Dear Folks, It’s early morning on a Sunday that’s much warmer than we would expect for late November. There’s not a woodstove going anywhere in the house. (There could be six, if we were fully fired up). Heather and I are up, and so is Heather’s grandma, Joyce Long, who has driven up from Long Island, as she often does, to visit her grandchildren here. (Sylvia’s sister Binky is a vegetable farmer across the river in Vermont, and she has two little ones too.) Sylvia’s up — I just heard her coming in the basement door with buckets on her way to feed the sheep. I haven’t yet seen Don, John, Brenna, or Melinda. I guess they’re still asleep.
Who’s Melinda? Well, folks, I’m happy to introduce you to the newest member of the Foundation Farm family, Melinda Fulop. Melinda is Transylvanian, which means she is an ethnic Hungarian who happened to be born in a piece of Hungary that is now on the wrong side of the Rumanian-Hungarian border. (This is the way Hungarians tell it, anyway.) Until a few years ago Melinda was a Romanian citizen, and you’ve probably read enough in the newspapers about the way that country was ruled to imagine at least a little about what her life was like. A few years ago Melinda got permission to visit Hungary for a study trip and decided not to go back to Romania.
The story of what happened next is pretty remarkable. I’ll just summarize it by saying that since then Melinda has managed to get a job in a bank, get a degree in public relations from the Budapest University of Economics, become a Hungarian citizen, buy a little piece of land in Budapest upon which she hopes someday to build a house, get to Spain to learn Spanish, and get to America, where she is perfecting her English by noticeable degrees every day. And just last week she turned 23.
Melinda arrived at the farm two weeks ago. She’s scheduled to stay for 3 months. She arrived in the middle of the Dartmouth term, but she plunged into courses on psychology, environmental science, and marketing. When the term is over, I hope she can get on a bus and see a little more of America. If any of you would like to host her for a day or two, please let me know.
Heather is on the floor under my computer table at the moment, singing a song to Basil, who is also under there. The song is about “how Thanksgiving was born.” It has something to do with rainbows and with puppies. It’s getting a little hard to concentrate here.
I’m going to have to stop writing soon anyway, and get to Dartmouth, where the crew is working on Beyond the Limits. Yes, it’s another Lost Weekend. We got a first draft done, all but the elusive final chapter, by November 6 and sent it out to 20 good critical friends for comment. They were critical, all right. So now I’m processing all their comments and rewriting. In the case of the first chapter, I scrapped it completely and started over. The book is due in bound galleys on December 2. It’s yet another cliff-hanger.
In order to make the tight publication schedule, Dennis and I agreed with Chelsea Green to do the book make-up ourselves, which means that what we deliver on December 2 must be the book completely laid out, ready for typesetting, pages formatted, figures placed properly on pages, and so forth.
So the scene at Dartmouth yesterday looked like this. Dennis and I were in two different offices, each with our own Macintosh computers and WORD4, writing and rewriting the new Chapter 1, passing drafts back and forth until we were both (nearly) satisfied. Tom Fiddaman, Dennis’s research assistant was in another office with his Mac, running the World3 model in STELLA, preparing all the figures that involve computer runs. Diana Wright’s husband Steve had been pulled into this emergency (Diana is my research assistant); he was in her office using her Mac and FREEHAND to finish up the multitude of charts and graphs in the book. (I haven’t counted the number of figures, but there must be about 50 of them.) Across the hall, with the biggest most powerful Macintosh of all was Diana, taking the WORD, STELLA, and FREEHAND disks and sweeping them into QUARK, which is the final page-making program.
When I left last night, we had just seen the first chapter (Chapter 5, as it turned out) come out of QUARK and look like a REAL BOOK! It was incredibly uplifting. For once I was looking at an accomplishment, instead of at the 5 chapters that still have to be rewritten, the one chapter that still has to be written from scratch (that last inspirational conclusion), and the 17 million incomplete footnotes, wrong formats, bad word choices, unclarities, factual errors, and overstatements still waiting to be corrected. This past week, facing all that has to be done, I have been as close to a nervous breakdown as I have ever been. But now I think there may be light at the end of the tunnel, just a little over a week away.
We’re hoping to get Chapters 1,2, and 4 done today. That will add up to half the book (though by far the easier half). I’d better stop writing about it and go do it!
