“I got a stack of books at the library,” I told Elliott on a video chat last week. “I’m so excited to read them.” My eyes ran over the stack lovingly: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, The Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.
“Don’t tell me,” Elliott predicted, “it’s a bunch of non-fiction by random people.”
I glanced at the stack of books again in astonishment. Ummm… yep. They all were. Well well well. Guess he knows me!
I started one of the books, but it was downstairs one night while I was nursing Gil, so I picked up The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love. Right from the first lines of the Prologue, I was hooked:
“Saturday night, midwinter. The farmhouse has been dark for hours and the crew has all gone home. We light a fire and open two bottles of our friend Brian’s homemade beer, and as I wash up the milking things Mark begins to cook for me, a farmer’s expression of intimacy. He is perfectly sure of himself in the kitchen, wasting no movement, and watching him fills me with a combination of admiration and lust, like a rock star’s groupie. He has chosen a fine-looking chuck steak from the side of beef we butchered this week and has brought an assembly of vegetables from the root cellar. Humming, he rummages through the fridge and comes out with a pint of rich, gelatinous chicken stock and a pomegranate, the latter a gift from my friend Amelia, who brought it up from New York City….”
Thus begins the beautiful memoir of Kristin Kimball, a NYC writer who went looking for a young farmer to interview about the burgeoning back-to-the-land movement. When she left Mark’s farm in Pennsylvania, she walked away with more than a story. Within two years, the two of them were leasing their own farm in the North Country of New York state with the ambitious plan of creating a farm that would provide virtually all the food their subscribers needed to live: vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, all kinds and cuts of meat, and even maple syrup.
Their story of their first year of farming together — complete with their beautiful wedding in the barn loft — kept me captured for all of two days. I could hardly put the book down. It wasn’t just the fact that this was a classic story of desperate humans working with nature, creating something beautiful out of something equally beautiful and yet just as broken as themselves. It was also Kristin Kimball’s writing, her exquisite skill with words. I read a few pages aloud at dinner to my family, and they sighed and smiled through the whole reading before applauding at the end.
Like many of us, Elliott and I harbor our own dreams of having a small “farm” one day: a vegetable garden for fresh produce, chickens for eggs and meat, goats for milk and cheese, and maybe a Jersey cow to try our hands at butter and fresh milk. This beautiful memoir fanned the flame of those dreams. Now we just need the kids to grow up a bit so they can gather the eggs each morning…