A Far Country

Posted on January 24, 2010


On my assignment here in the Netherlands I have many quiet meals and nights alone in my hotel room. As a result, I have been reading books at a rate of two per week. This week I finished a novel that I found in the Hilton lounge titled “A Far Country” by Daniel Mason. The book essentially was about migration forced by hunger. There was a passage that really struck me. It spoke to my fears of one day seeing my knowledge and skills lose value in our rapidly changing world.

“She had a vertiginous sensation that she was back in Prince Leopold, on the days the men of her village met the foremen from the road companies, the construction firms, or the big coastal plantations.

What can you do? the foremen would ask, and the men tallied off on heavy callused fingers: I can hunt, I can track, I can walk through the night without stopping.

Then the foremen shook their heads and said, Why would I need a hunter when I have cattle plantations? What else can you do? I can turn a grindstone in a sugar mill, I can cut, I can carry pounds of cane.

But the sugar mills are going, it’s all factories now, What’s worth a couple oxen and a millstone in the new age? I always was a farmer, I can farm even the worst, I can dig and find fertile soil where others see only stone, nowhere is there land I can not grow.

That means little on the coast where the great fields give two crops every year, We need men who know fertile land, not that worthless land of yours, Tell me, man, what else can you do? I can gather stones, make walls, homes.

Stones? I know which cactus to eat, and the leaves from which trees, I know how to collect ants and cook them, I know where starch roots are found.

These are skills for scavengers. I can grow corn, manioc, yams.

On your little farm, you mean, you can grow those on your little farm, But no one has need for little farms anymore, Tell me, man, what else can you do?

Posted in: Philosophy, Quotes