Mountain Musings

The Ozark Mountains make up an area that American literature has largely passed by, leaving it the province of folklore and song, of homespun stories that seldom make their way to the lowlands. Ken Carey's fine new book about the region, Flat Rock Journal, fills a great void, and not simply because with a literature so tiny it has few peers.

Deep within the briar-tangled Missouri highlands, Carey has spent the better part of the last three decades well. He has raised children without having to worry about guns, gangs, and drugs; he has fed his family largely on food that he has grown in the flourishing gardens of his 80-acre farm, fulfilling the Kentucky farmer-poet Wendell Berry's prescription for a righteous life that too few people in our urban culture can follow. Along the way he has paid careful attention to his surroundings, contemplating the mores of the mountain people (who emerge as far more complex, and far more interesting, than the L'il Abner stereotypes outsiders have long been fed), campaigning against logging companies that clear-cut the Ozarks' old growth forests without regard for the health of the land, and pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Carey, a born essayist, is especially good at giving us a glimpse of daily reality in the mountains; to his evident dismay, one of these realities is the ratio of reptilian to human life. "Copperheads," he writes, "outnumber...

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