The Bucolic Plague

When Val and I headed off to see a taping of the Martha Stewart show, one of the first things we noticed in the studio was the area where the staff told us the goats would be.

Yes, my ears perked up considerably at the mention of goats. The barnyard seems to follow me everywhere, in a way.

The guests were Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of the book (which we were given as an audience freebie) The Bucolic Plague, and his partner Brent (aka, Dr. Brent, Martha’s health and wellness guy). A few years ago, they bought a mansion and farm, and decided to reanimate both (with an heritage garden and a lot of very very cute goats that even have a goat-cam!. The book follows their adventures.

On the show, they made these amazing-looking caramel buns (still haven’t tried making them yet, maybe when it cools off a touch) and then we sampled their *damn good* goat cheese. It’s even named Beekman 1802 Blaak. Sounds like bleeting goats. I love it.

Martha Stewart Taping

Val even spotted Josh, the book’s author, leaving the show, and had him autograph her copy and mine (while I held the camera). I wish I had a dollar for every time Val’s started a random conversation with a stranger about growing up in the Midwest. It’d at least be sufficient to take Val, the random stranger, and myself out for a round of beers to further discuss the Midwest (and as compared to the rural South).

So I recently spent a Sunday afternoon curled up in my beloved porch swing in the book, and it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. I don’t quite know what I was expecting – I know that just flipping through it when I first received it (you know that motion you do where you kind of just glance at the book and all the pages fly by?) there were many many many mentions of Martha, so I was afraid of…something. I think I was afraid of fake.

The book turned out to be about the inability of those of us who don’t have huge staffs to be truly and utterly perfect; there’s no way to fake perfection in a meaningful way. If you’re elbow deep in the process and really hands-on in the process, the final product won’t be perfect in the way the advertising world wants to sell it but will possess a beauty all it’s own. I would say the book is largely about loving life and taking the risks that count, and finding beauty and success even when you fail to attain the unattainable perfection (personified early in the book by Martha, and her peony garden, and her staff full of people so accustomed to perfection that they no longer marvel at it like the contest-winner in attendance).

A visitor to the farm tells the Beekman Boys about wabi-sabi, which, overly simplified from the book’s admitted over-simplification, is about the the transience of beauty, the idea that things are constantly in tension between flourishing and decay. If we define beauty as perfection, beauty is unattainable, but if we enjoy beauty as part of the flow between flourishing and decay and work and flourishing, then beauty emerges in whatever realm we put our hand to the plowshare. I really like the idea – that perfection is unattainable, but something even better emerges out of the everyday-use sense of putting things, including ourselves, to their purposes, and enjoying the peaks as the peaks, and not as mere shadows of impossible perfection looming overhead.

Another paragraph stuck out to me, and I’ve come back to it several times now. Josh writes:

“And Oprah’s call to live your Best Life isn’t as simple as it seems. Your Best Life isn’t necessarily your favorite life or the one you selfishly want. It’s simply the one you’re best at.”

I’ve been challenged to really think about how I define success in my life and how I approach the question of what I want to do with it. It’s far more complicated than the idea of what would make a nice life. Sometimes I think that leaving it all behind, and living a solitary life somewhere near a body of water I could boat on would be the utter definition of perfection. That would be the most selfishly wanted Best Life. I think about where I want to live and what I want to do and it becomes quickly clear that the list of “things that I can safely say I like and want” falls far short of the endless possibilities of who I might have been made to be and what I may have before me to do. And the life I was made for, breathed into being for, is by far the one I would be best at.

In the end, Josh points out that even Martha isn’t perfect, but she continues to strive for it after any and every mis-step and failure, and that it’s in the going-at-it-again that great things happen. Inspiration to keep at it was more than what I was expecting from this book, but I’m really glad that I found it there.

About Kristy Lamb

I recently finished my PhD in genetics at Yale and am currently a postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University in NYC. I love science, people, and the fiber arts. We'll call it my muse. I taught myself to knit over Christmas break in 2002, when I was home from my sophomore year in college and was terribly bored. Despite starting with three big mistakes (very long aluminum needles, a very bad Coats & Clark how to knit book, and Lion Brand Homespun), I kept at knitting, even after that first 1/2 hour trying to tie a slipknot. Science...seems to be much the same process as the above.
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One Response to The Bucolic Plague

  1. Jim says:

    Nicely written!

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