The title of this book is in denial about its contents. “I’ll try to hold out against more journal making…but if I do give in, this is what I have in mind. I want to count the crows in the field every afternoon. I want to record the temperatures, high and low, and measure the rain and snow.” This assertion by Verlyn Klinkenborg in Chapter One, “January,” is miles away, as the uncounted crows fly, from the meat he gives the reader to chew on.
Naming Pepys and Boswell as examples of the diarists of introspection, referring at length to Thoreau (whom Klinkenborg obviously admires), the author leads us to expect at the minimum an account reminiscent of The Years of the Forest, Helen Hoover’s earthy look at a couple determined to be trapped in the woods.
Klinkenborg tells us that “sometimes it seems as though I grew up in the backseat of the family car.“ Perhaps this is a clue as to why the reader is whisked to Manhattan in May, Iowa in June and indeed to the moon in July.
Pigs are mentioned - he will have them, against all sense and reason, because pigs need apples like apple trees need pigs. But beyond this brief argument on the advantages of pig husbandry, we listen but hear no further grunt or squeal. The battered lawn chair featured on the dust jacket is empty, it seems, because the owner/overseer of his smallholding is never at home. In September he blows a tire in Wyoming, in October we examine the weekday work in Last Chance, Colorado. Klinkenborg, who writes regularly for the New Yorker, Esquire, and even Mother Jones, is a talented wordsmith who has not as much time as he might have hoped for the serious tasks of homesteading. In a brief epilogue, he alludes to this, explaining a little late why the book is a hodge-podge.
But wordsmith he is, and whether you are fulltime homesteader, devoted journalist or mere occasional visitor to the natural world, or if you’ve ever just walked one cold day outdoors, you will be reminded of it in passages like this:
“It’s as ugly here as open, undisturbed country ever gets. One day early last week the temperature reached forty-seven in the afternoon, with steady rain. The ground was frozen and still partly covered by snow….a dense vapor clung to the tops of the snow banks. Water ran in thin scalloped rivulets across tarred roads…I found myself staring into the tangled woods, wondering why humans had never hibernated and whether it was too late to think again.”