I heard a presentation on Sue Hubbell’s A Country Year at the Ozarks Studies Symposium in West Plains last year, from Brian Hardman of the University of the Ozarks, and that presentation reminded me I had been intending to dig out this book and re-read it (I’m pretty sure I had read it years ago). But nearly a year passed before intention became act. Another reason to love books—they’re so patient with us!
A Country Year may remind you of Walden in its seasonal structure (spring to spring), or of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for its devoted entomology, but those comparisons only go so far. For one thing, A Country Year is a quieter book, not as rhetorically extravagant; much of it was originally written for general-interest magazines, so the needs of the intended audience figure into that choice to some extent.
But something else that interests me about A Country Year is its practicality; it’s a working book, not the ruminations of a comfortable observer. When Hubbell writes about jacking up her truck to grease the wheel bearings, she’s not doing it to experience the rusticity of common tasks; she’s doing it because the truck needs greasing, and nobody else is around to take on the job. Real poverty runs through this book and informs it at every turn. For that reason, A Country Year speaks to the Ozarks experience in a particularly meaningful way. A transplant herself (who has since moved away), Hubbell wryly comments on the urbanites who relocate to a scenic patch of Ozark countryside, only to learn that their rural utopia comes with brown recluses and intermittent mail service.
A Country Year embraces both beauty and struggle. It’s unassuming but firm. And in those respects, it resembles a lot of the country folk I know.