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Two dozen beautifully crafted essays about the author’s formative years on a southern Minnesota farm explore with deft grace “what it meant to love a place and lose it.” When Meyers was 16, his father died and the family sold their farm. These lyrical, perceptive essays explore that “double loss.” Though he hasn’t farmed since, Meyers (who teaches writing at Black Hills State University in South Dakota) was inexorably shaped by the close-knit world of family, work, and land he knew as a boy, and by the harsh winters and wide, open prairies of Minnesota. He writes affectionately of his upbringing in a large family, but his father—a strong, quietly resolute man who provided the bulk of Meyers’s moral education—looms largest in his memory. Work is the means by which Meyers got to know him: “We didn’t sit down and have heart-to-heart talks. We fed cattle. We dug post holes.” Meyers’s great talent is his ability to look beyond the repetitious hardship and small disasters of farm life to find greater significance and meaning. In “Straightening the Hammermill,” he explains both the mechanics and the “mythic stature” of a particularly essential piece of machinery; in “Old Waters,” he describes how the backbreaking ritual of clearing rocks from the fields each spring led to an interest in glaciers and, eventually, an understanding of how the long march of geological time formed the land and the people who work it. Whether exploring the mythical components of prairie landscapes, tornadoes, and the night sky, or deconstructing the unwritten rules of community that allow his neighbors to help with the last harvest after his father’s death, Meyers writes with a sober reverence and respect for his subjects and for language. Deeply felt, strikingly perceptive, and stunningly written, The Witness of Combines resonates with the wisdom and insight of a work no less than a lifetime in the making.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8166-3104-2
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998


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