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Voices from the Heart of the Land

Rural Stories that Inspire Community

Richard L. Cates Jr.

Publication Year: 2008

From 2001 to 2006, Richard L. Cates Jr. interviewed senior members of more than 30 families living in and around Arena township, a small community in southern Wisconsin. He asked them about growing up in rural America and their connection to a way of life that is vanishing in the twenty-first century.
The result, Voices from the Heart of the Land, is a collection of reminiscences, observations, and opinions celebrating the stewardship of the land and the values of the stewards. Of course, as Cates points out, these are nothing less than “our core human values—integrity, commitment, responsibility, citizenship, self-determination, decency, kindness, love, and hope.”

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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pp. viii-ix

The first revolution in agriculture started in the mid-nineteenth century. Animal power replaced hand labor. For hundreds of years farmers had planted their grain by hand, harvested it with a sickle, later a cradle, and threshed it with a flail. All slow, tedious, back-breaking work. But with the invention of the horse-drawn grain drill to plant the grain, a horse-drawn reaper to cut it, and a threshing machine to replace...

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pp. x-xi

Thornton Wilder may not have had it completely right in his play Our Town, when he suggested that one could not go home again. Reading through Richard Cates’s Voices from the Heart of the Land: Rural Stories That Inspire Community, I was transported back to a time and place that is no more, and it made me homesick...

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pp. xii-xiv

This is a book about rural story, and it is about listening. It is not meant to be a collection of nostalgia or things quaint. The story is about real people and their rural community, and the set of values that has enabled them to live rich and purposeful lives. Their notion of “community” — to our collective loss — is disappearing from the American...

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In the Beginning

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pp. 1-12

Arena Township is located in the magical “driftless” area of southwestern Wisconsin, a piece of the northern landscape that the past two million years of glaciations just plumb missed. The area is underlain with old sedimentary rock strata — dolomitic limestone and sandstone — undisturbed since their water-borne genesis by the ancient...

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The Land

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pp. 13-40

We begin in the mid-nineteenth century — six decades or more after our nation first forged a government by constitution that sultry summer of 1787 in Philadelphia — with the stories of the northern Europeans who settled in Arena Township. These new immigrants left behind homes in the Old World and followed, we are told, a dream of freedom — perhaps the same freedoms that, nearly a century later, President Franklin...

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pp. 41-80

As the settlers of Arena Township indeed “settled,” they came to be increasingly aware of their dependence on and deep connection to the land. As their lives developed a new cadence, they became aware of those fresh patterns and rhythms, and of the elements that played an integral part in forming those patterns...

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pp. 81-112

As the settlers succeeded — at first in surviving, and then thriving in so many ways — and as they began to recognize their success and look for patterns they could replicate in their interaction with the land, they also became more aware of the importance of their interactions with each other — and the realization that their human community also played a large role in the success of this experiment — in their success at surviving...

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Character and Characters

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pp. 113-149

What kind of individuals settled the townships of America? Were they different from many of us today? Did they have different desires, abilities, weaknesses, or immunities? What part did character play in making the frontier experiment a success? And how did the experiment shape their characters? This final chapter tells stories of integrity, commitment, humility, and hope — the values our narrators prized, struggled to uphold...

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p. 150-150

Through the voices in this book we have gained a glimpse at understanding the values, the social relationships, and the character traits that allowed a rural American community not only to survive but to thrive. And if what we have glimpsed is relevant today — and I believe that it is in the deepest sense — may we muster the foresight to foster these lessons and the willpower to honor this wisdom....

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Narrator Biographies

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pp. 151-183

Emma is the only “voice” in this book who moved to Arena from farther away than a couple of hours (by car, not horse team). She grew up on her family’s farm in Lake Benton, Minnesota, but met Adolph Abplanalp in 1936, shortly after she graduated from high school, when his family — Swiss immigrants to Amacher Hollow — was visiting friends near Emma’s childhood home...

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pp. 184-187

To all of you who gave of your time — to help edit my often cryptic first-draft transcriptions — and of your privacy — to tell me your stories to share with a greater world — I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart. I always knew I would care very much for all of you, but I wasn’t prepared for the inspiration of your character — the absolutely noncoveting way in which you live and the satisfaction that you derive from...

Author’s Note

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pp. 188-190


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pp. 191-192

Illustration Credits

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p. 193-193

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About the Author

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p. 194-194

Richard (Dick) L. Cates Jr., Ph.D., and his wife, Kim, co-own and operate the Cates family farm near Spring Green, Wisconsin, a managed grazing farm that has been in the family since 1967. The Cates family raises grass- fed beef and sells directly to restaurants, stores, and households. Dick is a senior lecturer in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin– Madison, where he teaches courses in grassland and agroecology...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299227838
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299227845

Publication Year: 2008