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A Little Happier: “The Farm Was a Form: Not Like a Set of Rules on a Wall, But Like the Symmetry of Winter and Summer.”

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From the time she was very small, my daughter Eliza has described stories she loves as “safe place,” and now as a family we all use that phrase.

Eliza loves anything “safe place.” Something “safe place” is something cozy, warm, happy, loving, and safe. Like the books The Borrowers (Amazon, Bookshop) or Little Women (Amazon, Bookshop) — and oddly, she says, a book like Murder on the Orient Express (Amazon, Bookshop) or a TV show like The Muppet Show also give her that safe-place feeling.

She’s in college now, and she told me that she’d read a book for a class that she loved so much that she wrote a note to her professor to say how much she enjoyed it. She said it was a real safe-place kind of book.

So with that kind of recommendation, of course, I immediately headed to the library to check out that book, a memoir by American poet, writer, and critic Donald Hall called String Too Short to Be Saved: Memories of a Disappearing New England (AmazonBookshop).

I read it, and I knew exactly why Eliza loved it. After I’d finished, I called her up to talk about it. Here’s one passage that we both loved, that captured the beautiful spirit of the book. Here, Donald Hall describes his summers with his grandparents on their farm in New Hampshire, and what he gained from that time:

When I woke every morning, I knew what the day would provide. The six days of work were followed by a Sunday when we went to church, read books, and received callers. The farm had an order to it, for the animals had to be fed and the vegetables had to be weeded and the hay had to be cut for winter. Everything done was part of a motion we didn’t control but chose to implement—a process of eating, mating, and dying. I liked the sense of necessary motion. The farm was a form: not like a set of rules on a wall, but like the symmetry of winter and summer, or like the balance of day and night over the year, June against December. My grandfather lived by the form all his life, and my summers on the farm were my glimpse of it.

I especially love his use of the word “provide”—“When I woke every morning, I knew what the day would provide.”

It's a beautiful book. You might enjoy it if, like Eliza and me, you like to visit that kind of safe place in your imagination.

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