“A Life Lived
‘Tied Down’ to a Place”
A Review of
The Last of the Husbandmen,
a new novel
by Gene Logsdon.
By Mary Bowling.
The Last of the Husbandmen.
Paperback. University of Ohio Press. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $14] [ Amazon ]
Logsdon is one of our country’s most authoritative voices on small-scale, responsible home farming and gardening, having written such books as The Contrary Farmer, All Flesh is Grass and Homesteading: How to Find New
Ben Bump is the husbandman in question who spends his life on his farm, confronted not only with the daily uncertainties that come with farming, but also with the new and modern ways creeping – or maybe storming- in around him. Much of the new and fallacious farming philosophy is presented and espoused by Emmet Gowler, Ben’s friend since childhood and heir of the richest family in the town of
Since the book spans so many years, we don’t get to spend a lot of time in the heads of the characters. We see their beliefs instead lived out in the choices they make, as well as in their dialogue.
“Farmers complaining to Ben, still the captive audience in his cow barn during morning and evening milking, did not seem to be interested in examining the reasons why Ben was not losing money. He wanted to tell them, for example, that while he was working and earning money at milking they were just standing in his cow stable doing nothing. If he had said that, they would have felt insulted and replied, as usual, that it was all the government’s fault, encouraging overproduction so that consumers could get cheap food.
‘You and Mary can get by because you’re livin’ like the Amish,’ Jack Cughes said once. ‘Most of us believe we have the right to live like our urban counterparts.’ He really believed that Ben and Mary were operating on money that old Nat Bump had made from moonshine.
‘I can’t think of anything worse than living like our urban counterparts’, Ben said.” (p 203)
Although Gene Logsdon’s belief in honest farming is shown so transparently and consistently in the character of Ben, the book doesn’t spend all of its time telling us how to farm. Logsdon doesn’t miss chances to branch out into some more madcap situations. There are episodes involving firecrackers, the KKK, a hermit and a town hall meeting, which throw a nice bit of absurdity into what may seem like a pretty steady existence for most of the characters. We also get to overhear some priceless conversations between the locals down at the town hangout, the kind of random talk that could be overheard coming from any booth in any dive in any town on any subject. Sometimes it’s pertinent, and sometimes it’s just for fun.
Gene Logsdon remains as true-to-form in his fiction as he does in his non-fiction. Going in to this book, we always know who’s in the right and why. The values don’t change. But the story is told simply and cleverly. We do get to hear a fair bit about what any given person is going to do with any given field at any given time, and we are also asked to comprehend a fair bit about how farm subsidies work, but these are the issues faced by Ben and Emmet, and by many other people as well who dwell in the world outside of fiction.
As one of Logsdon’s “urban counterparts,” this book was maybe as valuable a read as any of his books, not for the instruction, but for scope and perspective on a life lived “tied down” to a place. Clearly, hard work and care can be applied to any place, and no place will be the worse for it. And for those who don’t see this kind of place often, it is helpful to remember that we as “urban counterparts” are still dependent on it. So even though we may not all be farmers, we are still faced with the choice of living in such a way that care is taken of the places in which we and others live, or living in a way that values efficiency and expediency above all else. We know, of course, which we ought.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com