I want to thank you all for being patient with me as I've never been a columnist before. I feel like something is sprouting in my life, and sprouts are always glad of the support that keeps the ''true leaves'' from being squashed or devoured by ravenous bunnies.
So much to talk about since last month - my dad and I finished restoring the part of the barn for my first flock of hens (with the invaluable help from Uncle Fred's manpower and consultation, Cousin Barry's sturdy locust posts and Uncle Herb helped all the way from Wisconsin, because he gave my dad the miter saw; my landlord for being a good man and my neighbor for stopping over to see our project unfold). My fiance and I, bonding in our trepidation, drove up Hurlburt in Forestville to get our hens from the brilliant and convivial couple who run Roo Haven Farm.
I was pleased to see a rooster up close standing guard over the hens. This is their dancing rooster, stunning as an Appalachian Mountaintop (before they're bombed to fuel electricity, each precious megawatt being a little more dead mountain, spent to play television shows filled with rude jerks - don't even get me started). Roosters have an impressive stature and an admirable sense of dignity.
We got them home from the farm in my coffee table I flipped over and rigged up with hardware cloth using J-Clips and nails (I'm learning my MacGyver skills from my dad). I named the chubbier one with a spunky personality, "Henny Boo Boo." Watching them puts you into chicken hypnosis. They seem to be always moving in synchrony as one larger organism in communication with individual parts, orbiting like stars around the feeder.
There's Suzie and Shady (black and white stripes, vibrant red combs) and there's Helga and Hennybooboo (shades of luscious browns and black scalloping like a Victorian rich lady) and finally, Pearl and Whinny the mostly white with a smattering of black scallop and smear markings, of the Delaware breed.
I could go on about chickens for a long time and I will in the future but for now, it's time to buckle down and talk about the inspiration for my column, a 78-year-old Kentucky farmer named Wendell Berry. You see, after high school I wandered through community college and Fredonia State, then, too racked with social anxiety to be in a classroom at all, I switched to the online courses that come from Empire State, in the Pucci building.
I dabbled in electives of every variety, hoping something would speak to me. I got in debt, that like many in my generation, I'm finding hard to pay back - all to discover that my path lay outside of the industrial career track. Nevertheless, I took a course that changed my life; it was about thinking about the significance of places, specifically the place you are from.
That's when I first read Berry - an essayist, poet, novelist, and farmer. It was an unmistakable turning point as it was a meaty response to the question at the root of doing anything at all - the reason I went to further education - why am I alive and what am I going to do about it?
You see, I had misspent years moping around majorly depressed. I'm trying to make up for lost time, now that I see that life is a miracle. It's something you have to feel for yourself, so powerful it makes you identify the plants around your house, taste the edible ones, make jelly of the black locust blossoms, peel the skin of staghorn sumac with your fingers to chew the sweet green shoot, boil up some burdock root, and make a salad of dandelions. I have entered such a vibrant state of love for Chautauqua County, I want to taste it.
This is how enthusiastic a simple life, rich with affection, feels. I endorse it, because I know how bad it is when you're disconnected. Worth the effort. A little every day, think about what you love here. You know, I was aiming this column at preparing us for the times of ration, no doubt ahead for this country, but I took a ride as late spring turned to early summer here, and it's hard to stay stern with everything green and robust again, people everywhere - we're looking prosperous and unshakeable.
We can convince more and more young people to stay and settle here, be part of a continuity of the land's memory and lessons here. We need to protect not only our main streets but also outskirts and exit ramps from becoming wholly indistinguishable from all the other places in modern America. What is rare is precious; what we have is getting rarer all the time; we must treat it as precious as it is. For the physical health of the coming generations, the beauty of what is specific and authentic and what is rooted in a community with a memory and space for the growing of one's character and spirit.
Imagine our backroads where you come up to the top of a hill and are dwarfed by the blue sky on the horizon and a swelling rise of a meadow bathed in honey light, and you see a weather-worn lean-to and an Irish dexter calf with big dark doe-like eyes, in the luscious pasture, you smell woodsmoke that reminds you of someone you loved as a child, maples tapped for syrup and making a sweet breeze on a humid afternoon. You might see any kind of unbelievable sight when you reach a hilltop. I defy you to describe heaven any more desirable than what we have right here.
Berry doesn't advocate a mandatory one-size-fits all policy solution; he speaks to the heart of matters in a reasonable voice of a dignified man, who offers to individuals the ideas that may translate to their life. And I wanted to share him with you.
Lindsay Morrison is a Forestville resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org