In the car, in the dark, I trekked a twice-daily, hour-and-a-half commute for the final eighteen months of my life as an employee. I don’t miss that, but those miles and hours translated into an era of abundant listening to books on tape. A favorite from that time was A Country Year by Sue Hubbell, and I’m sure I listened to it a half-dozen times at least — especially during the days of snowy roads and Braxton-Hicks along for the ride in those final days of commuting.
I have been savoring A Country Year one again, but in book form, nostalgically celebrating another “country year” here on the hill, and have been astonished to find that it resonates for me even more than it did twenty years ago. One reason may be that at the ultimate end of that long-distant commute lay a life in which we measure a winter in cords of wood, in which rogue roosters leave back-of-leg scars on the trusting souls who turn their backs, in which we agree that “retirement age” laying hens are useless as slaughter birds and quite picturesque in their efforts at controlling the insect population, and in which we understand that bee stings are likely the least painful aspect of beekeeping.
In peaceful and lyrical prose, Sue Hubbell invites her readers to travel through the seasons of her solitary (but not lonely) days on a farm in Missouri’s Ozarks. I could probably scrounge around on Google and find data to corroborate my suspicion that Sue and I would not agree on many theological topics. However, I would enjoy discovering it in person much more, and I believe that she would too, for we would also find much to agree upon:
Under her detailed and glorious descriptions of rat snakes
(“self assured in his sense of possession of the chicken coop”)
and black walnut trees
(“a tree of such dignity”);
the sound of spring peepers
(“both exhilarating and oddly disturbing at close range”)
and the personality of indigo buntings
(“small but emphatic birds”),
there thrums a steady cadence of Psalm 19:1.
“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.”
We would agree that there is very little romance to life in the country. There is certainly no room for careless mistakes, and very little time for leisure, especially when taking a day off or being cavalier with your chain saw may mean running out of firewood in mid-February — or a flying trip to the emergency room. The flip side of this is, of course, that a drink of ice water is more refreshing when it comes at the end of long row of weeding.
I owe my appreciation of small brown bats to Sue’s description of drinking her morning coffee in semi-darkness and discovering that she was serving as bait to gather mosquitoes for the bats’ breakfast. Swooping around her, they feasted on pesky insects as she mused: “All this gives me a fine, friendly feeling toward bats. In their way, I suppose, they also approve of me.”
And it was through A Country Year that I discovered Rilke’s writing:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
These words were perfect for my transition out of the life I knew and loved and into an unknown life in the country — which I have now known and loved for twenty-three years.
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