The Rural Life portrays each month of the year—weather, wildlife, garden chores, mood—as it's lived on farms or ranches in various parts of the U.S. The author has lived all over the country and apparently collected his writings from each place into this essay collection.
The book begins its January chapter with a contemplation on journal-keeping. Klinkenborg states up front that it is his worst writerly instincts, rather than his best ones, that makes him want to keep a journal. This seems charming but disingenuous, as we're about to continue reading what is essentially a collection of journal pieces. More candidly, he acknowledges that "What drives the impulse toward New Year's journal keeping is also the shocking realization that the only thing left of the old year is a few tufts of wool caught in the barbed wire."
The reader is set up to imagine that a year's journal will follow, but in fact, as mentioned earlier, the essays jump all over the country and obviously encompass many different years. I read reviews that complained about this. I found that it made the book seem sketchy. I had the sense that Klinkenborg wanted to publish a book of rural essays about his New York farm but didn't have enough material, so he built out the book with essays from elsewhere.
Still, I enjoyed the writing throughout because of the author's long-practiced contemplations of seasons in the country and how they are reflected in human emotions and activities. Happily (to me) lacking an overt political agenda, the book focuses mostly on positives through description and reporting of natural events and farm routines. But the author also sums up ways in which developers and housing planners destroy farm lands and culture even as they try to evoke its peacefulness in the minds of new-home buyers, and his anger at this destruction and exploitation is apparent. Most of all, though, he displays clear-sighted, down-to-earth devotion to farm life and its setting within the natural world that it modifies but does not blot out.