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On an assignment in Wales, British broadcaster McMullen--already the possessor of a whippet named Merlin, and a general affinity for nature-magic--fixed her eye on a farmstead that chanced, confirmingly, to be for sale. Lightly threaded vignettes color in the ensuing ten years--the first five in company with the Artist (who defects for a local attraction), then with her mother, a nomadic Australian midwife of formidable will and charm. There are the inevitable enchantments and exasperations with animals: forlorn, not-so-old Doll, who returns from her first mating ""with the soul, if not the body, of a spirited blood mare""; two Gloucester Old Spots, pigs of ancient lineage (and a truffle-nose for elusive potatoes); the pesky goats Dolores and Nana, and Nan's defiant kid Whacky; a Rare Breed of personable black sheep; a gang-up of geese and assorted chickens--Belgian Bearded Bantams, Pekin hens (to a sometimes-total of ten breeds). Hardly less varied or idiosyncratic are the vets who come to tend to their needs--including one luminary who smugly, hatefully, pronounces Doll's protuberant belly a sham. Trips for broadcast material, and flashbacks to McMullen's Australian childhood, supplement the home-ground matings and birthings and burials. Meanwhile, with assignments dwindling and debts mounting, McMullen nurses an obsession: ""I'd learned that far from being the quiet, leisurely ramble through the seasons which popular legend would have us believe, country life is a wild scramble to beat the weather, the wind, the needs of your animals and the trespass of everyone else's. . . . The single most important thing I had learned, though, was that everyone who actually survives country life has a story to tell."" A providential bequest from the father she hardly knew saves the farm, and on its heels comes the longed-for program of her own. Crisp anecdotage, feathered with reflections, for kindred souls.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
ISBN: 0393333779
Publisher: Norton