Thursday, August 26, 2010
Up Tunket Road Book Review by ChristineMM
Title: Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader
Author: Philip Ackerman Leist
Publication: Chelsea Green Publishing May 2010
My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It
Summary Statement: Thoughtful and Philosophical, Excellent Storytelling Memoir of a Modern Homesteader; Worthy of a Slow Reading
My great-grandparents were real homesteaders in northern Maine a hundred years ago and I grew up visiting my grandmother on the same land in the same home she and my grandfather built by hand after the original home burned to the ground. I knew enough of the practical hardships trying to live off the land to not want to do it myself but still cannot help but wax romantic of some aspects, and on bad days I do fantasize of running away to live in the Brooks Range.
I was interested in what Ackerman-Leist had to say about modern homesteading and the various forms that homesteading can take place, such as applying a certain mindset and doing certain things even when one lives on the grid in a city or in a suburb. That would be me: the self-taught home canner, organic gardener (when it was considered weird and stupid), wildcrafter and do-er of many other things that some of my friends and neighbors think is nutty. I don’t fit in with the back-to-the-landers and I don’t fit in with my chemical spraying for the perfect lawn neighbors either.
It was apparent from the start of the book that I didn’t want to rush through this. This is a memoir worthy of a slow read. Ackerman-Leist is an excellent storyteller. He manages to keep up a good pace, never letting the story get boring. Some chapters are have funny parts, and some are sad (I cried my way through chapter 9, about sending his oxen off to slaughter). Some chapters are more philosophical in nature, thoughtful musings and contemplations on modern living versus living off the land. Other chapters are more information focused, giving lots of details on solar power, for example.
I found so much of the writing was profound that I began taking notes then later gave up on that and just started marking up the book’s margins. There is a lot to ponder here and it would make for great discussion between people who are interested and care about such matters are green living, sustainable agriculture and sustainable living.
Ackerman-Leist is a thinker (he may be accused of thinking or caring too much about some things). He is an excellent writer.
What I wished for, but was absent, was more about parenting and education. Ackerman-Leist is a college professor which at first made me think that he thought the status quo for formal education was fine. I wondered what he’d think about modern school education or if he had alternative lifestyle notions about schooling the kids as well. He mentions just a tidbit, only to say that his children were homeschooled. As a homeschooling mother myself I longed for more details about that choice and how the family homeschools.
Also lacking was much about his personal relationship with his wife Erin. The impression I got was she was more serious and rigid than he is (and he’s pretty serious I think). She is very practical, a hard worker who liked doing laborious tasks (other than the mention of losing patience with moving the human waste). There must be more to Erin but it was not shared. There also was not enough about their relationship with each other except some mentions of having to negotiate on some decisions about green living choices. Not saying much left the impression they were more like cold business partners needing each other only to help get through the many daily living tasks associated with sustainable living, but I refuse to allow myself to believe that is true. (Perhaps a second book focusing more on his wife and children and their education is in the works? If not, may I put in a request that it be written?)
One thing I valued was the ponderings about what homesteading is, how to define it, and valuing how one can use homesteading in their lives even if they are not living in a remote wilderness area in isolation. I enjoyed the discussion of creating community wherever a person is. I also appreciated the practical way Ackerman-Leist looked at homesteading, being a realist about the issues that so many people lately seem to like talking about in a more romantic way but don’t even try, so they wind up advocating for a certain lifestyle that in reality they are not even willing to experiment at living in their real life. Ackerman-Leist is not a poser, he and his wife have lived the homesteading life in various incarnations and locations and those experiences and his wisdom are shared in this thoughtful book.
His wife Erin Ackerman-Leist illustrated the book with pen and ink illustrations which are lovely. I’m glad the book was illustrated.
If you enjoy reading memoir and you are interested in homesteading you will enjoy this book. I want to underscore if you enjoy reading memoir this is a great book to read since it is so well written and enjoyable, perhaps even if you don’t care much about sustainable living. If you are primarily interested in green living matters but are not usually a memoir reader, just know that it’s a memoir, it’s storytelling, it is not a non-fiction how-to manual.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I was under no obligation to blog this review or give it a favorable rating. I was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.