The Dirty Life, By Kristin Kimball

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The Independent Culture

If the grey skies of January are closing in and resolutions are fading fast, then a copy of Kristin Kimball's memoir of a life changing decision might help lift the spirits. Until a few years ago Kimball was living the life of a New York singleton, dating, partying and storing her winter wardrobe in the oven. But then she hit her thirties and unexpectedly found herself tearing-up at the word "home".

Ready to meet a man, she pined for "the smell of cut grass, sheets on the line, a child running through the sprinkler. This humble wish seemed to me so impossible. It was so different from the life I was living".

Then, thanks to a journalistic assignment, she was sent to interview an organic farmer called Mark on a sustainable farm in upstate New York.

By the end of day one on the farm, Kimball, dressed in her favourite agnès b shirt, found herself helping to slaughter a pig. It was only a man that could have driven her to such a bloody pass and as you might have guessed, Mark was strikingly tall with "lively green eyes, a strong and perfect nose, a two-day beard, and a mane of golden curls."

He later proved very good at cooking, and even better at sex. After a few months they moved in together, and in 2003 the couple departed for the Adirondacks to start a farm of their own.

It's at this point that Kimball's agri-fairytale takes a darker path. As was captured in Barbara Kingsolver's recent account of a year of living off the land - also on a farm in the Adirondacks - the calico bonnet existence is no picnic. Although Kimball doesn't say it in so many words, Mark nurses a streak of frontiersman fanaticism. Eschewing deodorant and recycling dental floss, he commits the farm to "whole-diet" agriculture, a form of community farming that he hopes will provide the local area with vegetables, grains, fruit and meat. He also decides to abandon tractors and rely on draft horses instead.

As Kimball's poetic account reveals, farming "can wreck you as surely as any vice by the time you're fifty." Not long after their autumn wedding in a damp barn, the couple's relationship hits a serious blip. But all is not chilblains, dawn milking and the "stink of pig." The memoir ends with the birth of the couple's first daughter, Jane, and a new start to their married life. As this one time East Village hipster concludes, change is "never the way you'll think it'll be. Not as perfect as you hope or as scary as you fear".

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