Memory Of Trees: An Elegy For The American Family Farm


Tags: farms, family, books,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.In Memory of Trees, Gayla Marty tells a compelling story about her family’s eastern Minnesota farm and the folks who inhabited it for several generations. Although I am compulsively drawn to retrospective memoirs such as Memory of Trees, the piece is especially powerful because the story is told from a daughter’s perspective and this particular daughter weaves a tale of land, roots, connectedness, belonging and loss. Memory of Trees is a reflective and at times mournful piece, but the story serves as a lovely elegy that also guides the reader to a palpable understanding of the joys associated with the life of the land.

Memory Of Trees Cover

Gayla Marty effectively chronicles the aging process of so many American farms. Hard work, dedication, conviction, faith and even more hard work, conviction and faith founded them. That first generation did everything for the farm, which was expected to remain in the family forever, it seemed. Subsequent generations continue to build and grow the farm until the combination of circumstance, new economic models, and generational immiscibility create cracks in the long standing foundation. And eventually, all too often, the land pays the price – sold to the highest bidder – to be repurposed, developed or otherwise disposed of. Sometimes the remaining family members are left with a wad of cash to temper the inevitable emotional baggage hidden in the pile of memories. Sometimes it’s considerably messier. Marty tells her version of the story with believable grit and sufficient edge that it easily avoids the path to sentimentalism.

Memory of Trees is beautifully written – so perfectly crafted that it was difficult to put down after reading the first paragraph. I found myself laughing, nodding, smiling one minute and feeling a burning sensation in my sinuses with a lump in my throat the next. Whether you have loved the land and lost, or dream of getting to know a piece of ground and all of its multigenerational history intimately, or even plan to lay your own foundation for subsequent generations, please read Memory of Trees: A Daughter’s Story of a Family Farm. 

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Mountain Woman
4/27/2010 12:22:41 PM

I read an article today on the loss of horse trails and the amount of acreage quoted was 6,000 acres a day lost to development. What a sad state of affairs for the farms who are trying to hold on as we are in the face of escalating expenses. Years ago our farm was much larger than the 300 acres it is now and perhaps even 300 acres is a large holding for a Vermont farm in these days of ever increasing pressure to develop. Within our property is a cemetery dating back to the 1700s and I often think of how those people struggled to hold onto their land. So many memories, hopes and dreams. I thank you for the review of a book I shall most surely read although I must admit I cry each time I see a farm up for subdivision. I dream of leaving our farm to a land trust who will preserve it's pristine acreage for years into the future. A dream perhaps but I hope not. The land always does pay the price. Oh, so sad.

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