“Tedding Hay: An Essay”
By Jennifer Wixson
White Wave Publishing, Troy, Maine, 2016
Kindle edition, 99 cents
“Maine Metaphor: Experience in the Western Mountains”
By S. Dorman
Resource Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015
Trade paperback, $21
“Selfie-Facing: Analog Musings in a Digital World”
By John Branning
Smashwords e-Edition, Winthrop, Maine, 2015
Kindle edition, $2.99
So I’ve got three books of entertaining nonfiction out of central and western Maine that I want to let you know about before summer careens to an end, here.
First of all, I drive by Jennifer Wixson’s Highland Farms in Troy practically every day. Her fenced-in fields trail off into the northern distance off Route 9, neatly kept for her shaggy, menacingly cute Scottish Highland cattle. If you want to know what it’s like in the summer to be taking care of those fields, download a copy of “Tedding Hay.”
This little essay is a clear expression of love for the place and the work. “A tedder,” she explains up front, “is a four-headed iron contraption not unlike (I imagine) the multiheaded monster of Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra.” The tractor pulls it along, and its six revolving steel arms toss cut grass in the air to dry and later be baled as hay for winter.
Then we go off tedding on the back 40. The chore is filled with complications, calculations and distractions of all kinds — from the best way to approach the fields, to the surprise of an abandoned canoe, to the irresistible natural beauty of a summer day.
It’s kind of like riding with Thoreau on a tractor. The third field, for example, is not a perfect rectangle; a little “tit” angling into the woods complicates the tedding. “But,” Wixson says, “no self-respecting Maine farmer who has ever wrested field from the forest would let a piece of grass go wild, back to the woods, no matter how much easier this would make his (or her) life. And so my husband and I — both native Mainers instilled with the proper amount of Calvin contumacy — keep on cutting, tedding, raking and baling this ‘tit’ so that we might continue, if nothing else, to suffer for the sheer enjoyment of suffering.”
The implication inside the natural detail — just the way Thoreau did it. This is excellent writing, worth far more than the 99 cents you can download it for.
S. Dorman’s “Maine Metaphor: Experience in the Western Mountains” takes a roughly similar approach to slightly different material. This second book in her “Maine Metaphor” series of essay collections offers excursions (Thoreauvian term) by a newcomer into the woods, riversides, homes and businesses of western Maine, where the author learns from backwoods characters and other outlaws to smelt, fly-fish and live off the grid. She recounts diverse investigations into, for example, the ins and outs of mushrooms, apiary-keeping, lady slippers, springtime, and the Songo River locks.
It’s all framed in narratives that frequently comment on her husband, Allen’s adventures seeking employment and their grateful eagerness to learn not only the landscape but the human-scape of rural Maine, where there are “many people who have welcomed us, generously, notably the garage owner.”
“If you want to leave the city as we did,” she explains, “and move to a small town, to a rural yankee community, add this to your difficulties: Don’t expect voluminous conversation.” Dorman fills in her side of the discussion, anyway, with meticulous attention to detail of natural fact and quirky character. It’s nice summer afternoon reading.
Finally, John Branning’s e-book “Selfie-Facing” is a collection of his pavannes and divagations on life in the 21st century. Nothing escapes the Winthrop resident’s sense of irony, and his observations range from the elemental inconveniences of driveway snow, to tinnitus-inducing smoke alarms, even to guns (“I was shot in the workplace the other day by someone who didn’t know how to properly use a gun. This really happened. Granted, it was a Nerf gun …”).
So many things and words strike his funny bone that he often just lists them. “Second Chances,” for example, updates the sense of some famous opening sentences: “Call me Ishmael. Do not text for it costs me extra.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. So insists the Chief Justice of the state of Alabama.” “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But your mother takes things to a whole new level.” “I am an invisible man. Please ‘like’ me on Facebook.”
“Selfie-Facing” is full of goofs, puns, silliness and dollops of social criticism that are apt to make you laugh, or shake your head, or read out loud from your tablet to your beach blanket partner. For a taste, go to Branning’s website .
Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections every other week. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].