The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Dividing up The Dirty Life

Dirty Life couple"This book is the story of two love affairs that interrupted the trajectory of my life: one with farming --- that dirty, concupiscent art --- and the other with a complicated and exasperating farmer I found in State College, Pennsylvania."

This is my opportunity to admit that I read chick lit from time to time, but find 99% of it so unsatisfying I swear off ever trying another book in the genre.  The trouble isn't even that the women are totally outside my frame of reference, talking about name brand handbags the way I glow about cucurbits and pollinators.  The real issue is that these novels are supposed to be love stories that trump my own, but the authors' idea of wish fulfillment doesn't hold a candle to my real life.  I always compare the storied love interest to my own husband and find the fictional heroes sadly lacking.

My Mark still trumps the Mark in The Dirty Life, but at least I can see the latter's appeal.  When visiting our heroine in New York, he chafes at her city life, but finally finds a facet he enjoys:

"He liked taking taxis, because more often than not the driver would be from an agricultural village in some timeless quarter of the world, and Mark could engage him in a lively discussion of halal slaughter methods or the nuances of donkey harness or a particular village's strategies for controlling rat damage in stored grain.  One Greek driver pulled over and turned off the meter to describe in detail the way they skinned sheep in his village, by cutting a slit in the skin of one leg and blowing it up like a balloon.  A few weeks later, Mark tried it, and it worked.  What I learned from these experiences was that there were more cultural differences between Mark and me than there were between Mark and a random selection of taxi drivers from the developing world."

Work horsesWhich is all a long way of saying --- if you're a romantically-inclined homesteader, you'll love The Dirty Life.

But what if you want something more solid?  Don't worry, there are thought-provoking themes threaded through the humor and nail-biting plot.  For example, take Kristin's analysis of Mark's theory on economics:

"[Mark would] like to imagine a farm where no money traded hands, only goodwill and favors.  He had a theory that you had to start out by giving stuff away --- preferably big stuff, worth, he figured, about a thousand dollars.  At first, he said, people are discomfited by such a big gift.  They try to make it up to you, by giving you something big in return.  And then you give them something else, and they give you something else, and pretty soon nobody is keeping score.  There is simply a flow of things from the place of excess to the place of need.  It's personal, and it's satisfying, and everyone feels good about it.  This guy is completely nuts, I thought.  But what if he's right?"

Weekend HomesteaderHopefully you've hunted down your copy of The Dirty Life and are trying to decide if it's worth cracking open.  This post is your incentive to go for it!  We'll be discussing the prologue and part one next Wednesday, but I suspect that, like me, you will have gulped down the whole book without being able to take a break.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

While you're hunting down books, don't forget to check out my paperback, with fun and easy projects to make self-sufficiency less daunting.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I admit, Anna, I went brought the whole book within a few days. I'm not sure what I expected from it, but I do think it was good to read it. I just wish I understood more about the economics of their CSA, because it is the single most unique aspect of their story. I have to wonder if a free-range, all-aspects program will catch on in other places. I expect not, but it is a horribly generous and romantic a notion.
Comment by Brandy Wed Jul 18 12:08:24 2012

I actually read this book last month. The thing I liked the most about the book was it's acknowledgment of the strain that is inherent with working with your spouse on a farm. Also, that in the end you are growing food that couldn't be purchased--food that is so real that it doesn't exist anywhere but in our own gardens anymore. We don't farm commercially but we do raise almost all of our own meat, with orchards, gardens, and timber products on a tiny little 1 1/2 acres. This book took what we are trying to do for our family to an unbelievable scale for their community. Honestly I don't know how it is possible--but it does point out kharma (which is important but be careful to only give what you can afford to not attach strings to), and I do believe that by staying out of debt and working hard it is at least TRYable.

Comment by Juli Wed Jul 18 14:03:14 2012
I bought the book the week that you posted the title and then read it all in two days:). Opps! I really enjoyed the book. I agree with the commenter above that more concrete information on the all products CSA would be valuable AND I wish I had one of those in my neck of the woods (Portland, Oregon).
Comment by Jess Wed Jul 18 15:25:32 2012
Brandy, Juli, and Jess --- Glad to hear three votes in this book's favor! I'll be looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts once the book club kicks in next week.
Comment by anna Wed Jul 18 19:22:04 2012
Well, since I sent off for my copy today, I'll probably be a little bit behind for the first few discussions. (I'm not even sure if I'll have it in my grubby, little paws by next Wednesday, heh.) On the other hand, this post cements my feeling that this is a book I can probably take to the bath with me (Walden definitely wasn't); since that's about the only place I actually get the time to read these days, that almost guarantees that I'll finish this one! :)
Comment by Ikwig Wed Jul 18 22:08:38 2012
Ikwig --- Definitely a relaxing, bathtub read. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Jul 19 08:32:59 2012
I can say without a doubt from first hand experience that trying to move toward a more back-to-the-land lifestyle can put enormous strain on a marriage. In the long run, and if it is the right couple, I'm sure it can be an enormous source of joy and love, as well as shared experiences and values. I think I'll read this book.
Comment by E. Thu Jul 19 09:43:54 2012
E. --- I suspect that homesteading together does something to nearly all marriages. Some folks, it pulls together, others it drives apart. Here's hoping yours ends up pulling together! I'll look forward to hearing what you think of The Dirty Life.
Comment by anna Thu Jul 19 17:53:44 2012

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