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HOMEGROWN Life: Thanks, E. B. White

HOMEGROWN Life A friend gave me a copy of Down East magazine back before Christmas with a page earmarked. “You’ll die laughing,” she warned me. Turns out, it was a reprint of E. B. White’s “Memorandum,” from One Man’s Meat, published in 1944.

I knew of White from his story of a famous pig named Wilbur who befriended a spider named Charlotte in the children’s book Charlotte’s Web. I must have read that book 20 times over as a child. Maybe it was my first inkling toward wanting to be connected to animals in some way. I’ve never seen the movie version. I guess I always thought I’d be disappointed. Sometimes, the visions we carry in our heads are far more alive and vivid than anything on a silver screen. At least, that’s how I see it when it comes to some of my favorite things, one of them being the tale of a pig and a spider.

One Man's Meat, by E. B. WhiteI saved the magazine for a time when I could sit down and read “Memorandum” without the distraction of something on the stove or a dryer buzzer going off or another log needing to be thrown on the fire. I felt like I was due for a really good belly laugh, as was suggested was going to be the case.

What I experienced instead was the realization that E. B. White and I had so much in common. His litany of tasks and thoughts and expressions of worry or concern were exactly the same things I experience as I wend my way through “working the farm” every day. I said out loud, to nobody but the cats and dog, who gave me a concerned look, “This is exactly how my day is!”

I wasn’t laughing. I was completely struck by the description of a day on a farm and the reality of it all. The shoulds and the oughts and what it would be a good day to do. The things that occur to him and the things he lists he’ll need to complete. The endless tasks and suggestions of the tools that would be good to use to do them and the thoughts of what there is to do tomorrow and what he needs to do to prepare for that next day. If you haven’t read it, do. You’ll never feel alone as a farmer again.

HOMEGROWN Life: Goats in winter

I have conversations all the time with a farmer friend who has been at this for more than 30 years. Brian always says, “If you get behind one day, consider you’ll need three to catch up, if you’re lucky.” It’s an ADD delight, a constant never-ceasing barrage of things rattling around in your head, all equally important, that keep you from ever completely focusing on the task at hand and relentlessly reminding you of what’s left undone. If you farm, tend animals, raise crops, labor over orchards, house any kind of living thing, you know what I’m saying. White describes it in such exquisite detail, the needs of every living and inanimate thing on a farm, you are reminded of the connection to this way of life, and your heart stands still at the thought that you, too, experience this kind of intimacy on a daily basis.

Just as White “musn’t forget to set some mousetraps tonight,” I am reminded of my own tasks that need tending to: “I ought to make a list, I guess.” If you have a list, and my guess is that, if you’re a farmer, you have more than one, know you’re in good company.

HOMEGROWN Life: Bittersweet Herd

When it comes right down to it, the way I see it, the real essence of farming hasn’t changed much since 1944. White’s litany of chores and thoughts and shoulds and oughts is as alive today as it was then. I find that comforting. Maybe the certainty that each day will bring a new set of chores and tasks and unexpected jobs is the simple reason why we’re drawn to the farming way of life. Days unfold with wind and rain, snow and sleet, animals birthing, animals dying, papers that need filling in, stalls that need cleaning, rows of plants that need weeding, compost piles that need turning, wood that needs cutting or stacking, trash that needs burning, stickers for cars that need fetching and sticking, roofs that need mending, sheep that need drenching, and I should go on but won’t. To me, that’s the beauty of farming, the reminder that something much bigger than me is in charge of how my days are laid out before me.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time here typing, and I can see it is four o’clock already and almost dark, so I had better get going.” It seems even this task is one that takes on a life of its own, as these thoughts transfer from brain to paper. Thanks for the brain cramp, Mr. White.

HOMEGROWN Life: Dyan RedickDyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

5 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Life: Thanks, E. B. White”

  1. I’ve always loved E.B. White– and that list of things to be done haunts me, no matter what my occupation.

  2. Iv’e put “Memorandum” on my list! Love this post. Thank you. Would that my list were as “farmy” as yours! : )

  3. So glad “Memorandum” was suggested to me. Enjoy! Happy to share my list with visitors! 😉

  4. I have spent the winter with EB White as well! I was just sent a link to your posting… I have not yet read this essay by White but instead spent the last few weeks reading his collected essays in a book called the Collected Essays of EB White. I LOVE HIS STUFF! I have been a life long fan of his grammar Bible, known as Strunk and White. And of course devoured all of his books as a child and again as a parent re-reading outloud with my kids. (Trumpet of the Swan might be the best book ever written about having a learning disability, I swear. And note that I don’t say best kid’s book on the topic, I mean best book for EVERYONE on the topic.) But his essays are a lush fantastic treat. For the reader in me, for the writer in me, for the gardener in me, for the urban dweller, and animal lover. I feel as if I have found a lot of letters from a long lost friend! I should blog about it I guess! Anyhow, it is great to know that in someone else out there is enjoying him this winter, too. Thanks again for a great post.

  5. Thanks Alison, I now keep “One Man’s Meat” in my “office”, where I have to do all the paper part of farming to remind me that all the stuff will always be there. It gives me a chuckle every time I get so involved in what I’m doing, while being distracted in my thoughts about all the other things that need doing. Very good reminder that it will always be so!

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