The Power of Stories

Stories have played a large role in this Farmgirl’s life for the last week and a half.  From teaching, to reading, to interacting with people and plants, words and their transformative powers abounded enough for me to take note.  I read an Orion piece in which the author, Brian Doyle, reflects, “My god, stories do have roaring power, stories are the most crucial and necessary food, how come we never hardly say that out loud?”  So here I am saying it out loud: Stories have roaring power!  Fact or fiction, long or short, succinct or rambling, the best stories transport us, transform us and leave us changed.


Image of a woman reading from the National Media Museum, circa 1900

The last couple weeks have been pleasantly busy.  I had the pleasure of coordinating and co-teaching a nature writing field trip for a group of creative writing students out of the University of Alaska.  They arrived on the farm on a rainy Sunday to take a tour, learn about sustainability in Alaska, do some team building and practice some nature writing.  I love writing (in case you didn’t know), and getting to share some of that passion with master’s level students was invigorating.  They did, of course, rip apart the essay I shared with them.  Luckily, it wasn’t my essay; it was the aforementioned Orion article, titled “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever.”  I did expect them to shred it, they are, after all, writers.  They have been trained for years, some of them decades, to rip others’ writing apart.  The best part of the essay is that it isn’t even a story, it just urges us to create good writing with stories.  While reading it aloud I always start to cry, and I don’t know why!  It doesn’t even really say anything; it is a “meta-essay” of sorts.  Of course, I cried (just a little whimper) while reading it aloud to these graduate students.  Sheesh.  At least I got a good story out of it!

There is also a summer camp going on at the farm this summer, and this week the theme is “Fun Down on the Farm.”  I gave tours of our greenhouse, CSA field and the Children’s Garden.  The kids were enthusiastic, full of questions, and truly enjoying one of our only days of sunshine in a long while. What could be better than kids voraciously eating organically grown lettuce leaves the size of their faces that were picked mere seconds before biting into them?  It might be kids eating handfuls of chickweed and asking for more!  There’s nothing like getting nutrition while rescuing some weed crowded produce.  It is also very fun to have kids guess what kind of vegetables they are looking at.  It must be weird to see where those little trees of broccoli really come from.  

Along with the visitors, I’ve been working in the farm fields, delivering CSA shares and working the farmer’s market with our lovely Farmer Amanda.  In these situations, when we are incredibly close with the land and the people who benefit from the land, the stories come fast and furious.  Once in awhile in the field, I will listen to podcasts from A Sustainable World Radio which educate through the use of interview and story.  These shows provide me with insight into life skills that I want to pursue (like dying local fibers with handmade dyes, how to cultivate a food forest, and bee keeping), while linking the information with a story. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but some images begged to be written about.   This Hen and Chicks succulent is beautiful and inspiring. 

More importantly the other interns and I often swap stories of our pasts, our presents and our soon-to-bes.   These stories become part of our identities and part of how and why we know each other.  Our relationships with others are largely based on stories we’ve heard from them or stories we’ve created with them.  The stories associated with these relationships are much different than those created through the marketing of our produce.  The CSA and the market provide so many diverse characters in a short amount of time.  It is great to hear how CSA members’ weeks have gone and to predict what kind of crowd will show up to the weekend’s market.  

Much of my infrequent “me” time over the last week has been spent reading a great book called Turn Here, Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley. Atina beautifully crafts her own story as a female organic farmer in Minnesota.  Her stories are so moving that my mood and emotions have been largely affect by them.  The depressing parts of the true narrative made me feel depressed and the light airy parts help me to feel light and free.  When a story moves you, you know it is a good one.  You know you will finish it a different person than when you began.

Stories help us know each other and ourselves.  Without the art of story telling, life would definitely lack some richness.  We would have less to share with one another and less to enjoy.  I hope you will take some time today to relate one of your favorite stories: fact or fiction, long or short, succinct or rambling.  Someone, perhaps even your inner self, will thank you for it.

Sending you peace and love and story making,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

P.S. Sorry the pictures are lacking for this post.  The weather has been subpar (rain, rain and rainy) and not too friendly for my camera. However, the weather has been great for some good reading and good stories (and I am very grateful we are not in a drought like much of the states!)

  1. Dorothy says:

    Thanks for the blogs Alex. Love reading them.

  2. diana says:

    Here in the Missouri Ozarks, we long for rain!
    Our temps have been over 100 for the past few days and so we are
    hibernating thru the day time, working our gardens only in the early mornings and late evenings.
    There’s lots of time for reading in the afternoons.
    My daughter bought me a journal filled with beautiful thoughts for each day, then a few lines to write my own, so thats just what I do on hot afternoons, write a poem about each day!
    Thanks for the cheery thoughts! Hugs, Diana

  3. As a storyteller by professional trade I say: "Hear! Hear! Huzzah!"

    Bring back oral tradition and the spoken word!

    Wonderful post!

    Have a truly creative day!

    The Goat Borrower

  4. My husband is a great storyteller. He can keep groups spellbound for hours with tales of WWII, the war between the states, historical facts, etc. He also writes books and has two of a trilogy in print, check out his website above. Stories have always been a means of learning things for me. Like you say, either fact or fiction they are interesting and I am an avid reader. Thanks for your blog and the opportunity to add my comments.

  5. Laura Ann says:

    It was a delight to read about you and Stories! Yes, stories do have power. I am hooked very often listening to my family and friends. I have gone to a couple of professional storyteller conferences…what an art!
    Thanks for the reminder,
    Laura Ann

  6. Stephen says:

    One of my very favorite mirmoees when I was growing up, was going to the Bookmobile every two weeks. Oh, how I loved this special treat! I stayed with my Aunt Dianne every summer when I was little and this was something that I looked forward to from one visit to the next. I can remember counting down the days until its next arrival in the nearby little town of Richfield. This is where I could spend hours just reading and looking at books. I would have the hardest time trying to decide what adventure I wanted to go on next. Would it be with Tom Sawyer or the brothers and sisters from the Boxcar Children Series? Most of the time, I went with the children on a boxcar adventure. I still remember how when they first started living in the old abandoned red boxcar on the hill and how they found old metal spoons and scrubbed them with sand so that they could use them. I know I read every book in that series at least three times each summer, plus all the other books as well that I loved reading to my little brother and younger cousins. Whenever I think about the bookmobile, I can still remember that very distinct smell. All those books, in that one small space, gave such a wonderful aroma. It was like medicine for my soul. I still love books to this day, especially old books. It’s funny because whenever I find an old book, it is not unusual for me to open it up and put it to my nose to see, if just by chance, it has that wonderful smell that I still long for. This is such a fond memory for me that I talked about it all the time when I started dating my now husband. A few years ago, when he found out that the same bookmobile that I used to visit was up for sale, he tried to buy it for me as a surprise. Unfortunately, we could not afford it. Which in retrospect, I guess was a good thing, because I would have been in there all the time and never accomplished anything. I have thought many times about how I would love to give that same memory to my own two children. There will never be a more special place to me in my childhood mirmoees. All I can hope for, at this point, is that my mansion in heaven, is an old tan colored bookmobile. Until then, it will forever be in my heart!

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