In college I took a course on Transcendentalism, and this afternoon, as I looked out the window with my daughter napping on my lap, I was struck by how very much the landscape, with it’s soft hills, checkerboard of trees and fields, and low, gentle clouds reminded me of the cover of the reader that contained much of the coursework. The main difference is that the landscape around the farm is gorgeous, while the painting, when I looked it up, achieves a level of saccharine sentimentality that I had previously assumed to be an invention of the 20th century.
Similarly, I often assume that the romanticization of agriculture is a product of the distance modern life has put between most people and food production, but the Transcendentalist movement took place at a time when even the educated people who populated it would have been thoroughly acquainted with farm life. And this makes me wonder if what I reflexively term naivete or at least oversimplification is something more complex.
The natural fixation on the moments of sublimity that inevitably accompany the pastoral life, while more than balanced by those of mundanity, discomfort, and failure, may be a requisite component to sticking with farming. For my part, I am naturally predisposed to skepticism, or at least doubt of most undertakings, which is a healthy approach to trying to change the management of an agricultural system. But being occasionally awestruck by the simple grandeur of the land around me makes it easier to tolerate the failures that inevitably outnumber the successes, and the mist roiling up from the beaver pond to fill the valley makes it easier to forget for a moment that I’m soaked up to my bellybutton from walking through wet grass.