Updated: Dec 19, 2018
An interesting read, however slight utopian, about the state of present day rural america, farming practices, and common sense for the human race to live more sustainable.
Among the various themes running throughout this book, the one I found to be most relevant is our culture's disconnect with the past, and our agrarian heritage. As we race towards earning money, increasing reliance on technology, and strive to live for the future, we have had a disconnect with the past. Or, as this book points out, our disconnect with the past and our agrarian heritage. We once worked with nature, relying on her cycles and energy to produce food. As technology increased and agriculture became more of a business, the understanding and cooperation we had with nature has been trampled. We have forgotten that we are still tied to the land, as we are not above eating food and harvesting materials for shelter.
As an environmentalist, I always valued the state of the natural, untouched land to be the most pristine and productive ecosystems. I never valued traditional agriculture as a way of living with the land, as to sustain it for the future user. As I was taught in school, the equilibrium state of any environment can be achieved by working with it. For the last 150 years, humans have chose to ignore this basic principle. Yet in various points in this book, the author points to several examples of groups who still (recent past) used sustainable techniques for farming, and the surrounding ecosystem can achieve an equilibrium. However, in an industrial farming (most of what we see out our window) scheme, this equilibrium is lost, attributed to heavy chemicals, soil erosion, mono-crops, and not using the land to its advantage.
As much poetic writing there is about Nature, another interesting current inserted in these essays was the homage to simple earnest work ethics. Inevitably tied to our past way of farming and being at the will of nature, the author cites stories involving the Amish, native American tribes, and his local farmer friends. In a way similar to using nature to work for us, as a common sense practice, he talks about simple 'the right way to do things'. To paraphrase one story:
'For generations, a task such as maintaining and repairing a wire fence was commonplace. There was a certain methodology to it, from the setting up of tools, to the stacking of the cleared brush, to the final cleanup. Everybody in town knew this way. As a newly established company came to do this task, all of these simple practices were ignored, resulting in a job not well done with much mess, and not respectful of the clients who had paid. The protagonist, an old man, takes a young man to help and finally goes about to clean up the mess created. As the young man is hastily throwing piles of branches onto the truck bed, the old man stops him. He explains that if he were to not carefully pack branches at an alternating pattern, they would have to make three trips instead of one. The young man sees this, and acknowledges that a little extra work the correct way will be the best for everything.'
The point of this story, and really the whole book, is that these simple chores which have a right and a wrong way; and if not learned, get transcribed to other more complicated work tasks later on in life. If we don't have the patience to do a simple task right, work with the materials given, work with Nature rather than against it, then we are simply not being the most intelligent species on the planet.