Observations of an Accidental Farmer-and a Mindful Reader
In forty short and charming chapters, a former "great books" teacher from New York City adapts to his new role on a small Southern farm by observing the natural world and drawing connections to his reading life.

"Erudite and engaging."—Booklist

In late middle-age, Harry Kavros and his wife, Peri, pack up all the household belongings that will fit into their car and leave Manhattan, bound for their new home on a twenty-two-acre patch of pine-filled land in Hillsborough, North Carolina. As Mr. Kavros spends long hours clearing the acreage, not for farming but for sightlines, he muses about the land, the exhausting work it requires, and the rewards the effort offers. Every task he undertakes prompts him to recall and meditate over scenes from his reading life. From the great Greek epics to the writings of Frederick Law Olmstead on landscape, to Thoreau, to modern poets, to a veritable treasury of references, for the author life in the country is also life in among his reading.

Witty and perceptive, Observations of an Accidental Farmer—and a Mindful Reader is about cultivation, of one’s land and one’s life.

"1143957046"
Observations of an Accidental Farmer-and a Mindful Reader
In forty short and charming chapters, a former "great books" teacher from New York City adapts to his new role on a small Southern farm by observing the natural world and drawing connections to his reading life.

"Erudite and engaging."—Booklist

In late middle-age, Harry Kavros and his wife, Peri, pack up all the household belongings that will fit into their car and leave Manhattan, bound for their new home on a twenty-two-acre patch of pine-filled land in Hillsborough, North Carolina. As Mr. Kavros spends long hours clearing the acreage, not for farming but for sightlines, he muses about the land, the exhausting work it requires, and the rewards the effort offers. Every task he undertakes prompts him to recall and meditate over scenes from his reading life. From the great Greek epics to the writings of Frederick Law Olmstead on landscape, to Thoreau, to modern poets, to a veritable treasury of references, for the author life in the country is also life in among his reading.

Witty and perceptive, Observations of an Accidental Farmer—and a Mindful Reader is about cultivation, of one’s land and one’s life.

19.95 In Stock
Observations of an Accidental Farmer-and a Mindful Reader

Observations of an Accidental Farmer-and a Mindful Reader

by Harry Kavros
Observations of an Accidental Farmer-and a Mindful Reader

Observations of an Accidental Farmer-and a Mindful Reader

by Harry Kavros

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$19.95 
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Overview

In forty short and charming chapters, a former "great books" teacher from New York City adapts to his new role on a small Southern farm by observing the natural world and drawing connections to his reading life.

"Erudite and engaging."—Booklist

In late middle-age, Harry Kavros and his wife, Peri, pack up all the household belongings that will fit into their car and leave Manhattan, bound for their new home on a twenty-two-acre patch of pine-filled land in Hillsborough, North Carolina. As Mr. Kavros spends long hours clearing the acreage, not for farming but for sightlines, he muses about the land, the exhausting work it requires, and the rewards the effort offers. Every task he undertakes prompts him to recall and meditate over scenes from his reading life. From the great Greek epics to the writings of Frederick Law Olmstead on landscape, to Thoreau, to modern poets, to a veritable treasury of references, for the author life in the country is also life in among his reading.

Witty and perceptive, Observations of an Accidental Farmer—and a Mindful Reader is about cultivation, of one’s land and one’s life.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781589881914
Publisher: Dry, Paul Books, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/16/2024
Pages: 235
Sales rank: 327,527
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.00(d)

About the Author

Harry Kavros is the author of two books, Dandelions and Honey: Travels on a Forsaken Island and Hexameron: A Discussion of Great Books in Six Days. He is a former dean of Fordham Universityand Columbia Universitywhere he taught Literature-Humanities (Lit-Hum), the great books seminar. He now lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

We looked like a wagon of death. A manual branch trimmer, wedged in diagonally across the back seat of a car laden with luggage, poked its jagged-toothed scythe out the left rear window. The grim reaper rode shotgun, a fitting companion on this journey of ours, for surely it is the knowledge of death that inspires us to make sense of our lives.

The car carried a few essentials—an inflatable mattress, changes of clothing. Incongruously, a set of china colonized much of the back seat and gave us a look of privilege. We lugged these boxes of fragile dishes and accessories in order to sell them at a North Carolina warehouse. The funds would help offset the cost of my parents’ assisted living apartment, where we had moved them before allowing ourselves to move. We also transported some of my father’s tools, an ironic inheritance as I lacked talent in carpentry or any other manual art. Shovels, hammers, awls, wrenches, and saws crammed every remaining nook. 

Seduced by the prospect of life in warmer climes, my wife, Peri, and I left Manhattan. Peri left her psychology practice, and I left my career as a university dean and side gig of literature teacher. During the past couple of years, we had traveled to San Antonio and Boca Raton, to interviews in Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. We had circled Tennessee. Then, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, we put our New York apartment on the market, rented a car, and drove to Hillsborough, North Carolina. There we found a lovely, pine-filled landscape and a small town, replete with Colonial and Civil War history, handsome architecture, and local dives in which laborers and farmers outnumbered financiers and lawyers. On the drive home, we made an offer on a house and heard that a young couple wanted our apartment. We bought and sold over the weekend. 

