English Pastoral: An inheritance
by James Rebanks
Allen Lane, $35 pb, 304 pp
Modern mega-farms are like nothing on earth. Imagine a vast black field stretching from horizon to horizon. A driverless tractor glides across the skyline spreading synthetic fertiliser. A cluster of grain towers looms over an empty asphalt parking lot. A row of pig sheds gleams in the distance. The square blot of the manure lagoon simmers in the hot sun. There are no trees. No birds. No mess. Everything is orderly, unpeopled, and entirely alien.
Such a venture has little in common with the kind of farm that English writer James Rebanks grew up on. By comparison, his grandfather’s ‘fell farm’ in Matterdale, in the English Lake District, ‘was crooked and patched and narrow. It wasn’t falling apart, but it was a bit scruffy at the edges. And it supported a rich diversity of plant and animal life. Even though the land had been farmed for many centuries, there was still some wildness in it.’