Yesterday when I got to the farm the horses, lured by the warm sunshine (and disgusted with the state of their bale) had actually ventured out into the winter-brown pasture. They were lipping across the seared grass tops looking for new spring shoots. Overly optimistic? Sure, but when it's this nice, it's hard NOT to start looking for greening grass and budding leaves.
It's in that spirit that I thought of this book. Gary Paulsen has written some well regarded young adult books over the years, including Dogsong, The Car and The Crossing. If you know any boys who are reluctant readers, and like their fiction gritty, raw and action-packed, you might recommend Paulsen's books. (He also wrote one of the funniest, guttsiest auto-biographical tales I've ever read documenting his attempt to prepare for and complete the famous Alaskan Iditorod dog sled race - the title of the book is Winterdance: the fine madness of running the Iditarod.)
This particular book, however, is neither a YA, nor particularly humorous.
Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass by Gary Paulsen
Paulson writes (hate to use this word, but here goes!) lyrically -- almost poetically about the rhythm of life on a turn of the century farm. A time when horse-pulled farm equipment began to give way to horsepowered farm equipment. Work rules; the type of work governed by the seasons, from which no hands are exempt from the smallest to the oldest in the continuous effort to make sure there is enough food, because there surely is no money.I thought of this book when T came home last fall from drill with the news that a local farmer had been careless clearing a wire jam while milling hay for silage. I thought of it again yesterday smelling mud & farm smells and watching the new lambs hop about and bask in the sun. It's the kind of book that sticks with you. But I'll let you read, and judge for yourself....
The foreword almost put me off with its central feature of a large dead horse, but there is a reverence to Paulson's writing about the circle of life that pulled me on. This is a book to sit with and enjoy. To read and be grateful while reading that better machinery makes life a bit easier for those hands and backs that struggle to fill our nation's plates.
But the passages about luck, about fate, about the horrible accidents that can befall the careless or inattentive on a farm... those still ring as true, pure, and gruesomely cautionary as ever. Ruth Paulson's accompanying illustrations are a lovely series on their own, and compliment the text beautifully.
(Oh, and if you decide to read Winterdance - watch out for the skunks. You'll know why when you get there.)