Friday, March 15, 2019

Why My New Book Celebrates Farmers

There is a strong, instant connection when you meet other people who grew up on the family farm.

Even if you’re just briefly acquainted with haying, shucking sweet corn or feeling the thrum of a tractor under your hindquarters, farming sticks to you like meadow muffins on your barn boots.

When I hear the phrase “work ethic”, I can’t help but think of a plaid flannel shirt hanging on a wooden hook; or maybe I picture a crate of homegrown tomatoes, oddly shaped and impossibly sweet. I see Ford flatbed trucks and John Deere mowers, worn suspenders and Carhart jackets.

I see knit hats pulled down over sleepy eyes in crazy hours of the night, preparing to assist a mare in foal.

It’s ingrained in my very skin, this legacy of farming. When I drive past a newly turned field, I feel a swell of pride. In my county, I know every hamlet, ditch and pond where the peepers sing their noisy anthems to welcome the growing season.

After settling in for some ag research, I felt uneasy about the current plight of the farmer – particularly the dairy farmer. For instance, for every dollar spent on a grocery item, the farmer behind that produce or milk is earning six cents of that dollar. That’s why buying directly from the farmer is so very important to the financial health of the farmers; the middle men suck up all the profits.

It jolted me in my gut to learn the rate of farmers committing suicide is more than double that of war veterans.

It’s sad to imagine that kids born in rural communities today will, less and less, be immersed in farm life. Our pastoral landscape, once dotted with barns, silos and grazing cattle, will be replaced with more industrial behemoths called CAFOs.  It’s a whole new type of livestock farm: the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. 

In a heartbreaking blog titled “ On the Death of My Family’s Dairy Farm” Abe Voelker writes, “This probably shouldn’t be a huge shock. Ever since I can remember there has always been a steady drumbeat of family farms going bust. Sometimes the tempo would increase, when milk and/or crop prices would hit new lows, but the drum has always beat on as the industry never seemed to turn a corner”.

Abe refers to his family farm’s demise as “the end of a long battle”.

But I don’t want to end on a gloomy note. As long as there are seedlings in sunny windows, there will be hope for agriculture on some level.

As long as there are red geraniums spilling out of loamy clay pots at Home Depot, there is hope.

As long as the purple sky darkens over a silhouetted tractor driver on a breathtaking June evening, there is hope.

As for me, I will always roll down my window when motoring through my beloved Warren County and beyond – drinking in the smells and sounds and the altogether satisfying buzz of activity that heralds this season of new life.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Port City of Denver

Denver is a port city — yes, I’m referring to that pioneer town in Colorado and yes, I’ve consulted a map. While there is no harbor welcoming incoming ships, there is, in fact, a symbolic harbor: the soothing warmth of the sun; the genuine hospitality of the people; the irresistible lure of ever-present mountains. I see the mile high city as a place to sail toward and drop anchor. I always know there will be people waving me in from the docks: my friends, my family, my author tribe. Eagerly I lean into the arrival, knowing these lovely, loving people will securely moor my boat and invite me in.

Later, when my journey calls me back to the open sea and sails to distant shores, I carry a treasure trove of memories to sustain me until the next voyage.

I did that recently - sailed in a flying vessel that swooped down into the spectacle of plains and mountains, cityscapes and golden sunsets. I never tire of it.

My odyssey of authoring began mostly in the rolling Allegheny mountains of Northwestern Pennsylvania, my home of origin.
The honing, the polishing, the unromantic task of edit-edit-edit, has largely happened in Colorado, near the hogback or in the watchful shadow of Vail Mountain.

Long evenings hunched over our laptops, my publisher and I, chiseling the rough draft into a sculpture of words. Edit. Edit. Edit. Checking for accuracy, leaning into art. Typing, retyping, waltzing with words.
This is how it’s been with my latest project in the Breath of Joy Series. This one’s titled “Singing Spring”.

How ironic that we put the finishing touches on bursting buds, blushing brides and babbling brooks while outside the temperatures plummeted; the snow teased and blustered.

Spring emerges out of the dormant hard ground. It’s a labor, a process, a feeling of arrival followed by a sudden plunge back into the cold, unfinished business of winter. It’s a rogue breeze. A hint of earth and rain in the air. A swell of anticipation followed by a dance of freezing rain. Spring is a watery promise, a temperamental season of joy and uncertainty, mud and glory.

And so it is with writing, editing, crafting, honing to the finished work: so much like Springtime with its fits and starts and buttery sunshine chased by capricious winds.
What a heady mix!

How grateful I am, that the rough drafts born in my home state of Pennsylvania have found their true voices in the untamed West, under the vast blue skies of Colorado.

Breath of Joy! Singing Spring is humming an anthem that I hope and pray will stir the imaginations of my readers.

Let’s sail into port - wherever that may be - with a good book, a song, and a new season on the horizon.