Sometimes when a new book order comes in, I’m too excited, almost dizzy with excitement, to settle down to start anything on page one, and that’s how I feel this week, especially about Sharon Astyk’s books, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front and A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil. This woman has all the credentials. She’s a good writer with an academic background who also walks the talk. I found her online, via No Impact Man via French Road Connections, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on her books. To go along with them I also ordered The Backyard Homestead and Backyard Poultry Keeping and re-ordered The Art of Simple Food and Gene Logsdon’s All Flesh is Grass. Wendell Berry’s The Gift of Good Land came in an earlier order.
It’s just coincidence that Depletion and Abundance has bright red cherries on the cover, but I’m taking that a sign. These are books for Leelanau County. We have the land, the rain, the clean air, and all we have to do is roll up our sleeves and get to work. The sight of my garden this morning had special significance as I looked forward to reading Astyk. She’s right up my alley in another way, too. “Am I Romanticizing Poverty?” reads one section heading late in the book.
The answer is, I suspect, a little bit, in the sense that I don’t think anything is served by saying, ‘Your future and the future of your children is drudgery and misery.’ I think it is certainly possible that I elide some difficulties—or rather, that I prefer not to focus on them. Some of that is the optimist in me. And part of it is that ultimately most of the things that will necessarily get harder aren’t the things I value most. That is, I suspect our physical loads will get heavier. On the other hand, I suspect that will be good for my overall health and wellbeing, so I choose to look at it as mostly a positive.
A couple pages later is this—
Do I romanticize subsistence agriculture? Maybe a little. I like farming, and someone who doesn’t might not agree with me. And I tend to think that if we’re going to have to do something (and I have little doubt that we will have to), we might as well go into it excited, treating it as an opportunity to optimize and improve our lives, rather than as a tragedy to be endured.
There, you see? She is another romantic pragmatist!
Hanging my laundry on a clothesline to dry in the sun and breeze is a luxury, not a hardship. Having a neighbor cut our meadow to feed fresh greens to his cattle makes me feel like a contributor to their welfare. I can get cranky about people who live in the country and let autumn olive take over their unused fields, but focusing on that negative won’t change their minds or practices. “Brighten the corner where you are” went the old Sunday school song we learned as children. Corny? Yes, but good advice, nonetheless, and I’m starting in my backyard and in my bookstore. Beautiful Leelanau! It can only be more beautiful as more fields go back into production as pasture, orchard or cropland.