IN PRAISE OF PRACTICAL FERTILIZER: Scenes from Chester Township by John Baskin


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There's an art to grousing. The Ohio village Baskin saluted in New Burlington (1976) is gone, flooded by the Corps of Engineers: ""Most of the people here. . . would be only mildly surprised if reminded they were fishing over a town."" So, in these new essays, Baskin celebrates survivals and revivals--the auctioneer and the wood-stove, hogs and tinkering. He rails at other incursions--corn everywhere (and not one field of clover), the noise level, housebreaking, larger amounts of everything (""Sometimes I think the size of the country did this to us""). But then he is not, admittedly, ""a daybreak person"": ""I harbor the somewhat unpopular belief that life is more sunset than sunrise."" Still, the returns are never all in. A barn is dismantled, the massive beams neatly stacked. Once farming demanded strength and intelligence (""the virtue was in persevering""); ""farmers are more equal today."" Baskin's neighbor, the Squire, adapts: ""he learned that he could plant his corn by the first load of watermelon headed north on the interstate in the spring. He learned that when traffic noise was loudest, the weather was about to change."" As for Baskin, he would not like a temperate climate. There is an exchange of wry letters (in the fanciful New Yorker mode) with a pen friend in California. There are pages on the bodily and mental rigors of January present and past (with the house has come the putative diary of a dour predecessor). There is a marvelous rundown on the disorders of every season: ""In spring, I begin immediately to long for the more somber notes of fall. . . ."" For those sated with nostalgic longings or hopeful pipings; a wintry, hickory-nut book--warmed by the sun on the frost.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1982
Publisher: Norton