawford grew up in southern California before the endless housing tracts took it over, would graduate from the University of Chicago, find the love of his life, an Australian, Rose Mary, while writing a novel on Crete and decided, like a few other people, to seek refuge from the turmoil of the ‘60’s, and its aftermath, including the Vietnam War, in one of the remote valleys of Northern New Mexico in the early 1970’s. Unlike so many others who flitted into these valleys, for the taste of another side of America, the Crawfords “stuck,” and made a home, literally with their own hands, as well as a passable living, all with the help of others.
Their home is in Dixon, NM, which is roughly half way between Taos and Santa Fe, and is 6,500 ft. above sea level. About a third of the book simply concerns the natural world in which the earth is worked and re-worked, changed, transformed, and renewed throughout the seasons. In terms of nature writing, I would place Crawford alongside Joseph Wood Krutch who would also write of the American Southwest in The Desert Year (Sightline Books). Of course, Crawford spent many more than a single year here, coming up with observations such as: “Last of all return the nighthawks, who several stories above the bats will sieve the higher atmosphere of its fine spray of insect protein, an airborne plankton tumbled up from the ground by slow breakers of cool air rolling down each evening from the higher mountains.” He also devotes an entire chapter to a magpie.
Another third of the book is about the cultivation and selling of garlic (along with onions and flowers, in the “honorable mention” category.) If one thinks peeling a garlic bulb is a bit of work, Crawford chronicles where the real work is. Often, as one of the chapter titles states, “third world” backbreaking work, particularly for someone who is 6’3,” as he is. Garlic is planted in the fall. There are several different types. Unlike most crops, 10-12% of the crop must be held back as seed for the next harvest. In several ways, garlic is “countercyclical” to other crops, growing when they do not. Crawford is quite forthright about a key aspect of his venture: one might have fantasies about a life of independence and “self-sufficiency” when retreating to a remote NM valley, but the successful cultivation of garlic requires numerous other people helping along. One of the best things I think he does his provide some ever-so-elusive meaningful summer jobs, often the first they will ever have, to young teenagers. And his parents, in their 80’s, a fit father, a mother blinded by a stroke, find additional meaning to their lives by assisting him.
The final third concerns his wonderful ruminations about a life along a path less traveled. He claims membership, along with one other, in the alt-alumni club of the University of Chicago. No Nobel Prizes in Physics… et al. Rather a life that involves walking through the fields in winter, contemplating the real meaning of “wealth.” Probably a much more important consideration than finding “God’s particle,” the Higgs boson. Consider: “This is wealth that has not yet been driven through the filters of abstraction and stripped of its sensual and material qualities.” Or, on the nature of his work: “…an invitation to usefulness that nothing else so forthrightly poses.” Or, “I do by choice what much of the rest of the world must do by dire, brutal necessity.” And “where the story all began,” at least one history changing story, Los Alamos, that very “Anglo” town, where people “go up to,” as opposed to the other towns that people “go to” is also a weekly market destination for the Crawfords. “Most of the farmers who sell in Los Alamos are Hispanic. Most of the customers are Anglo women. As an Anglo male with a university education, I’m on the wrong side of the wooden planks and apple boxes that make up my stand. But my customers have decided I’m all right. In fact, I’m not.”
Crawford’s “all right” by me, particularly the “not” part. 6-stars.