In March 1986, while living in Brooklyn, Chris Bohjalian and his wife were cab-napped on a Saturday night and taken on a forty-five-minute joy ride in which the driver ignored all traffic lights and stop signs. Around midnight he deposited the young couple on a near-deserted street, where police officers were about to storm a crack house. Bohjalian and his wife were told to hit the ground for their own protection. While lying on the pavement, Bohjalian's wife suggested that perhaps it was time to move to New England.
This audio adaptation of Bohjalian's (Midwives, etc.) collection of essays on life in small-town Lincoln, Vt., gets off to a slow start but soon finds its voice. The first essay, an overview of the town and how it has changed over the decades, is weighed down by dry, repetitive statistics (number of dairy farms today vs. 20 years ago, number of cows today vs. 20 years ago, etc.). Bohjalian's high, thin voice isn't suited to historical nonfiction. However, once he begins talking about his own experiences in Lincoln, his voice warms. His tone is appealingly self-deprecating as he tells of his shame at being "the slowest driver in Vermont" (because he's one speeding ticket away from losing his license) and his squeamishness at the prospect of removing a dead bat from his woodstove, where it's been festering for months. Bohjalian speaks with reverence and sorrow about a flash flood that destroyed 80% of the town library's books, and he talks in moving tones of a girl who bravely threw a joyous farewell party for her elderly horse the day before he had to be put down. This audiobook is likely to appeal to both small-town residents who can relate to Bohjalian's descriptions and wistful city dwellers who wish they lived in a place "where everybody knows your name." Simultaneous release with the Harmony hardcover (Forecasts, Sept. 29, 2003). (Dec. 2003) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 23, 2005
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Excerpt from Idyll Banter by Chris Bohjalian
NOW THAT THE COWS ARE GONE
THE SUN WOULDN'T rise for two more hours, but by 5:00 in the morning Tom Densmore was in the barn milking cows. When the trucks arrived shortly before 8:00 -- two the length of tractor trailers and a third perhaps half that long -- he had finished milking the animals, but he hadn't begun to disassemble the feed carts or milking machines. That would have to wait until the afternoon.
It took Densmore and the truckers three hours to march his sixty-head herd up the metal ramps into the trucks, about what the thirty-four-year-old farmer had expected. By 11:30, the trucks were beginning their slow descent on the steep road that had led them up to the Vermont hill farm, winding past miles of new-growth forest, and then through the center of town, with its immaculate white church, general store, and two dozen village houses with sharply pitched roofs.
The animals arrived at the auction barn, about three hours away, in midafternoon. It took auctioneer Herb Gray less than ninety minutes to dispose of the herd, selling the milking cows one by one and some of the calves in small groups. Most of the cows brought Densmore $800 to $1,100 each, while the calves went for $200 to $700 apiece -- not enough to pull him completely out of debt.
Densmore's mother, sister, and one of his brothers stood by him as his cows were scattered to farms across Vermont and New Hampshire. Nita, Nola, and Nicki -- alliteration that signaled the cows were from the same family -- were separated, as were three of Densmore's best producers: Kim, Amy, and Fayne. Every year they gamely produced well over 16,000 pounds of milk each.
Densmore's sixty-head herd was small even by Vermont standards, but it represented the last dairy farm in Lincoln, and the auction last December formally marked the end of an era. Lincoln, a village thirty miles southeast of Burlington, boasted forty-six active dairy farms as recently as 1945. Today there are none. There may be an occasional cluster of cows or beef cattle visible on the hillsides that roll throughout Lincoln, but there will be no more silver trucks from the Eastern Milk Producers Cooperative winding their way through town or trying to negotiate the narrow roads that link the homes in the hills.
Like many of Vermont's small rural towns, Lincoln has changed. In 1950, there were 11,019 dairy farms in Vermont. Today there are barely 2,300. The farms that remain are bigger -- an average Vermont dairy farm has seventy-three milking cows, up from fifty-five as recently as 1978 -- and the cows produce more milk: roughly 15,500 pounds per cow per year these days, versus 11,500 pounds fifteen years ago.