A sober, reflective inquiry into morality and values as practiced and passed down by six generations on a Vermont family farm. To fellow New Englander Thoreau's dictum that ``the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,'' Fish (English/Western New England College) offers a credible counterpoint: ``Man's craving for signs and wonders, his capacity for high endeavor, and his perverse susceptibility to boredom lead the less anchored souls to underestimate the value of quiet, orderly lives.'' Fish's grandmother and uncles, who run the family farm with typical Yankee rectitude, are nothing if not anchored. Unquestioning in their dedication to their land and livelihood, unflinching in their loyalty to one another and to a sense of moral and religious obligation, they stand tall in his boyhood memories as people of quiet, heroic dignity. Conflicted between the family tradition of duty and self-sacrifice and the more heady pursuit of self- discovery, the ``vagrant scion'' takes the road less traveled by: intellectual inquiry. By the time a midlife reckoning compels him to revisit the farm, the site of his moral education, he is both estranged from the family's virtuous life (which seems puritanical by contemporary standards) and unhappy with the gradual unraveling of the spiritual and ethical ties that bound it up. Without sentimentality, he conveys the complexity of farm work--the changing rhythms of a day, a season, a year; the diverse trades, from carpentry to financial management to butchery, that farmers must master. More strikingly, he manages to limn beautifully the richness of lives that appear on the surface dull and circumscribed. Nowhere does the probity and forthrightness of his forebears echo more truly than in his prose, which is artful and judicious. More than family history or mere coming-of-age memoir, Fish's first effort is a wise, clearheaded look back at a more selfless era that stressed community needs over individualism.