Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Down on the Farm

Yesterday evening I had two back-to-back episodes of Greencastle happiness.

First I went to the Putnam County Public Library (two blocks from my house) for a Celebration of Authors. The authors to be celebrated were first- and second-grade writers from Ridpath and Deer Meadow Elementary School, and me. The children's room was thronged with children who arrived clutching their stories, beaming parents and grandparents in tow. I talked to the assembled audience for about ten minutes about my own childhood love of reading and writing and how it led me to grow up to be a published author. Then the children divided into two groups by grade level to share their stories. I stayed with the second grade group and heard some impressive work - frankly, quite a bit better than my own writing at their age. Stories shared, we reconvened as a large group and I read the funniest bit from Fractions = Trouble!, where Wilson's friend Josh is conducting his science fair experiment centered on the question: "At what temperature does a pickle explode?"

Then I dashed off to the final meeting of the Wendell Berry reading group - one of four faculty-staff-student reading groups sponsored this spring by the Prindle Institute (I'm in all four, of course!). We have been reading Berry's poetry, short stories, and essays, all exploring America's vanishing agrarian experience. One of the group's members is an actual farmer, farming in Berry's old-fashioned way that honors the land, so we had our closing meeting on his farm, just south of Cloverdale.

As I arrived from the drive in the golden evening light, the others were just getting settled outdoors, in a circle formed of planks of wood set upon hay bales, near several three-hundred-year-old trees, as contented cows wandered about and a friendly dog tried to join in our conversation. Our English professor/poet member had brought two daughters; they were busy playing (or doing homework? or both?) in the barn. We sat together until dark, talking about land as a gift and the need for an environmental ethic that moves away from a focus on preserving nature from any human interaction to one that will allow humans to live and work harmoniously with the earth.

My only regret from the evening was that I didn't play in the barn myself. But I can return. Jerry's farm isn't going anywhere. It's been farmed for generations. I can return another day.

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