Brief Reviews

Tiffany Eberle Kriner – In Thought, Word, and Seed [Review]

Thought Word and Seed Wrestling with the Land, Self, and Country

A Review of

In Thought, Word, and Seed: Reckonings from a Midwest Farm
Tiffany Eberle Kriner

 
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2023
Buy Now: [ BookShop ] [ Amazon ] [ Kindle
 
Reviewed by Stephen R. Clark
 
 
I’m a child of the Midwest, specifically a Hoosier. I’m also a writer, a reader, a lover of words. So a book titled In Thought, Word, and Seed: Reckonings from a Midwest Farm drew my curiosity. Authored by Wheaton College associate professor, Tiffany Eberle Kriner, the book comprises five earthy-evoking chapters: Field, Grass, Forest, Clearing, Wattle. Publishers Weekly describes it as “an essay collection…that draws connections among her farming and family life, culture, ecology, faith, and literature.” Their Illinois farm has a website and a Facebook page. She opens the book, 

“On a map, the shape of the land where we live is a kind of arch. I mean, yes, it’s a square. This is the Midwest; of course it’s square, with little subsquares shaded in green and brown depending on the season and whether the pasture is healthy. But a generation ago, someone sold out a thin bit in the middle. So, walking up from the driveway of Root and Sky Farm, there are almost fifteen acres of fields, then a bend through some trees toward a hidden five-acre parcel that’s inaccessible by roads, and then a descent into a dense forest. There are two houses tucked into a clearing, and one of them has a wattle-fenced garden. That’s where we live.”

Blurbs describe the book as “literary criticism, nature writing, theology, prayer, and memoir,” “genuinely remarkable and gloriously undefinable,” “audacious,” “a smorgasbord of genres,” “a lovely mash-up,” and “beautifully written.” One generously likens her writing to those of Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, and Kathleen Norris. That Kriner writes well is absolutely true.

All the descriptions might lead one to expect a book about the travails and accomplishments of developing a farm, recovering what was fallow and fallen, coupled with spiritual insight and inspiration. It is and it isn’t that. The first chapter does share their attraction to the land, dealing with the struggles of clearing stubborn weeds, removing accumulated junk, chasing uncooperative animals, and the like. But that’s not exactly what the book is really about.

Chapter two is a series of “dream letters” written to James Baldwin as she wrestles with the death of George Floyd while COVID ravages the nation. She touches briefly on an early bout with cancer writing, “Surviving the cancer, I became a miracle, a sort of holy freak show, back from the realm of the dead. I didn’t preach then, like you [Baldwin], but I gave—or bore—witness.” And then there’s the reaction to the national upheaval in the nearby small rural town where it was “pandemic quiet and dead-summer hot in the streets.” We also learn that her house was built by a beekeeper named C.C. Miller.

In chapter three, we go deeper in their “good woods” which serves as a place where she wanders “seeking hours to write…dragging a notebook with me.” It’s also in the forest that, as she considers the magnitude of managing their farm she exclaims, “It does get to me, though, just how big a task it all is.”

The owl arrives in chapter four, “A giant messed up bird, come down to the understory of our wrecked, wet woods.” Upon closer examination, it’s realized that “The owl was injured, not what it was supposed to be, and in danger, one supposes, of never becoming what he ought to be.”

Chapter five is a kind of stream of consciousness experiment. Each paragraph begins “Hallowed be—how” and loops through various scenes and events in a discontinuous manner. There is some sense to the stuttering narrative but it doesn’t come by easily. 

Kriner is clearly brilliant and well-read, tossing out references to T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Virgil, Robert Duncan, Henry James, Ta-Nehisi Coates, George Eliot, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and so many more. It’s a crowded house of a book! But, as another reviewer explains, she weaves “their stories into and around her own experiences of cultivating sixty acres of land and raising livestock with her husband, Josh.”

In an interview she reveals that she wrote the essays “as a way to think through massive upheavals in life and in the world. We’d made a huge move in our lives, to Root and Sky Farm, to be sure, but of course the last few years have involved huge, world-rocking events for everyone in global public health, in American racism, in politics. I needed a way to encounter them when we all felt so separated.”

Tastes vary. Whether books, food, coffee cravings, or clothing, we all have those things we adore or shake our heads at. Those who endorsed this book clearly loved it and found it deeply moving and meaningful. For me, it has its moments. I hope the writing of the essays accomplished what she needed.

Stephen R. Clark

Stephen R. Clark is a writer who lives in Lansdale, PA with his wife, BethAnn, where they are members of Immanuel Church. His website is www.StephenRayClark.com. He is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and managing editor of and contributor to the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. He has done news writing for The Baptist Paper and MinistryWatch. He writes a weekly column, “Quietly Faithful: Being a Christian Introvert” for ChristianNewsJournal.com. He has published three volumes of poetry, and his writing has appeared in American Bible Society blogs, Bible Advocate, Breakthrough Intercessor, Christian Century, Christianity & Literature, Christian Standard, Friends Journal, Hoosier Lit, Influence Magazine, In Touch Ministries, Net Results, Outcomes Magazine, Outreach Magazine, Tipton Poetry Journal, and more.

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