Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hit by a Farm

I almost hesitate to blog about this 2006 memoir by Catherine Friend (  because too often in popular media, especially of the political variety, I see the words “bestiality” and “homosexuality” appear in close proximity to each other.

There is no bestiality in this book, but there is a lot of beast sex, of the sort that occurs among farm animals.  And the farm is owned by a lesbian couple.

So, let it be known from the outset that no comments associating homosexuality with bestiality, for that matter no homophobic, anti-gay comments or jokes, will be tolerated at all.  They will be immediately deleted.  Not that any of my regular readers would do that, but this is a public blog.

Another reason I hesitate to write about this book is that it recounts a life that I would personally never be attracted to.  Much as I like to garden, I would never want to live on a farm; raise, breed, feed, or clean up after farm animals; deal with their diseases; shear wool; build fences;  or do any of the other work involved in farm life.  Even the thought of a vineyard is a bit overwhelming. 

Just give me my small backyard garden and spare me the chaos, the smell, and the physical labor of serious farm life.   I enjoyed reading about it in Friend’s book, but, perhaps because she does not glamorize, sentimentalize or otherwise romanticize the farming life, I was strongly confirmed in my aversion to nature that much in the raw.  I should probably avoid working in a zoo or living in the wild as well.

Caveats aside, there is much to learn in this book about farm animals, their habits and diseases, their sounds and smells, their care and treatment.  The couple even gets a grant to compare different methods of weed control in their vineyard, which turns out to be highly educational in, perhaps, an unexpectedly negative way.   The information about what is involved in running a farm is weaved in among personal struggles; the drama of birth, life and death on the farm; and great good humor.

For the general reader, however, the most engaging part of the book may be the personal narrative, as Catherine learns to embrace her partner’s dream of owning a farm without sacrificing her own dream of being a writer.  The title says it all as Catherine, having no background or experience with farming, often seems blindsided by its full reality and more than once questions her decision to live this life.  Her own writing is frequently sacrificed to the daily, and seasonal, demands of farm work.  After fits, starts, and near failure, Catherine eventually learns, not only how to balance her own needs and desires with those of her partner, but also how to enthusiastically participate in the farm without being overwhelmed by it.

What is most interesting to me, professionally speaking, is the way Hit by a Farm transforms the memoir into a relationship narrative, which may be a distinctively modern twist on the traditional personal narrative.  We watch Catherine and Melissa struggle, not only with the farm, but also with their partnership and their distinctly different personalities.  A couple of times it looks like they might break up, but love and commitment ultimately triumph as they learn the lessons of reciprocity, equality, boundaries, and the delicate balance  between independence and an authentically shared relationship.

Just as Friend does not glamorize nature and life on a farm, she does not overly romanticize love and commitment.  The joys are celebrated, but the setbacks and challenges are unswervingly acknowledged.

As a lesbian in a relationship with a partner who is distinctly different from me, it was the relationship narrative that I found most personally appealing, for, like Catherine and Melissa, we’ve learned the same lessons they did, though not on a farm.

And each time I drive from St. Cloud, MN, where I live, to Rochester, where my daughter and her family live, I keep an eye out as I cross the Zumbro River to see if I can spot the Rising Moon Farm ( up above the valley.