It is seldom that one gets to read a writer's last work that they consciously realize is their last work. Writers, like most of us, are no more aware of the running sands through hourglass; death finds us in the middle of our lives and that is that. It is seldom that a writer constructs a work in the shadow of their impending death.
Such is Letter to a Young Farmer by Gene Logsdon. Logsdon, who has been a writer on agricultural matters and the back to the land movement for many years, died in May 2016, some weeks after this book was completed. His output has been prodigious over the years (28 books listed in the fly page of this book) and his writing is only ever an exercise in excellence. He one part farmer, one part social revolutionary, and one part philosopher, wrapped up in a package of the individual who has demonstrated that they believe in what they preach and write by actually doing it.
I bought the book but put off reading for some months, afraid that to finish the book would the voice of one I respect for the last time. I have valued everything written by Logsdon since I first picked him up in 2000. He was, in all manners of the word, an encourager: he saw a future of small farming and localism and believed that anyone could do it.
I was warned previously that the book was not really a "letter", but rather a series of essays (as Logsdon often did) across a variety of subjects. Here one will find a non-definition of farming ("No Such Thing as "The American Farmer""), practical application (Farming is All About Money, Even When It Isn't", "Hauling Livestock: The Ultimate Test of Your Framing Mettle"), and a sense of fun "The Cow Stable: Health Spa of the Future", "The Invasion of the Paranoids"). A total of 25 essays in all, written with his usual wit and humor and cantankerous challenging of the status quo.
Obviously not all of these were written at once, and I would be curious to know which ones were done later and which ones were earlier. Which one, of all of them, was the last one he touched.
If I had a quibble, it would be with the order. The last essay, "In Praise of Rural Simplicity (Whatever That Is)", is a logical title for the last words Logsdon leaves for us. I would argue that it was not the best essay though; for my money "The Homebodies", an essay on why farmers tend not to travel or leave their farms was a great deal more moving and (at least to my thinking) a better way to end: because in the end, Gene was the ultimate homebody, dying close to the place were he was born and raised.
But that is a passing complaint, and one of preference, not content (De mortuis nihil non est nissi bonum, Speak nothing but good of the dead). The book is a worthy conclusion to a worthy author and their worthy life that he lead. The only unfortunate thing about the book is reading the last word and knowing that this was the last new thing I will read from Logsdon's hand.
They, being dead, yet speak.