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Excerpt From 'Sheepish'

Author Catherine Friend talks about farming and self-discovery

There are now a flock of "farm" memoirs about being enslaved by ducks or singing the praises of goats or loving llamas, about moving to the country and giving agriculture a try. Most of these farm memoirs deal with the farm's beginning because that's the most fun — things go wrong, the "farmers" make fools of themselves, people plant grapevines upside down. (Well, okay, that was just me.)

See also: Interview with Catherine Friend.

Nowadays, new farmers not only write memoirs but star in their own reality shows like "The Fabulous Beekman Boys." Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, together for ten years, buy a huge New York farm that comes with a mansion, a herd of goats and its own farmer. Brent's upset because the tractors (plural — they need more than one?) aren't neatly lined up in a row. Josh is upset because Brent is making him work too hard. Funny stuff. A Salon article trumpets the story of Josh and Brent: Can farming cure a midlife crisis? Of course it can't, and the article comes to this conclusion: Even if you're farming, your life still holds all the irritating things you want to escape — personality flaws, ego, financial woes. My advice to Josh and Brent? Don't expect a farm to fix your life, for once the rural romance dims, you must still muck out the barn and stack hay bales and give that sick goat an enema. I'm guessing farming causes more crises than it cures.

Farm beginnings are funny, which is why people write about them and watch TV shows about them. The middles of farms? Less hysterical. Hopefully, a farmer gets better at what she does. (If not, that's just sad.) She makes fewer mistakes, creates fewer disasters, and this is good. Although there are tons of stories about starting something new, there just aren't that many about how to keep doing something, about how to slog through the middle when the going gets tough.

Also, it seems that in any memoir I pick up that purports to be about one thing — moving to a large city, being laid off — there's always a major relationship breakup buried in the middle of the book. Oddly, as if divorce were a spectator sport, some writers feel compelled to write about their breakups. Frankly, I'm more interested in avoiding my own.

So while I tip my hat to the Beekman Boys, and all the other people fleeing the city and getting into farming, that's not where I am. I suspect my raw truth is one we all face: Barring the sudden publication of a memoir written by another sheepish woman with patina, I must find my own way through the forest by weaving together the stuff of my life.

Weaving requires two threads to create fabric. The vertical threads are called the warp. These threads must be the strongest because they bear most of the stress. My warp threads are farm stories. Stories, both good and bad, are the reason that people not only start farming, but keep farming.

The horizontal threads of woven fabric are called the weft, or woof. Since I love dogs, let's go with woof. These threads can be more fragile, but they create the fabric — its color and design. My woof threads are sheep and fiber stories, threads that will prove stronger than I'd imagined.

From the book Sheepish, by Catherine Friend. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011. Read an interview with Catherine Friend.

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