Patch of works shows charm of farm


With autumn will come ads for hayrides and pick-your-own pumpkin patches. Kids from the city and suburbs will spend an hour bouncing on a hay wagon, choking on the smoke of a John Deere diesel and learning all about life on the farm.


Growing up in the country is about working hard: stumbling through pre-dawn darkness with a bale of hay banging against each thigh, cracking a crowbar against the icy crust of the water trough, shoveling manure -- still steaming -- into the pile outside the shed.

Maybe that's why folks who live on farms revel in the restful moments: hiding under a weeping willow's huge hula skirt or leaning against a honeysuckle fence, staring at more stars in one night than a city kid may see in a lifetime.

I don't think I'll ever sell my husband or daughter on the romance of country life. I don't think I could readjust after 20 years away. But spending a few restful moments with the following books took me back. They ring true.

* "All the Places to Love," by Patricia MacLachlan, paintings by Mike Wimmer (HarperCollins, $15, 32 pages, all ages), is an homage to the family farm by the author of "Sarah, Plain and Tall" and "Skylark."

It reads like one long poem, captivating in its pacing and cadences.

My grandfather's barn is sweet-smelling

and dark and cool;

Leather harnesses hang like paintings against old wood;

And hay dust floats like gold in the air.

Grandfather once lived in the city,

And once he lived by the sea;

But the barn is the place he loves most.

Where else, he says, can the soft sound of cows chewing

Make all the difference in the world?

The narrator is a boy reminiscing about his beginnings. After his birth, his grandmother holds him up to a window overlooking the fields while his mother watches from her bed, smiling. His grandfather carves the boy's name, Eli, on a barn rafter next to the names of Eli's grandmother and grandfather, mother and father.

As Eli grows, his parents and grandparents share with him all the places they love. He and his father lie down in a freshly plowed field. His grandmother sails little bark boats down the river to him. His mother climbs with him to the blueberry barren. He and his grandfather share the shadows of the barn.

At the end, another baby is born in the farmhouse. Grandfather carves Sylvie's name next to Eli's on the rafter, and Eli makes plans to show his little sister all the places he loves.

Mr. Wimmer's paintings are lush with light and shadows, sort of a cross between the styles of Andrew Wyeth and Barry Moser. The adults have faces creased with character -- except for Eli's mother, who could pass for a young Christie Brinkley.

* "The Farm Summer 1942" by the poet Donald Hall, pictures by Barry Moser (Dial, $15.99, 32 pages, ages 6-10), is the story of Peter, who is 9 in 1942. His father is fighting in the South Pacific. His mother is asked to leave San Francisco for the summer to work for the war effort in New York.

So Peter goes to stay with his grandparents on the New Hampshire farm where his father had grown up. Everything is foreign to Peter, from the warm, unpasteurized milk to the hay dust that makes his head itch.

But soon he's helping with all the chores, learning to sing "Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad" at church and reveling in all the stories his relatives tell. He's sad to leave the farm at summer's end, but a surprise awaits in San Francisco.

Mr. Moser's watercolors are, as always, clean and luminous, almost too good to be true. His work includes "Crow and Weasel," "And Still the Turtle Watched," and "In the Beginning."

* "Until the Cows Come Home," by Patricia Mills (North-South, $14.95, 28 pages, ages 5-8), is a simple trip across the fields, through the woods and along a river in the Appalachian Mountains near Cumberland, Md., where Ms. Mills grew up.

She takes us on a tour with her hand-colored photographs. In their sepias and gray-greens, they capture landscapes that are frozen in time.

There's a wonderful shot of "produce paradise," a roadside stand stacked with vegetables and a sign that says, "please leave money in box." Later, a CSX coal train rolls across two pages. The photos are gritty -- and the splashes of color Ms. Mills adds are a little eerie.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad