Book Review of 'You Can Go Home Again' by Gene Logsdon

By John Rohe
Volume 9, Number 2 (Winter 1998-1999)
Issue theme: "Secure identification and immigration enforcement"

You Can Go Home Again Adventures of a Contrary Life

by Gene Logsdon

Bloomington, IN University of Indiana Press

204 pages, $22.95

Early agrarian lifestyles blend into a Middle Ages monastic religious educational experience, which yields to the fast-paced life of a writer in Philadelphia, and culminates in a return to the land in a celebration of agrarian values. One could easily believe this book spans the entire course of recorded human history. In fact, however, it only chronicles the author's life during the 20th century.

Gene Logsdon - author of 17 books, including The Contrary Farmer, magazine articles by the hundreds, and a weekly newspaper column - has crafted an autobiographical justification for respecting the land. This is not just for the cause of land conservation; traditional American values also become a casualty as we devour farmland in the name of "progress."

According to the American Farmland Trust, urban sprawl devours 1.1 million acres of agricultural land in the United States every year. This amounts to over 3,000 acres per day. Asphalt is not only the last cash crop, but it entombs once vibrant agrarian culture and traditional notions of the common good from which our cherished principles of liberty and democracy emerged.

The loss can be perceived in the feeling of alienation and estrangement shrouding the concrete-dominated urban culture. Cynicism thrives as communal values suffer. The loss becomes palpable when we contrast a stroll through congested urban malls with a walk in the woods accompanied by a family, or friends, or a dog.

Logsdon shares a frank analysis of his personal, often humorous, sometimes disappointing, and always well-written life experiences. He imparts a tangible quality to the otherwise imperceptible erosion of culture. According to Logsdon, "Old farmers, like old soldiers, never die. They stamp a piece of land with an indomitable spirit that lives forever."

He knows we humans remain part of a biological system. This lesson was learned at the creek, affectionately called "The Crick," a stream that ran through his childhood farm home. He respectfully concedes "the most precious lesson The Crick taught me was the joy of cooperating with nature instead of forever beating my head against the wall of biological logic."

The loss of agricultural land cannot be tied to a single cause. Mechanized farming, genetically-engineered high yielding varieties, the post-industrial drift toward urbanization, and our affinity for sprawling lawns and large lots are factors to be weighed in the loss, but people are still the multiplier on each of these operative causes. More people means more sprawl, less agricultural land, and thus a stranglehold on agrarian values.

The United States is well into an era of sub-replacement-level fertility, but the population of the country continues to grow. U.S. demographic pressure now stems from immigration. The inordinately high and unprecedented rate of migration into the United States not only dilutes U.S. culture, but it also diminishes the land on which Logsdon's values could otherwise flourish. Any doubts can be resolved by observing the effects of population growth on the outskirts of "Yourtown, USA."

You Can Go Home Again exposes the otherwise imperceptible loss to our biological clocks. A loss of 1.1 million acres is substantial, but when it is spread across the United States, the loss often lies beyond our collective attention span. It may be as long as 10, 25, 50 years before the scars on our landscape, and the corresponding toll exacted on our humanity, will become apparent. Logsdon's autobiographical sketch becomes the gauge on which this loss is measured.

Fortunately, Gene Logsdon "can go home again." He found deep, rich soils, adequate groundwater, and a caring community in which his family could still lay down roots. But whether the rest of us can go home again or not depends on immigration policies.

If the valued agrarian heritage so capably illuminated by Logsdon is worth saving, then we must consider root causes as he does. Carrying the trail of causation beyond conventional limits he writes

'In a murder, only the immediate deathblow is considered the cause of the deed. When a person lamed in an auto accident is later killed because he cannot flee an assailant, the driver who caused the earlier accident is not implicated.'

Similarly, when a farming community vanished, we might cast blame on the final cause

'even though it was merely following the same economic philosophy that had already put the village in decline.'

While the author does not specifically point to immigration, he would have us look at the underlying philosophies inflicting the loss of our agricultural communities. And the demographer would have to implicate population growth, especially as that is fueled by immigration policies - or their absence.

In slightly over 200 pages Logsdon artfully captures the heart and soul of a diminishing American legacy; the down-home life on the farm. He recalls a life unrestrained by the field of advertisers feasting on our self-doubts and vulnerabilities, and heralds a life of voluntary simplicity. He builds a case for us to respect what we have before it is eclipsed by our shortsightedness.

About the author

John F. Rohe is an attorney in Petoskey, Michigan with a long-standing concern for the environment. He is the author of A Bicentennial Malthusian Essay Conservation and the Indifference to Limits.