Book of essays provides peek into life on small farm

One of the great pleasures in reading books comes when you pick up a particular title and after reading a few pages you’ll find yourself saying wow, over and over again. I kept saying that the entire time I was reading “Landings: a Crooked Creek Farm Year” by Arwen Donahue.

This gorgeous book is a collection of short essays Arwen Donahue wrote as she tracked the passage of time over the course of a year at Three Springs Farm, near Carlisle in Nicholas County, Kentucky, where the author was living with her husband, her daughter, a dog, some chickens, and goats, and a few dairy cows.

These essays are accompanied by exquisite pen and watercolor drawings that are just as compelling and introspective as the author’s prose. Donahue’s artwork doubled the wow factor for this reviewer. The marriage of these two mediums, words and paintings, works perfectly.

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During the period in which Arwen wrote the book she and her husband David were growing fruits and vegetables and selling them through a CSA (community supported agriculture) program that had about 60 subscribers. During the growing season the couple would make weekly trips to Lexington to drop off the farm’s produce for their supporters.

Her reflections, observations, and meditations on farming, nature, climate change, ethics, sustainability, and rural life, are pithy, intimate, and wise. Here are some examples that convey the flavors she conjures up in her writing. I’ll leave it to readers to discover the magic of her artwork for themselves.

On splitting firewood: “It strikes me, in watching how the wood is willing to split, that there is a central point from which rays emerge, each ray a potential fault line, and in this way the wood is like sunlight in solid form. The tree, made by the sun, mirrors the sun in its heart.”

Listening to frogs: “Meanwhile, the peeps keep seeping in, until they merge into a song of one note, simmering with rhythmic variations. It’s a musical score for the drifting clouds, for the swerve of a flock of red-winged blackbirds. The birds illuminate the frogs’ song: they are many, but they are one. Communication contracts to communion.”

Nightfall:” At the creek crossing near the meadow, where the branch meets Straight Run, it’s nearly dark, and the water sings like bells over the stones, Then the rain comes, light enough to be little more than a sound, more heard than felt, a blurring of the clarity.”

When cows escaped: “I pick my way through brambly thickets of blackberry, wild rose, and poison ivy until I am uphill of the cows, pretending to be calm. If I move quickly, they may bolt, so I exercise a subtle cowgirl art, grazing on wild blackberries as they grab mouthfuls of grass, keeping my body between them and the woods, nudging them down toward the house and the lane, which will funnel them back to the barn.”

The holidays are drawing near, this large format book could make a thoughtful gift.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com

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