Remembering Paul Gruchow


Writer Paul Gruchow, who was born and raised in western Minnesota, died on February 22, 2004.

Gruchow wrote primarily about nature and rural culture. I don’t recall, precisely, how I first became a big fan of his work. I may have seen an article in the paper, or noticed his commentary on the oft-run (and excellent) TPT documentary about abandoned farmsteads (I think it’s called Death of a Dream). Anyway, I’ve since read, with delight, Grass Roots:  The Universe of Home and Journal of a Prairie Year. The former is a collection of essays; the latter is what the title suggests.

It’s all great.  My favorite bit is from Grass Roots:

These women, my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, experienced the ordinary burdens of pain and sorrow, suffered the standard lot of tedium and toil, went to their graves with the customary number of regrets and recriminations, and sinned in all the usual ways.  Their lives may have been bittersweet, but they were not unsweetened, and that, as any baker knows, makes all the difference. (p.190)

Though, looking over my notes, I have to include:

The idea that structure generates activity is a consequence of misapprehending technology, of regarding it not as a tool, but as an end in itself…The delusion…is that individual or cultural behavior would change if only the right structure were in place. (p. 95)

It’s because of Gruchow that I read Ole Rolvaag’s classic novel of prairie settlement, Giants in the Earth, and A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold (‘the father of the American conservation movement’).  Moreover, it’s because of Gruchow that I got hold of a field guide, Trees of North America, and finally determined what all I’d been mowing around all these years.  (Gruchow didn’t believe in mowing the lawn;  in Grass Roots, there is an entertaining essay about a run-in he had with a local authority on the subject.  As for the trees here, alas, the two ashes are non-native species.  The oaks, pines, spruce, and maples are all in their element, though.)

RIP, Paul.