A Meditation on Country Living

Commentary from 1945 shows the idea that a “country-minded” memory brings joy to those who homestead.
By E. R. McIntyre
November 12, 2012
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“Barnyard Confidential” (Voyageur Press, 2012), is a light-hearted glossary of farm lore that features stories from E.B. White, Michael Perry, Roger Welsch, Gwen Petersen and more.  
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What makes living on a farm so special? E. R. McIntyre ponders farming thoughts in this excerpt from the entry on "country mindedness" from Barnyard Confidential (Voyageur Press, 2012), an A-to-Z collection of lore for those living the rural life — or those dreaming of it. 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Barnyard Confidential.

To be country-minded and chained and riveted to city living when the spring comes to the fields is woe indeed!

They say that an expatriate is one who is absent by choice, while an exile is one who is absent by compulsion. City slaves of rural origin belong to both classes. There is, of course, a third class to consider — those who never lived in the country and yet who yearn for it constantly when they can find the time for yearning.

To some city-bred folks “country minded” means being ornery and unwilling to think in a definite mold or pattern. It means being “permickety” and stubborn, resistant to modernity, inconsistent and untamed. To illustrate this scrambled idea of theirs, they point to cooperative squabbles and the insistent and never satisfied cry for farm relief and equality. They dub this as being “country minded” when it is only a manifestation of a very common human trait influenced by environment, native habits and politics.

What is it that makes country-minded men come from city offices with a smile when rain breaks a dry spell and causes them to scan the skies, like sailors, during hay time?

What is there about being country-minded that gives such a fraternity of feeling to folks who openly rejoice in their rural origin?

Memory is the only answer. You can take any topic under the sun, almost, and test it out under the influence of country-minded memory. The power of that early environment to color the ways you approach a subject is amazing. Take religion or piety, self control or decency — whatever you choose to call this moral fiber of one’s nature—and you find it has deep tap roots in the memory of country minds.

Perhaps this is why so many have observed that the city is full of successful folks who originated in the country. No doubt this is why farmers have been willing to remain underpaid and have not insisted upon union hours. This is why we cannot prove cost of production in so many specified “man-hours” at every turn of the dial in the country.

So much of life and work on farm lands is a tribute to the soil itself, to the pulse of nature, dedicated to the task done to a finish, rather than to the tune of a paymaster. This is why memories of the hired help blend so closely with our own family life, instead of being some remote tool of profit-making such as too many city employees become.

One fault of country mindedness remains as a relic of copy-book days. It uses sentiment when hard sense would fill the bill to better advantage. The tendency to glorify all that is bucolic with tender allegory and plaster it with mawkish praise is as unseemly and untrue as to claim that the country is the only refuge of the pure and the meek.

The age-long struggle against bugs, blight, frost, flood and hail makes for a rather stoic sort of inward philosophy. Arising from that same trait in the country mind is the saving grace of good humor. There is more broad, man-sized appreciation of the ridiculous and the laughable in our country communities than almost anywhere else. It is possibly this homeopathic method of treating our mental ills with a dose of risibility which enables me to accept the crowded street car, the fly-specked lunch counter, the traffic jams at night and the blunders of the janitor with more or less equanimity.

So probably the country mind is one that has been both ventilated and insulated, and hence escapes some of the contagion and the false attitudes of the passing moment. At least we who think we have it yearn to mingle with those who possess it, and we long to live once more under the sky and the stars, clasping the plow-handles, feeding the livestock and braving the elements, with the mortgage and the tax bill as the only reminders of Adam’s original sin and his banishment to a bucolic livelihood.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Barnyard Confidential, published by Voyageur Press, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Barnyard Confidential.  

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Harold Hanlin
12/5/2012 7:42:41 PM
Excellent read. Thank you.

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