On Being a Worthy Heir of the Agrarian Contrarians

Earlier in our conversation Logsdon had told me that in his seminary days he had been lonesome for his farm back home and that he used to canoe down the river, tie off, and walk among the cows on a nearby farm. So now I asked him whether he tied off on the left or the right side of the river. “Left,” he said. And I said, “that was probably my grandfather’s farm you were trespassing on!”

This was a phone conversation, so we couldn’t hold hands and sing “It’s a Small World After All,” but at that moment I felt as if it might be possible to shrink the world back to its proper size.

Not long after that I was in Michigan, traveling down M-99. I pulled off the highway and snapped a photograph of the Tudor mansion, which I later sent to Logsdon. He wrote back, his words throbbing with that exquisite pain we call nostalgia, which, of course, is also an intense kind of pleasure. He said he could remember the very spot on that property where he decided to be not a priest but a writer.

“The woodland sanctuary … saved me,” he writes in this new book. “It kept me sane … until I found myself, and then it convinced me to leave a life I was not fit for.” (Years later Wendell Berry would wryly understate the case to me: ‘it would seem that Gene’s parents singled out the wrong son for the priesthood.’)

And now here we have his twenty-second book, which I can’t wait to give my attention to. I think it will be the first book in the queue during finals week—before the avalanche of papers and blue books buries me.

And this is a propos of pretty much nothing save real places and the morels that sometimes grow in them, but, because we care about place here, and since I’ve mentioned morels, I’ll tell it anyway. One of my oldest friends lives in this same small Michigan town, and one of my favorite stories about him begins with his slicing a golf ball into the woods one day in late spring. (His swing resembles an octopus trying to put on panty-hose; the result of it is seldom pretty.) He trudged off into the bramble to look for the ball, as he often must, but he never found it. The Eagle Scout in him kicked in, and he came out of the woods toting not a Titleist but 110 morel mushrooms. Eaton Rapids is as fine a place to be in as to be from. (And it’s the only one on earth, as the signs at the city limits emphatically declare.)

Gene Logsdon is a frequent contributor to Farming magazine, edited by the aforementioned David Kline, an Amish farmer who, like Logsdon, also lives in Ohio. Subscription is not expensive, and what you read there is a damn site more valuable than most of what passes for news.

We owe something to these old agrarian contrarians; they deserve to have heirs worthy of the good work they’ve spent their lives doing. I daresay the Front Porch is a place (in the non-place sense of the word) where such heirs may be found. And it is well that we be worthy of our forebears.

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2 comments on this post.
  1. robert m. peters:

    I am reminded that the Psalmist in Psalm 1:3 uses an agrarian metaphor for a faithful person:

    “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
    and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.”

    Our Lord uses a similar metaphor in John 15: 1-8:

    1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

    St. Paul writes in Galatians 5: 22-23:

    “22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

    The fruit of the Spirit which is made manifest nine ways, fruits which come by surrendering and submitting the ego and the will to the Spirit through the Christ, is contrasted by works as St. Paul usually speaks of them, works which are, even at their best, products of our wills and our egos.

    The true agrarian life demands submission and humility: a good start for walking creaturely and Christianly, be one every so much a contrarian.

  2. D.W. Sabin:

    I must say that I have generally heard more eloquence in the wind rustling through the trees than many a somber homily between excessive kneelings. Not always of course, but on average perhaps. The Lord is within after all. He doth not issue from dry lecterns.

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