Now, traveling south again to move into our new home, we tried to avoid turnpikes and four-lane divided highways. Our improvised route went through small Delaware towns and Virginia pine-shaded valleys. Most mom-and-pop diners had long since disappeared, and the colonial landscape was dotted with modern chain restaurants. The crisp primary colors of their signs blared against the subtler emeralds and sages of pine groves and fields.

The sides of pickup trucks and vans announced the sort of economic activity we had not witnessed for decades: services for lawn care and septic tanks, stump removal, lawn mower repair, pest control, and water testing. The distances between villages increased the further we traveled, and driving past gas stations without filling the tank became ever riskier. 

Stopping for a breakfast of waffles and bacon, we were awed by the ease with which the waitress started a conversation. Hospitality seemed more important than economic exchange. Her openness was contagious, and we in turn explained where we came from and where we were going. The waitress told us about the local ice cream shop, the high school’s football team and Halloween parade, and her marriage plans. She had been raised in the village a few miles down the road and had never left the county. This experience was repeated in almost every restaurant, gas station, and hotel on our rambling journey to North Carolina.

I left my last position as dean questioning the values of my university. I left pondering mortality—that of my parents as well as my own. I left New York, my home for three decades, an old man (that is, by Archaic Greek terms—I was older than the middle-aged Odysseus, closer to his elderly father, Laertes). I was not, like Whitman, a new kind of hero of the open road, “afoot and light-hearted,”  wandering wherever I chose. Instead, I left presuming it would be my last major journey. And like Odysseus, perhaps I would find order, homecoming, and respect for the gods. I would synthesize what I’d read and taught with my daily life on the property we’d just purchased.

As Lee Smith’s young diary writer, Molly, wrote in On Agate Hill, “…it is always an adventure, like Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe and the Odyssey. All the books are about somebody going someplace.” The young Molly, a survivor of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and rape, learned that there are many other journeys. There are psychological journeys, spiritual journeys, political journeys, journeys through history and fantasy worlds, theological journeys, as well as road trips. My own road trip from New York to below the Mason-Dixon line, and my adventures on the farm, would include these different journeys.

We named our property Hyacinth Farm. Hyacinth is a Cretan name (“inth” is a typical Minoan suffix, as in labyrinth) for a mythological young man, beautiful and beloved of Apollo. Unfortunately, he died when trying to catch a discus. I came to learn that death and beauty mingled on the farm as in Greek myth. Apollo made a flower from the dead lad’s spilled blood, and his tears stained the petals with the sign of his grief. Peri would soon plant several hundred hyacinth bulbs around the property. As for the farm, we would start with seventeen guinea fowl, fifteen exotic chickens, and a dog that romped among, and occasionally attacked, the birds. Peri imagined pastures filled with peacocks, sheep, and goats. A horse rambled in a lovely front acre. A retired stallion, Oliver, literally had been let out to pasture. I would soon feel his pain.

To be clear: I am not a farmer. I did not move south to live simply or deliberately. I did not intend to discover the joy of wiggling my fingers through rich dirt. Nor is my livelihood dependent upon agriculture or livestock. I do not intend to insult real farmers by comparing my novice attempts to plant seeds or raise chickens with theirs. I did not even intend to purchase acres of woods and pastures. When I did, I wanted to make the landscape wondrous and the land productive. But what I found was gnarled underbrush, fallen trees and branches, a clogged creek, barren pastures, and untended weeds. Although racoons, snakes, and coyotes visited, the only permanent inhabitants were chiggers and ticks. 

Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD

THE LANDSCAPE
HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS
GREEK LESSONS
BONES
ELIZABETH BENNET FALLS IN LOVE
THE CIVIC GAZE: FIRST MEDITATION
DOG DAYS
FOUR WALKS IN THE WOODS
DANGERS OF MEDITATION
MAGICAL REALISM
NOCTURNAL ADVENTURES
I TELL YOU, WAR IS HELL
SURVIVAL INSTINCT
I DID MY BEST, IT WASN’T MUCH
NATURE’S FIRST GREEN IS GOLD
LEISURE

CHICKENS AND OTHER BEASTS
I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN
PLATO AND CHURCHILL
EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN
NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN
BARNYARD ECONOMICS
SUNNY SIDE UP
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
CARRION COMFORT
REPETITION
BURIAL MOUNDS
SQUAWK BOX
HOLES
OLFACTORY SENSATIONS
HABIT
POOP
FAITH IN ANIMAL NATURE
SNAKES
SWERVE
NATURE RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW
MEMENTO MORI
THE BARKING DOGS WERE SILENT
TO SEE A WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND
FABLE OF THE BEES
VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: SECOND MEDITATION

THE SOUTH
COMMUNITARIANS
OF STATUES AND GRAVES
AMERICAN DREAM, SOUTHERN STYLE: THIRD MEDITATION

EPILOGUE
“MIGHT HE BECOME A GENTLEMAN FARMER?”

APPENDIX : AUTHORS AND WORKS MENTIONED IN THE TEXT

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