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.
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 Google+.