Soil and Spirit
As a farmer with decades spent working in fields, Scott Chaskey has been shaped by daily attention to the earth. A leader in the international Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement, he has combined a longstanding commitment to food sovereignty and organic farming with a belief that humble attention to microbial life and diversity of species provides invaluable lessons for building healthy human communities.
Along the way, even while planning rotations of fields, ordering seeds, tending to crops and their ecosystems, Chaskey was writing. And in this lively collection of essays, he explores the evolution of his perspective—as a farmer and as a poet. Tracing the first stage in his development back to a homestead in Maine, on the ancestral lands of the Abenaki, he recalls learning to cultivate plants and nourish reciprocal relationships among species, even as he was reading Yeats and beginning to write poems. He describes cycling across Ireland, a surprise meeting with Seamus Heaney, and, later, farming in Cornwall’s ancient landscape of granite, bramble, and windswept trees. He travels to China for an international conference on Community Supported Agriculture, reading ancient wilderness poetry along the way, and then on to the pueblo of Santa Clara in New Mexico, where he joins a group of Indigenous women harvesting amaranth seeds. Closer to home on the Southfork of Long Island, he describes planting redwood saplings and writing verse under the canopy of an American beech.
“Enlivened by decades of work in open fields washed by the salt spray of the Atlantic”—words that describe his prose as well as his vision of connectedness—Scott Chaskey has given us a book for our time. A seed of hope and regeneration.
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Praise and Prizes
“As one of America’s greatest agrarian poets and essayists, Scott Chaskey deserves recognition as a national treasure. He both expands our horizons and deepens our contemplative capacities with the astonishing connections he makes between soil, soul, and sustenance in these challenging and eloquent essays. Soil and Spirit will be read and reread for many years to come.”
“Soil and Spirit is truly a feast. Scott Chaskey celebrates the emergence of beauty, nourishment, and community from the earth. The vivid range of narratives and voices here—from his adventures as a farmer in Maine, Cornwall, and Long Island to the deep love of poetry the author bears in his heart even when (or especially when) laboring in the fields—makes this an exhilarating book. Readers of Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, and James Rebanks’s Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey will be struck by the many levels on which Chaskey enters into dialogue with those fine achievements.”
“So much is happening under my nose, but I missed some of the essence until Scott came along. Following his teaching, instead of a villa with pool and tennis court, I, too, started a farm. Scott is a teacher, a mentor, a guide. He made me understand Nature through the irreplaceable wisdom of agriculture that humans have practiced for thousands of years, shaping our civilization. This book is on one level a guide to farming, and a spiritual guide to the deep emotions Nature raises in us all.”
“Soil and Spirit stands as a beautiful meditation on the endless richness of the Earth’s rocks, fungi, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and trees, and our place among them as expressed in word and deed. In this hopeful and heartfelt book, seedsman, poet, and world traveler Scott Chaskey brings a lifetime of experience to his wide-ranging exploration of our human relationship with the natural world and the many possibilities our engagement with it offers.”