Michael Perry


“I try to involve Amy whenever I can – when we trim the ends of the skids, I show her how to use a carpenter square to draw a pencil line at the proper angle, and in between, how to stow the pencil behind her ear. Because the skids have to be the same length and we have four six-by-sixes to choose from, I give her the tape measure and let her find the two longest, then determine how much we have to cut from the longer of those two to make them the same length. This leads to a discussion of inches and feet and how when you write measurements on a scrap of board, inches are denoted with a double hatch and feet with a single.”

So writes Michael Perry (one of our favorite authors) in Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg,as he and his daughter work with a neighbor to build a chicken coop. He goes on:

“When Mr. Miller fires up the saw, we put on our earmuffs and afterward discuss the importance of hearing protection. When we make a mistake, I show her how to pull a nail, and I show her how to extend the reach of the hammer claw by putting a shim underneath the head. Once we get going on the deck, it is mostly a matter of driving straight nails into flat boards, so she can really go to town. She whales away at a steady pace, bending a nail now and then but just as quickly pulling it and grabbing another from the plastic Folger's can. To make it easier to hit the underlying frame I show her how to use a chalk line, and of course she loves this – snapping the taut string with a cottony twang and watching the elongated cloud of purple chalk dust float away and dissipate on the breeze, then reeling the line in to recoat it with chalk, just like a fishing line with no pole.”

Perry writes of living in a ramshackle Wisconsin farmhouse on 37 acres, learning how to deal with chickens, pigs, fallen fences, overgrown fields, and how to proceed as a farmer, husband, and father. His prose is humorous and poignant by turns, painting a picture of the land on which he lives, and the people and other creatures with whom he shares it. Here is another passage to round out the previous one:

“At quitting time we have finished the deck. It doesn't look like much – just a wooden floor on two large skids. But it's a start. Mr. Miller took our picture just before we finished. There's me, a lumpy bald guy in cheap sunglasses and sweat darkening his T-shirt collar, resting my hand on the shoulder of a gangly little gap-toothed girl in shorts and pink Crocs, her head higher against my sternum than even a month ago, squinting in the sun and quite literally standing on a good day's work, and – I hope – on a little piece of her education.”

From transplanting weeds (by mistake) to participating in the home birth of his daughter Jane, Perry writes with power and conviction, and easily pulls you into his world. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.