Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back to Abnormal: Surviving With An Old Farm In The New South

Back to Abnormal: Surviving With An Old Farm In The New South
By Dana Wildsmith
Published by Motes Books

Dana Wildsmith is a poet who has branched out into prose with a series of short stories about her life and the land she lives on in North Georgia. If you are a Southerner, you will surely be able to identify with some of her observations. If you love nature, you will appreciate her eccentric attempts to keep "progress" at bay. And if you have a poetic heart you will appreciate the minute observations Wildsmith makes of the world around her.

My Impressions

Okay, here is where I must confess that I am actually related to Wildsmith, although she has neither asked me to endorse her or even knows I have this blog. So, my impressions are really twofold: as a reader and a family member. Some of her stories are familiar to me, passed down as they have been through filters that may have not gotten all the details as sharp as Wildsmith makes them. My mother is actually mentioned twice in the book but she has a connection with Wildsmith that is much stronger than my own. But I digress.

What really struck me when I read this book is that Wildsmith is a survivor. But not a survivor who comes up shooting. In fact, what surviving has created in Wildsmith is a chance to slow down and see the world in its marvelous colors, shapes and sounds. She creatively reflects these in her writing and her prose reads as though you are sitting on the front porch listening to these stories of everyday life as the seasons change on Grace Farm.

Wildsmith has a unique connection with the land and all of nature. She even suggests that she is one of the last of the hippies. Perhaps she does have some trademarks of that type of label. However, I admire her attempts to guard her precious 40 acres from the encroaching suburbs while still appreciating the modern grocery story within a few miles of her home. She is trying her best to live on the land yet incorporate those parts of our modern world that make life more full and interesting.

Before you dismiss this book as a series of tree-hugging short stories, I must say it is full of danger and excitement (pit vipers and hunters included) as well as humor (the Bambi cam and Christmas cards from Bethlehem come to mind).  What I admire most about Wildsmith is her strong fearlessness. I'm afraid that particular trait was not passed down into my own branch of the family.

Reading through the eyes of faith

Someday I will perhaps get a chance to sit down with Wildsmith and talk more in depth about God. She does challenge the concept of a God who is minutely controlling the details of our life. Would such a God have allowed her to be severely burned when she was a teenager? Did God want her to be bitten by a rattlesnake? Why would God keep snatching her back from the edge of death? Her point of view is that it doesn't matter what has happened to us as much as our reaction to what has happened to us in our lives. For Wildsmith, God's plan is not what God causes to happen in our lives but it is God's plan for us to use our brains, our bodies and our love to cause change, growth and wholeness.

I actually believe both that God is in control but that God also wants us to use what we have been given in creative and holistic ways. God may not be controlling every last little detail but God is focused on the big picture and wants desperately for each of us to be a part of it. For Wildsmith, I think her part in God's plan is balancing life on the land and life in the creative spirit.


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