The Romance of the Mundane: Background Research
At present, the best known of our mid-20th century authors is the poet
Edna St. Vincent Millay; she published at least 8 books of poetry and
three plays. Born in Maine in 1892, she lived at Steepletop
in Austerlitz from 1923 until her death in 1950. The site is still open
to the public (and is home to a pretty amazing wild flower meadow).
John Cowper Powys was an English novelist and is perhaps best known for his ‘epic’ novels Wolf Solent
and Glastonbury Romance
; he lived along Harlemville Road from 1934-1938. For more on him, including excerpts from his diary, please see our blog.
Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) was apparently a well-known poet in his
time but has now slipped into obscurity. Examples of his poetry,
together with a short biography, are available on-line.
He spent at least part of his life in a house along Phudd Hill Road and is buried on the property together with his wife.
Alan Devoe lived around Phudd Hill from 1938 (when he moved into the
house vacated by Powys) until his death in 1954, at which time he was
living in the current Dufault house on Hickory Hill Road. Devoe was an
editor (he worked many years at Readers’ Digest) and published numerous
nature articles and several books. The books which touch most explicitly
upon his life here are Phudd Hill
(1937) and Our Animal Neighbors (1953)
, co-authored with his wife Mary. The local bird club, The Alan Devoe Bird Club
, is named in his honor. Excerpts from some of his work are also available on our blog.
posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family
, although his best known work may be Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
an account of life amongst Alabama sharecroppers. He apparently lived
part-time at his HIllsdale farm from 1948 until his death in 1955; he is
buried at the farm.
My thoughts regarding the professions of an agrarian society come in
part from seeing the apparent tensions and synergies that can develop as
non-farmers and farmers interact in our modern landscape. The issue of
farmer access to land and extensive non-farmer land ownership is a key
one for the future of agriculture in our county and exemplifies some of
this complexity. Some believe that the only land tenure system which
will permit truly vibrant agriculture is one in which farmers own their
land or, at the least, use land owned by a agriculture-focused
governmental or non-governmental organization. Others believe that
long-term, agriculturally-productive relationships between private,
non-farming landowners and farmers are possible, and they can point to
some apparently successful examples of such relationships. Programs such
as CLC’s Farmer Landowner Match Program
are meant to facilitate such interactions.
Another spur for these thoughts is historic: at the peak of Columbia
County farming (in terms of land actively being worked), the Columbia
County work force was roughly 1/3rd
in farming, 1/3rd
in manufacturing (including home industries), and 1/3rd
in retail and services. Clearly, this was what we would have called an
agrarian society but just as clearly not everybody was farming (although
much manufacturing and services were probably linked to agriculture).
Composition of the Columbia County workforce.
(Click on image to zoom.)
This leads to the open-ended question of what would a modern, agrarian
society look like? How can we re-define professional roles to encompass
the workings of such a society? This is a broader question then ‘how do I
support local agriculture?’; it is more the question, ‘how am I part of
local agriculture, whether I am a farmer or not?’