About my memoir in progress
I’m currently finalizing a memoir. The story is about a guy—me, Richard Gilbert, entering middle age—who chases a dream shared by millions of people in the industrialized world, achieves it at great physical, financial, and emotional cost, and after ten years sees that he was utterly unsuited to it. The dream was farming, working daily with plants and animals. Haunted since boyhood by my father’s loss of our family farm, I try to do what he couldn’t: make money in sustainable agriculture. It’s also about the live-in-the-moment “Appalachian Zen” lessons I learn from my farming neighbors in a lovely, remote backwater, the hill country of southern Ohio.
My wife and I, academics with two young children, had it made before we chucked it all to move to the impoverished Appalachian region. We suffer culture shock, of course, and yet we’re also thrilled that there are still places in America. And we do buy magically beautiful land. My prose captures the loveliness of the hill country and its inhabitants’ stubborn essence. Then, greedy for more pasture, I insist on buying an adjoining farm. We go broke renovating its decrepit house, and I’m seriously hurt trying to save a dying sheep. My surgery and recovery shift our emphasis to selective breeding—and a ewe named Freckles becomes our teacher in how to proceed. By the time our children leave home, I’ve become a seasoned agrarian and a respected shepherd. But I’m a cautionary tale, too, at a time when thousands again yearn to farm. And yet I’m grateful, having made peace with my father, myself, and my dream.
Another part of this story relates to my other involvement in eco-friendly farming, through print advocacy and publishing. During my farming years I was a publicist and then marketing manager for Ohio University Press/Swallow Press and helped return to print two classic farm memoirs as well as published how-to books such as The Sheep Book and All Flesh is Grass: The Pleasures and Promise of Pasture Farming, whose author, Gene Logsdon, dedicated it to me. My articles on gardening and sustainable farming appeared in Orion, The Shepherd, The Stockman Grassfarmer, and Farming: People, Land, Community.
Memoir excerpts have appeared in a number of literary journals, including Brevity, Chautauqua, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, and SNReview.