“Pastoral Song" by James Rebanks; © 2020, HarperCollins; 304 pages
"Far, Girl: A Memoir" by Megan Baxter; © 2021, Green Writer's Press; 255 pages
'Til the cows come home.
For most people, that indicates a lengthy amount of time but for you, it sounds positively peaceful. It reminds you of wildflowers, fresh-plowed dirt, green grass, and your head nestled into the side of a bovine. It makes you want to feel sun-warmed earth and smell new-mown hay. It makes you want to read these great books ...
Imagine a farm with no tractors, nothing but rich fields and contented cows. It's the stuff of nineteenth-century paintings and stories but for author James Rebanks, it was normal: his grandfather farmed like that, with his hands in the land and on his animals. In "Pastoral Song," Rebanks writes of bringing those "old ways" back.
It wasn't without effort, though: when Rebanks inherited his grandfather's land, it wasn't the same as it was a century before — but then again, neither was farming. His grandfather struggled to survive on the land, maybe because his methods were not modern or moneyed or forward enough; so much of farming is chemical now, machinery-driven, corporate, and futuristic, as compared to how it used to be. Resistance to modern farming is often useless.
And yet, with this in mind, Rebanks set about to bring back a way of life that's uncommon in his rural English countryside, and by the time you get to his final chapter, you'll wish you were there. "Pastoral Song" is a lushly meditative and wonderful story that's perfect for any farmer and every wanna-be with a dream.
But what if your dream lies on one side of the country and your heart is on the other side? That was the dilemma Megan Baxter writes about in "Farm Girl": she was living with the man she adored in Portland and their lives were complicated but she couldn't leave him. Meanwhile, her mind kept returning to the New England farm she loved.
It was small, by some standards — just 40 acres of certified-organic land between Vermont and New Hampshire, and she missed it. The farm's berries and tomatoes were memorable, but so were the bad things that would happen, just as they do anywhere.
Yes, there was pain on the farm in Vermont, and it was quite different than the pain she was experiencing in Oregon. Frustrated, on the edge of bitter, Baxter quit college, and her mother didn't understand. She only wanted her daughter to "be happy."
That would come. Baxter knew where she really needed to be...
"Farm Girl" is a book with feet on separate coasts and longing for both to work out. It's a tiny bit of history and science here, in prose that's almost poetic, even when the angst storms in and the balance between Baxter's lives tips. Readers holding their breaths can exhale then, wistfully, mournfully, lingering.
If these books don't quite fit what you're looking for, be sure to ask your favorite bookseller or librarian for more ideas. The shelves are full of books on the farm life. There's plenty for you to take home and enjoy.