The Joys of "The Rural Life"

Slate's Culture Blog
July 7 2009 12:39 AM

The Joys of "The Rural Life"

Have you heard? It's rough going in the newspaper business these days. Which makes it a special pleasure to open the New York Times and find, tucked at the bottom of the editorial page, the latest in Verlyn Klinkenborg's occasional series "The Rural Life." That the paper still reserves a few inches for Klinkenborg's short dispatches from his farm upstate is somehow comforting. These items aren't hard news, and they aren't " A Night Out With: Judissa Bermudez ." They're lyrical meditations on subjects like the relationship between man and fox and the perspicacity of horses . Monday's was a particularly wonderful edition, a playful attempt to find words to describe the afternoon thunderstorms that have been buffeting Klinkenborg's farm:

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Soon the tuberous blunderheads trundle over the horizon; they begin to "wampum, wampum, wampum" until at last they're vrooming nearby, just down the valley. Or perhaps they're harrumphing and oomphing, from the very omphalos of the storm. Onomatopoeia is such a delicate thing.


"Suddenly the air is grackling," he writes as the storm arrives overhead. "Dark and furious in its plumage." It's a lovely image, evoking both the sudden, menacing darkness of a summer storm but also its beautiful

, as the sun plays off the clouds. Monday's essay reminded me of the prologue to

, Klinkenborg's book about Buffalo, N.Y., which introduces the city by describing how it reacts to word of inclement weather—"Snow begins as a rumor in Buffalo" reads the opening line—and then to the snow itself, falling out of a sky "as black as the pupil of an owl's eye." (You can read the prologue

.) Klinkenborg is now officially my favorite chronicler of upstate weather. Here's hoping the


continues to publish "The Rural Life," despite the stormy climate.



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