There are still some of us who can remember vividly the magic of the moment we discovered a book that deepened or influenced our lives. One such day for me occurred in 1987 on a road trip with my daughter. We stopped for a break in Prescott, Arizona and browsed through a row of thrift stores and antique shops. As usual, I went straight to the books. The title of an old book caught my eye immediately – The Countryman’s Year by David Grayson. “Maybe a kindred spirit,” I thought.
I had not skimmed far when I began almost trembling with excitement. Here was a farmer, gardener, beekeeper, like me, writing poetic-prose about life in the country. What lyrical thoughts and quotable passages, so uncommon in the popular literature of the thirties. Why had I never heard of this writer? We bonded immediately. Thus began my love affair with David Grayson.
Are we attracted to writers because they think like us or because they make us think? I experience an intellectual hunger to know more of the life and philosophy of these writers. I must know more.
The Countryman’s Year was the first book I read by David Grayson and the most engaging for a modern reader. (All of his other fiction books are similarly embellished with philosophy, but the old-fashioned charm of a bygone era may not appeal to many.) The reason I mention this particular book is that it is written like a diary. The Countryman’s Year was created from gleanings taken from his daily notebooks. It includes not just nature, farming, gardening and beekeeping, but observations of people, comments on books and writers, meditations on life and penetrating reflections. None of it is boring or dry.
Also worth reading by David Grayson, Under My Elm is a series of essays on country living, beekeeping, books, and illness.
David Grayson was a pen name. Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) was an American journalist and author who worked for the Chicago News Record and the muckraking McClure’s magazine. He helped create The American Magazine in 1906. In 1908 he wrote Following the Color Line, on racial issues in America. He was a close friend of Woodrow Wilson and served as his press secretary in 1918, later writing a lengthy biography of Wilson for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. He wrote two autobiographies, as well as an entire fiction series as the character David Grayson, which was based on the years he retired to a farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. His life’s work is archived in four separate collections and includes notebooks, diaries and journals.
David Grayson is as quotable as Shakespeare.
A few random favorites:
“We are bored not by living, but by not living enough.”
“It is certain, to an uninteresting man nothing interesting ever happens; to an interesting man, everything.”
“What I have loved well, no one can ever take from me.” And… “To love, begin anywhere.”
“Long ago I made up my mind to let my friends have their peculiarities.”
“Wherein men differ most is in the power of seeing. I mean seeing with all that goes with it and is implicit in it. Seeing lies at the foundation of all science and all art. He who sees most knows most, lives most, enjoys most.”
“I tag myself with no tags: for when I accept another man’s classification I accept also what that man means by the words he uses.”
“As to advice, be wary: if honest, it is also criticism.”
“Live life as though you had forever. Live life as though you will die Monday.”
“This idea, this vision, this bit of life, seems interesting to me, somehow beautiful. I will put it in my Book. Why not? What else have I?”