Book Review of Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer’s Journal by David Kline, with a foreword by Wendell Berry
What a great read this book is! Some people think it’s a compliment to say “I couldn’t put the book down.” In this case, I deliberately did put it down after each chapter, savoring one each day, usually in the mornings. Each chapter became a daily meditation for me.
David Kline obviously knows a great deal about the natural world. Not only is he in touch with the seasons’ natural rhythms from working his small farm, but he is also keenly observant of the flora and fauna around him. From his keen observations, he has learned what each bird’s or animal’s habits, habitat, calls, and rhythms are. He names numerous birds I’ve never even heard of, such as crossbills, snow buntings, and horned larks. I thought I’d never seen a snow bunting, but when I watched them on the Internet, I realized I’d seen flocks of them often when we were living in Addison County, Vermont. I also realized that my husband and I had spotted a snowy owl on several occasions in that same area.
Great Possessions is a wonderful title for this book, for it names what we have all around us if we take our eyes off the numerous screens in front of our faces long enough to observe nature around us. David Kline’s detailed description of his daily observations and labors of love on his farm, offers the best of his Amish culture to the rest of the world — a culture steeped in tradition that strives to commune with one another and with the natural world. Herein lie many lessons for those of us who find our lives too full or too complicated to manage at times. The Amish remind us that if we care to slow down the pace of our lives, we, too, can be more communal with others and with Nature.
A good example of this is how, when I read in this book about a bird species I’d never heard of before, I looked it up on the Internet. One day I was thinking that I had an advantage that he doesn’t, given he doesn’t have access to computers or the Internet. Then I realized I had it all wrong. There is so much more joy and excitement in seeing birds in their natural setting, than to see videos of the birds on the Internet. David Kline may have to wait years to see a rare bird, but when he does, he isn’t apt to soon forget it. I have been a casual birder for years, and I saw a scarlet tanager in the wild recently. I’ve seen scarlet tanagers less than a dozen times in my life, so I found it very exciting… way more so than watching a video of one.
For people who take the time to read Great Possessions, I think they will agree that this is an inspirational read, and a wonderful reminder of something we can learn from a slower-paced and intentional lifestyle like that of the Amish.