Interplay

During our class visit to David Kline’s farm this past Monday, I was struck by the unusual relationship Kline had with his animals. Having relatives who had lived and worked on farms in the past, I had always been under the impression that animal farming (at least, for meat) was highly impersonal work because to name an animal that you intend to eat by-and-by is an easy way to break one’s own heart with every meal. However, the first notes to the contrary arose when Kline was explaining some of the basics of dairy farming to us in a stable full of calves. One of the calves was extremely vocal, regularly lowing over Kline and interrupting him, and at first Kline did his best to ignore the calf. However, towards the end of our time in the stable, Kline actually turned and told the calf half-jokingly to be quiet. This surprised me; from what I knew of farming and from Kline’s stern writing voice, I had expected him to be much more removed from his animals.
This perception was further dismantled when, in the hay barn, I asked him about his relationship to his animals. His reply was more or less that the sense of distance is not between himself and his livestock, but between the sense of his livestock as beloved family members and as food. That is to say, when the animal is alive, he cherishes it, names it, and allows it to have a personality of its own, but once it dies, he does his best to forget the human traits he lent it as he eats. This reminded me of the tone of a lot of his nature writing; he often seems somewhat removed from non-human animals, reporting their actions frankly and without emotion (though not without a sense of beauty), but sometimes, such as early in “Winter Visitors,” he shows a bit of his love for them: “the cows, the gentle creatures, patiently wait until last, hardly uttering a sound.”
This face-to-face conversation with Kline was invaluable in allowing me to personally understand his work.

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