Category Archives: Essays

Pieces I researched, wrote over time, and/or edited. Some were originally published elsewhere.

Bluets, adverbs, and education

On a gorgeous April Wednesday I am filling in as substitute homeschool teacher. We do arithmetic; we do a language lesson about adverbs and Emily Dickinson. Then—did I mention the day is gorgeous? That the air through the window is crisp and fills the lungs with hope and delight? That the cardinals are courting round the bay tree and a wren is chirping from the buckthorn? That the sky is blue, the dandelions gold, the violets… er, violet? All this is so, and the substitute teacher, less inspired by whatever lies in the plan book before him than by the season swiftly unfolding outside the window, calls an audible…. Continue reading

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Tomorrow is Candlemas: the midpoint of winter, halfway between the solstice and the equinox, in cultures unspoiled by scientifically rational astronomy the first day of spring, and in much of Western Europe traditionally the day to break ground for the … Continue reading

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Have yourself a medieval Christmas

My daughter, who is eight, tells me that her favorite Christmas carol is “Riu, Riu Chiu,” a half-millenium-old Spanish song about the perfection of the Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus. With vivid lyrics about furious wolves and innocent … Continue reading

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Enter the Belsnickel

The story of the Krampus has been making the rounds lately. For those who haven’t heard, he’s an old-world Germanic mythical creature who terrorizes naughty children at Christmas. Apparently pepper-spray-wielding shoppers at Target aren’t scary enough for Americans these days, … Continue reading

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The Thanksgiving issue: Gratitude and craft

Time to get serious, now. Thanksgiving is only a day away, and if you haven’t started your preparations yet, you’d best get cracking. I don’t mean brining the turkey or kneading bread dough: I mean being thankful. The point of … Continue reading

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Keep home economics in the home

In today’s New York Times, Helen Zoe Veit argues that America’s public schools ought to revive the teaching of home economics. That simply isn’t going to happen, not given the state of public school funding, the priorities of education reformers, … Continue reading

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Standards and Stewards

In this 2003 essay I argue that the desire for standards, because it tends to produce standardization, is antithetical to stewardship, which must be based on an intimate knowledge of unique persons and places. No set of standards, therefore — such as the national organic standards — can serve as a substitute or even a stepping-stone to true stewardship, and may even make that ultimate goal more difficult to reach. Continue reading

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Life cycles

The miracle of a butterfly is a cliché, but it’s a miracle my daughter, who is four, hadn’t yet witnessed, and she gave me daily — if not hourly — updates on the caterpillar’s progress. And, really, it’s a miracle that never grows old. When the aptly named “Parsley” went off into the wide world we were all a little disappointed that we wouldn’t see her emerge as a butterfly. Continue reading

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On grass

Originally published in the Northern Agrarian, July/August 2008. My back yard has never been in danger of winning any awards from glossy design magazines. Plantain rules a few patches where I let the ducks graze too freely. The old garden … Continue reading

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On growing potatoes

Originally published in the Northern Agrarian. When I write about gardening I sometimes, without meaning to, give the impression that I wake every morning to survey a vast domain of neatly tilled beds and a refrigerator bursting with home-grown produce. … Continue reading

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