A Prayer for the Prairie
As grass farmers, my husband, John Nickel, and I evolved ways of living and working that were centered as much as possible in the natural processes at work on our farm in North Dakota. John studied nature’s rhythms closely, and he strove to emulate these in his nurturing of soil, plants, and livestock.
I worked beside him, learning much from his keen observations and unfolding work as a steward of natural resources. My teachers included, too, the hundreds of farmers and ranchers I have interviewed over many years of working as an agricultural journalist.
Beyond its physical life, the work of our hands has always harbored for us a deep spirituality. During our earlier years of farming, this union of the physical and the spiritual inspired me to write A Prayer for the Prairie: Learning Faith on a Small Farm.
Yet after John’s death in July 2013, I wondered how I could possibly continue with our work. Time has brought change, of course, but more importantly I have seen that the rhythms of our farm have their own way of continuing and carrying me forward. The cows still have calves, and the grass and alfalfa still grow.
I agree with these words John wrote only months before his death: “I consider myself marked for this craft, and as such the perfect blessing is evident in the work of these hands. This indeed is work that is worth doing.”
From the Book
What grows increasingly apparent to John and me is the fact that we live in a potentially dynamic and intimate relationship with the land, bound by a code of conduct resembling a marriage ethic. Distilled to its essence, my view of this marriage ethic as it relates to my union with John is this: That we are, ideally, two people jointly evolving into the sum total of God’s vision for us, developing the strengths and fulfilling the potentialities God has placed inside us, as well as accomplishing the work He has marked for us to do.
Ideally, our relationship with the land we manage is a parallel, causing us to be honor bound to play a facilitating role in helping our spot of land to develop, or at the very least, maintain the strengths or potentialities with which it has been endowed by God. In return, we can expect treatment in kind from the land. …
For such an indispensable life’s partner, what then should be my response? If this soil is indeed giving me the foundation I need to become everything God envisioned me to become, to do the work for which He has marked me, then what gifts do I give in return? How do I fulfill my role in this sacred pact with our soil?
From a Reader
“The joys and hardships of a life lived among the things of nature on a family farm is a classic American theme. Raylene Frankhauser Nickel articulates this theme more picturesquely, yet more clearly, than do most writers—perhaps because each word actually comes from her heart. … But this is not a book of nostalgia for farm and ranch life of the past. Rather, it is a book of new hope for the future of farmers and ranchers everywhere. … No visionary has stated more clearly the true meaning of a sustainable quality of life than has this farmer in this book.”
agricultural economist and author of The Essentials of Economic Sustainability, A Return to Common Sense, and others.
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