One of the unsung advantages of being in love with a garden or a farm is that the lover doesn’t mind staying home and by doing so, saving gobs of money. In fact most of us land lovers much prefer to stay home. A back forty even as small as an acre can be an exciting, fascinating adventure into the farthest reaches of the earth. The great entomologist, Jean Henri Fabre, spent much of his life making amazing discoveries about bugs on the few brushy acres behind his house and writing about them. With 30 acres, I never want for a changing world to travel through, a journey not far in miles but almost infinite in terms of material wonders and splendors deep down into the earth and high up into the ever-changing beauty of the sky.
Staying home has to be one of the most unpopular ideas in America where the whole culture embraces faraway travel as essential to happiness. Many of us don’t really have homes that can provide as much enjoyment as travel promises. Rather than spending our money to acquire such a property, we are taught to buy such enjoyment with far away travel. Perhaps what we need is proper publicity. To advertise traveling at home, a documentary could open with unbelievable close-ups of ants herding and milking aphids on an apple tree, a raccoon destroying a bluebird house, a hawk dive-bombing a mouse, a flint arrowhead sticking out of a creek-side cliff. Then a roll of drums and a voice sonorously introduces the docudrama: “Today we are going where no explorer has gone before— YOUR BACK FORTY.”
Also, in earlier times, a home could not electronically provide all the connections with the outer world that now make travel almost obsolete. You can visit just about everything now in your living room. It may be true that nothing beats seeing a tourist attraction in person, but today you can get really close-up and intimate sights and insights into such attractions on the Internet without being strip-searched. Just this Sunday, my dear friend, Wendell Berry, was speaking in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and will be receiving at the John F. Kennedy Center today (Monday), as I write this, the National Endowment For The Humanities Award, the highest honor given by the government in this field. I was able to watch and listen to him from our living room, closer and more vividly on our computer screen than if I had been there in the audience.
Another advantage of being a farmer, if not a gardener, is that you can often use your work as an excuse not to attend meetings and social affairs you do not want to attend anyway. We used to have big, loud family gatherings at my grandparents’ house on holidays. Along about four o’clock in the afternoon, I would assume my standard, long-suffering countenance and with a sigh say that I had to go home and milk the cows. Everyone understood. The cows had to be milked. Poor Gene. Poor Gene would then shuffle, downcast, out the door but with a big inward smile. At least I knew the cows were not going to get in an argument over politics.
Another time, not so many years ago, I politely declined an invitation to give a speech faraway. I hate to give speeches and am not very good at it anyway. The fellow who was inviting me protested. “You aren’t going to give me that guff about how airplanes are environmentally destructive, are you?” he said. “That plane is going to fly here whether you are on it or not.”
“I can’t come because we will be lambing at that time,” I said, which happened to be the truth.
“Oh!” he said, much more contritely. “I understand.”
Even pulling lambs has its advantages.