Good Husbandry

I have spent more time with my hands in the soil this year than I ever have in the past. I’ve been gardening since I was a kid, but never have I devoted this much effort to it. This past spring, I was completely overcome with my love of my little patch of land. I was hungry for time with it. To have my hands in it, my nose sneezing with it, my eyes filled with it at every turn. Wildflowers, chives, basil, lettuce coming early. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers later. Weeds always. Life deep in the soil and bursting out of it.

Not by coincidence, this was also a year in which I struggled with my health. Try as I might, I never felt in control of it. I battled multiple issues at once and the instability of my body scared me. I was hungry for life and fairly terrified that my body was not on the same page with me. My grip on these things that we so casually label as health and feeling good and even feeling alive felt tenuous. The only place my mind seemed to calm and my body cooperate was out in the garden.

There is a balance in the plant world that puts our human lives into perspective, if we’re willing to notice. There is a peace in the midst of the ebbs and flows of life. Even a grace. Or in Kristin Kimball’s exact words:

“The natural order of things is immutable. Seed, flower, fruit, decline, death, decay. Seed. Each stage has its own drama and its own particular beauty. If you can see it, you can accept it. The parts are graceful, and so is the whole.”

Reading “Good Husbandry,” the new release from Kristin Kimball, felt like a warm embrace. It felt like sitting down with a wise friend and spilling your deepest worries and fears, only to have that friend say the exact right thing. The irony is that I never shared anything with Kristin Kimball. Somehow she managed to address the things that weighed on my mind without ever meeting me. Probably because they are the things that weigh on all of our minds.

Make no mistake, this is a beautiful book in part because it is filled with Kimball’s trademark ability (already demonstrated in “The Dirty Life”) to paint farm life in vivid, exciting strokes. She makes you want to head out to the field, or at the very least join a CSA, yesterday. But beneath the soil of a good food memoir lie the roots of a book that is completely candid about family, love and fear. Kimball doesn’t shy away from marital struggles or aging struggles or physical struggles. She doesn’t pretend there isn’t a pull between your children and your other work as a mother. She doesn’t claim perfect contentment in her work or complete confidence in her decisions.

I lost count of the number of times I teared up while I read. There were the stories of her labors and deliveries. Tales of injured horses. Burning barns. Struggling employees and generous neighbors. Page after page of a life. A full life but a normal one. One that echoed of my own. Marriage and motherhood, work and even aging. Also, the desire not to be aging. Victories and defeats. Questions and answers.

There are a lot of feelings that go into reading a book. In this case the one that came to mind was grateful. I was grateful I read it. When I turned the last page, I thought of my garden. Tiny compared to the sprawling acres in “Good Husbandry.” But still, like with our lives, I could detect an echo of similarity. I could see myself leaning over a plant, delighting in the unique joy of harvesting food I had grown myself. Finding in the process a sense of peace that was hard to grasp hold of in other parts of my life. Okay in that moment with “the natural order of things.” 

And reading Kristin Kimball’s words, absorbing their simple truths and honest reflection? That felt like its own kind of peace too. 

*Scribner Books provided me with an advanced copy of "Good Husbandry" in exchange for a fair and honest review.