Jul 6, 2011

Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass

by Gary Paulsen

This book paints a vivid picture of life on a farm, back around the turn of the century. Aunts, uncles and grandparents lived with the family. Most of the crops and animals raised on the farm were for their own sustenance; old clothes were sewn into warm quilts, many things were mended and made by hand. The little money needed for school supplies, flour and salt was hard-earned cutting cordwood or picking potatoes on other farms. People worked very long, hard hours and all the families came together once a year to help harvest grain, the team moving around from farm to farm until everyone's crop was in. Close association with the animals, upon whose lives they depended. The great workhorses. The pigs and cattle- living breathing animals for so long fed and cherished, then transformed into meat for the table. The horror of accidents from men caught in farming machinery, small children wandering into danger (one toddler gets eaten by a hog), people lost in the snow simply trying to walk from one building to another. But they don't strike home too much because none of them are known personally- only stories told of other's misfortune. Through the whole book there aren't any real characters that you follow or come to know, overall it's just a portrait of a way of life. A simple book that you can read in one day (I managed it, and you know how little reading time I have nowadays!) yet its images stay with you. I keep thinking now of how dependent the farmers were upon the weather, how precise their timing had to be in order to get things planted, harvested, etc at the right moment so things wouldn't fail to grow or spoil or be lost in some way. It was a difficult, back-breaking way of life, and yet it had its own sweet rewards. The cold swimming hole. The warmth of a cow's flank during milking. The fabulous meals cooked up for harvest teams by wives and daughters. The beautiful warm heaps of quilts stitched with memories that children piled under in shivering attics....

I picked this book up at a used sale once; attracted to it because the title was so curious and it looked unlike any other book I've read by this author. My assessment was right. It reads unlike his other books too, although I recognized his style something about this one feels different. In a good way. It is lyrical, memorable, evocative. Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass is definitely a book you should read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 120 pages, 1992


Wanda said...

'Hatchet' and 'Brian's Winter' are part of the curriculum in the local schools, all three of my children have read Gary Paulsen.

Your review of 'Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass' has me thinking it's high time I become familiar with this writer too!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I like Gary Paulsen for his out-doorsy survival stories. This one sounds pretty different!


Jeane said...

Wanda- Hatchet is my favorite.

xalwaysdreamx- I like his adventure stories, too. I had no idea he'd written something like this, before!