Book review: Logan memoir re-creates time, place, a family

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Near the end of his book “Population 485,” Michael Perry writes, “ … I’ve got the sense to keep returning [to] this land, in this place, with these people …. ” That reminded me of another Wisconsin author who wrote of a similar feeling in quite a different context.

Ben Logan says, “Once you have lived on the land, been a partner in its moods, secrets and seasons, you cannot leave. The living land remembers, touching you in unguarded moments, saying, ‘I am here, you are part of me.’”

“The Land Remembers” is a re-creation of a time, a place and a family. Set in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Logan recalls a childhood that took place primarily on Seldom Seen Farm on a hilltop above Gay Mills, Wis., above the Kickapoo, and not far from the Mississippi River. I found the book particularly interesting because of the extensive discussion of the seasons and related farm work. My youth was spent on a family farm in the ‘50s, with many similar experiences, though, fortunately, using tractors rather than horses. In my case, the farm was about 30 miles up the Kickapoo and in the valley. Though valley farming is similar in many ways, Logan is quick to point out the differences.

As Logan was to find after writing the book, the reasons that it was so well received were many. Some people liked it because it was family focused or becausethey yearned for the perceived simpler times or for the clear values. Some even saw a reflection of their own childhood. In any case, Ben Logan has written a novel worth reading.

The book begins with the spring “awakening of the land” and concludes with the “shortdays and yellow lamplight” of winter. Among topics covered are the magic of seeds, gardening, the maple tree in the yard,draught, bees, wanderlust, one-room schools, harvest,killing frost and a blizzard. All of this happening in season as part of family life on a ridge farm.

It turns out thatBen Logan and Michael Perry have wanderlust in common as well as a sense of place. Perry talks about it extensively in “Population 485” as he explores his need to return. Ben Logan doesn’t really reveal his until the afterword, his book being a reminiscence. Logan’s afterword adds other insight and is well worth the read.

My wife Arlis and I met Ben Logan when Seldom Seen Farm was placed in the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. He autographed our book with the inscription, “To Larry and Arlis, who know about the magic of the Kickapoo hills and valleys.” “The Land Remembers” recreates the “magic” of a Kickapoo ridge farm, a family and a way of life in a bygone era.

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