Saturday, 25 January 2014

To Everything a Season: A Year in Alberta Ranch Country by Marilyn Halvorson

Marilyn Halvorson lives on a cattle ranch near Sundre, Alberta.  She is a teacher, and the author of several well-known YA novels set in ranch country such as Cowboys Don't Cry, and Nobody Said It Would Be Easy.  This is a year long journal beginning in September 1989 in which the author documents her life on the land, her work as a cattle farmer, and (the focus of every farmer's life) the changing weather.

I really enjoyed the passages in which she shares her observations on the natural world.  There were moments of profound insight that had me appreciating her perspective:

Though nature can be cruel, she will not take without giving in return.  Hope walks hand in hand with despair.  I met it on the creek bank as well.  There stood a grove of young balsam poplars, shedding their coloured leaves and preparing for the death season ahead.  But as I looked more closely at the trees, I made a discovery.  Beside each dying, falling leaf was a leaf bud, sticky and tightly curled but as complete and perfect a leaf as it will be next May.  Surely this is hope - and faith.  A tree not yet stripped of this year's leaves, with eight months of fall and winter ahead of it, yet ready and waiting for that first warm week in May.


While I am out poking around in the field I hear a sound far above.  I look up.  A long, ragged line of geese is plowing purposefully southeast across the heavy sky.  I count, surprised at how hard it is to keep up with the moving line.  There are ninety-five of them.  They disappear into the distance, still calling back ever-fainter farewells to the north.

But along with the inspiration and occasional wonderful descriptions of the nature world, there also seemed to be a cynical undertone that I found quite depressing.

The butterflies are out today in the hot Indian summer sun, orange and brown velvet ones.  Happy.  Unaware that, surely, in a few days they will be dead.  What does that matter?  That will be then.  Today the sun is shining.  The world is wonderful.

Marilyn Halvorson comes across as a slightly cranky farmer, and a bit curmudgeonly living a life divided between the farm and her teaching (she rarely mentions that she is a writer).  Often the daily entries seemed like a few rushed words jotted down at the end of a busy day when summary of the weather and few incidents from the day come to mind.  There was not a lot of narrative flow, and not often did I find it was insightful or inspiring or even very elucidating.  Overall, I was disappointed by this journal, although there were some moments when she captured the reality of life on the land with clarity and precision.

Marilyn Halvorson


  1. I must admit that I liked the above passage about the butterflies.I am drawn to a little darkness, and our not always positive reaction to it, that seems to permeate the Universe even on a sunny day.

    1. You might really enjoy this journal then, Brian :). I found there was just too much plain old gripping (the cat's dirty paws on the chair, car trouble, constant complaining about the weather) that I found tedious and unrelenting. For the most part it just felt like negativity that served no purpose beyond venting. There was very little self-reflection or insight which I would have enjoyed. The butterfly quote struck me because it was a rare moment when she seemed to be really enjoying the beauty in nature and even then the dark cloud appeared. A bit like reading a diary written by Eeyore I suppose.

  2. I'm sorry this one didn't work out for you. I agree with Brian - I thought the passages you picked out were lovely. I suppose even ultimately ineffective books are bound to have a moment or two of beauty or meaning. I suppose this is part of your Canada project, but if stories of farming and nature appeal to you, I wonder if you've heard about The Snow Child? It's set in Alaska (and now I'm wondering whether the Canadian experience would have been similar....of course, Canada is a huge country and no doubt as full of many different areas and local cultures as the US!)

    1. Thank you for the recommendation, Samantha. I had not heard of The Snow Child before but reading a little about it just now piques my interest! I'm sure my library will have a copy as it seems to be very popular.

      I've had a couple of disappointing reads this month. I don't really like writing negative things about books because I know that it may be just the thing for someone else. I guess I really wanted to like this one because the setting is somewhat local (southern Alberta).

    2. Well, sometimes I've been grateful for a negative review (if I trust the author's opinion, it is very helpful and can save me some time that might otherwise have been lost from trying a book I wouldn't end up liking). And if blogs are places to puzzle out one's thoughts in the company of other readers, where better to think through why a book didn't quite work for you? That being said, I rarely post negative reviews either - with so little blogging time, I'd rather spend the half hour writing about a book I wanted to recommend. I'm sorry you've had disappointing reads lately! That sounds discouraging.

    3. Yes, it's really just a matter of the time. I'm thinking that I'm going to focus on the books I enjoyed and want to spend more time with from here on out. I have had some really enjoyable reads this month too and don't want those experiences to be overshadowed.


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