Well, so much for good intentions. We got Chapter 1 done and QUARKED, and spent a long time cleaning up Chapter 5, and barely got started on Chapters 2 and 4. It’s just amazing how long things take. We ended the day pretty tired and discouraged, but still moving forward. This process is reminding me of every reason why I married Dennis and every reason why I divorced him, and I’m sure it’s doing the same for him.
I don’t know how I can still manage to look at a computer screen tonight, but I have a Gregorian chant playing in the background and a purring Simon on my lap, and writing to you is fun, so I don’t feel too sorry for myself.
I shouldn’t be telling you about this process, and please don’t you tell anyone else. Books are like sausage and legislation. You should never watch them being made. You should read Beyond the Limits and be impressed by its calm air of authority. Obviously those words were put onto paper in an atmosphere of reflection and rigor. One of my favorite books is Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, and in it she says, “How many books do we read from which the writer lacked the courage to tie off the umbilical cord? How many gifts do we open from which the writer neglected to remove the price tag? Is it pertinent, is it courteous, for us to learn what it cost the writer personallly?”
I am not being TOO crazy about this book. I had a wonderful vacation this month, thanks to the Pew Scholars Program. They hold an annual meeting at which the scholars get together and the ten newly selected ones give presentations of their work to the previous ones and to the selection committee and the Pew staff. The meeting started on November 7 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, so on November 6 I snatched the last printout from the computer, drove down to Concord for a rendezvous and handoff to Tom Fiddaman (he gave me the latest computer runs, I gave him the latest text) and continued driving to Boston for the plane to Santa Fe.
What a treat the next 5 days were! First of all it was wonderful to be with such an incredible bunch of people. Half of them I already knew, and the other half I had always wanted to meet, and the talk was about biodiversity and bluefin tuna and atmospheric chemistry and energy conservation and development in Africa, and I was just in heaven. I got to check out a lot of the facts I had just written into Beyond the Limits with the people who were primary sources of those facts (Mario Molina, one of the discovers of the ozone layer depletion; Phil Fearnside, the best expert on Brazilian deforestation; Carl Safina, Audubon’s warrior for marine resources). And there were three science journalists there — Richard Harris of NPR, Jim Detjen of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Sharon Begley of Newsweek, so we got into impassioned conversations about environmental journalism — and of course I was the most impassioned of all.
And then there was the place of meeting, New Mexico, where I had never been before. I was just dazzled by the views and the colors and the high clean air and the stars. We spent a whole day on a bus tour, visiting Ghost Ranch (where there were Navajo sheep of many colors!) and Indian petroglyphs and pueblos. Another afternoon we climbed all over an Anasazi Indian site on a spectacular high mesa looking over the Rio Grande Valley. The sun was sliding down to the west and the air was filled with an endless flight of robins heading determinedly south; the rocks were warm with the sun’s stored heat and worn smooth by generations of Indian footsteps. I felt very calm there and very connected with those Indian women who knelt down and wore depressions into the friendly rock as they ground their corn. I felt at home, as if I belonged there.
Sunshine and good company and climbing around on rocks was just what I needed. On the way home I stopped for a short visit with my Mom and Karl in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (another Indian place, the home of the Cherokee nation). I try to stop there whenever I find myself traveling in a westward direction. Mom and I go for walks and talk gardening, we all go out to dinner somewhere, I help Mom and Karl make the pretty wooden necklaces they have designed, and it’s a calming time for all of us. I came back ready to re-enter the fray.
I actually got to put in one farm Saturday (Melinda and I shoveled sheep manure from the barn onto the garden) before the book began obsessing me again. It’s going to be full-time for another week, and then again it goes out, no mater what shape it’s in. This time the bound galleys go to the copy editor, the sales reps, and the first reviewers, so it’s getting serious, though there still will be time for minor corrections through the month of December. I probably won’t have the thing off my mind for another month.
We’re going to stop for Thanksgiving, though. Dennis and Suzanne are coming, and Ruth and Helen from next door, and Narayana from Burlington, and Don, Sylvia, Heather, Melinda, nd me. (John and Brenna are going to be with John’s family.) I’ve traded a lamb with another farmer for a turkey, and of course we’ll load the table with squash, leeks, parsnips, and other good things from the farm. Thanksgiving on a farm has real meaning. There is so much to be thankful for.