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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, September 9, 2007

Authors Offer Four Distinctive Views of Country Life

Count me among those who occasionally have dreamed of living the simple life in the country. I would grow vegetables, live in sync with the rhythm of the seasons and let my dog and cat run free. I would have to earn enough money to live on, but that thought just spoils the dream.One way that some fortunate people have managed to make a go of it is by earning a living writing about it. They make it possible for us dreamers to at least share their experiences secondhand.

The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing by Margaret O. Killinger (University of Vermont Press, 2007).

Helen Nearing and her husband, Scott Nearing, (20 years her senior) were pioneers in the back-to-the land movement that peaked in the 1960s and '70s.

The Nearings moved to a homestead in Vermont in the 1940s, selling maple syrup as a cash crop and constructing13 buildings out of native stone and wood.

In the 1950s they moved to Maine. They opened their second Maine home, Forest Arm, to the public. The farm is now a Good Life Center, and you can still see the composting toilet, wood burning stove, and wooden eating utensils and bowls the Nearings used instead of china.

Letters From Eden by Julie Zickfoose (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

The author and her husband, the editor of a birding magazine, live on a farm of 80 acres in southeastern Ohio. Zickfoose loves birds. She even named her daughter, Phoebe, after one.

Illustrated with the author's own expert watercolors and drawings, chapters are often stories. During a January thaw, she tracks down the horned owl that killed an opossum. She returns Fergus, the bad bullfrog that eats hummingbirds, to the wild. And she catches Paul, a Savannah sparrow, in a grocery store and sets him free.

The author is awake and receptive to nature and possesses a rare kinship with all animals. A book to cherish.

Dog Days: Dispatches From Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz (Villard, 2007).

Katz lives on a farm, but he's the first to admit he's not a real farmer. He earns his living writing about dogs, and he does it very well.

Three years ago, Katz bought a farm in upstate New York and named it Bedlam Farm. The reason for the name is the many animals that share his life, in an almost exhilarating fashion.

It's the animals that take center stage. Rose is the Border collie and untiring worker. Izzy is the second Border collie, rescued by Katz, who shows her affection by becoming his shadow. Clementine and Pearl are ridiculously easygoing brown Labs. Mother is the cat who keeps the farm clear of mice and rodents. Winston is the rooster and farm's sentinel. And Elvis and is the big, friendly cow that obeys (some) of Katz's commands.

Katz writes with a lot of wisdom. He is not a sentimentalist when it comes to his animals. He realizes that loving them means feeding them, taking them to the veterinarian and cleaning up their messes, as well as being the recipient of their affectionate nuzzles. Each day brings its crises and mysteries, and Katz takes his responsibilities toward his animal friends seriously.

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (Bantam, 2007).

The author's father was banished from the family by her grandfather when she was 5. She overheard whispers of bankruptcy, bootlegging and jail time.

She split her time as a child between her grandparents' house in Garrison, Iowa, and a nearby farm in the country. Life was harder than what we are used to. The only rooms with heat were the living room and kitchen. Chores were never-ending. Electric appliances were unknown.

But instead of being bitter, the author obviously had a great childhood and looks back on those days with great fondness. Yes, her grandparents ran their grandchildren's lives like dictators, but they were wise teachers, and the subjects they ultimately taught were character and responsibility. Don't miss this book.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.