Mysterious Island

Missaukee County, in the heart of the lower peninsula of Michigan, is perfectly flat and perfectly rural, its farms possessed by Dutch Calvinists. When first I, aged 17, traveled across the county, every farmhouse and every barn was ornamented by conspicuous lightning rods, the rustics having been duped by some ingenious salesman. When I inquired after the county courthouse (seeking for a county roadmap), everybody directed me to "the country barns." "Beast is more than man in Meath," the Irish say. So it is, or was, in Missaukee County.

Dr. Ronald Jager, sometime professor of philosophy at Yale, was reared on the eighty acres of a subsistence farm in that simple and honest county; he was sent to study at Galvin College, and that made all the difference; he and his brothers, once grown, never followed the plow. But he is blessed with total recall of his boyhood. His little book, at once realistic, amusing, and pathetic, adds mightily to the corpus of literature of what we may call the Northern Agrarian School. In several ways it parallels Curtis Stadtfeld's From the Land and Back (Scribner's, 1972), of which the setting is Michigan's Mecosta County, somewhat south of Missaukee, and less fertile: the county of Stadtfeld himself and of this reviewer.

Although in these United States nobody calls himself a peasant, actually the Jagers and their neighbors were a peasantry, living very...

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