"'A Prayer for the Prairie'" reminds the reader
of the work of authors Kathleen Norris, Linda Hasselstrom, Sharon Butala
and others, all who have written about farming, ranching and the spirit.
Raylene Frankhauser Nickels' book is a fine addition to this genre."
"It celebrates faith, farming and rural living with a gorgeously
written collection of essays and short stories grown from Nickel's Christian
faith, her years as a journalist and her life on the family farm."
"Raylene's story is one of being rooted in the land, of community,
of conviction, struggle, healing, and hope. This book gives encouragement
for farmers and others who strive to do what is right, even when things
seem to be going wrong. It is a story which will inspire you to look for
your own prayer hill and to find the beauty around you."
"Most folks today don't make time for self-examination or a revisiting
of their personal philosophy. Certainly this book will send readers inward.
... Raylene and John Nickel--and others like them--are progenitors of
a new culture."
"When it comes to prairie farm life, rural community culture, the
struggle to implement sustainable and orthodox agricultural practices
and still survive, Raylene not only draws upon the wealth of vicarious
experience she has gleaned from countless interviews and other contacts,
she has lived it."
"Beautiful. Just blazing, bright, beautiful! ... Raylene Nickel's
ability to share the beauty of daily duties and describe emotions that
emanate from the soul blesses us all. She articulates the spiritual relationship
of people bonded to the land in a way we can all understand. ... I believe
Raylene has it right. We are each destined to climb our own prayer hill,
search for the truth and then focus our resolve on doing our best regardless
"Raylene Nickel and her husband, John, are among the dedicated farmers
who produce what you eat, and who think deeply about their work and its
results. Raylene's song of faith and hope is an important part of our
history. Her story, with slight variations, might have been told by hundreds,
thousands of farmers--some of them no longer on the land where their ancestors
made a good living.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Working the old home place with draft horses. Returning pastures to natural mixes of grasses and plants. Paying attention to the soil. Smaller fields, not larger. Reading the Bible and going back to the basics. It sounds idyllic.
But in truth, charting such a course, against the grain of commercial agriculture, makes for a formidable struggle. And the journey of faith, more often than not, encounters a rocky road.
Raylene Frankhauser Nickel has written an engaging book, titled "A Prayer for the Prairie: Learning Faith on a Small Farm." Her story unfolds from a small farm near Kief (on Highway 53, halfway between Harvey and Velva), where the author and her husband, John, farm the best way that they can, given their beliefs and economic realities.
Nickel writes: "We believe there is a simple law of sufficiency that can produce a life and work where pressures are in balance, where the potential for natural as well as financial crises are greatly diminished. There is a certain size, a balance, a mix of enterprises, a rhythm of work and life for us and for our farm that will make an efficient use of our energy, our skills, and aptitudes as we work with the soil, plants, and water comprising this farm. There is a rhythm of work and recreation, a mix of tasks, that will give us a sense of freedom, rather than a sense of bondage."
That's not all she believes. "A Prayer for the Prairie" also tells of her Christian faith.
Nickel is a skilled writer. And her book takes the reader on a journey from more traditional farm to a sustainable agriculture. It's about hard work and frustration. It's about leaning on the strength of the Lord.
When Nickel talks about her faith, in relation to the farm, it's natural -- for her faith and farm are inseparable. She sees farmers as answering a calling, like that of men and women of the cloth.
Her use of faith isn't heavy handed. It is, as she writes in her preface, "It is indeed my intent to draw the reader toward a spiritual view, particularly of rural and agricultural life. For, religious belief aside, it seems rational to assume that spiritual principles undergird all of life and that living in balance with these is key to fruitful living."
Her choices of scripture explain rather than justify.
My favorite portions of the book are about Pete and Skeet, the team of horses that the Nickels use to feed cattle in the winter, and the hard, physical work the Nickels do to follow their dream. It's offered up not as complaint but as truth.
Nickel has written a real book, about real people on a real farm, and the real spiritual life that can take place there. It grounds the reader in reality, yet gives reason for hope. It acknowledges the value of work, and yet sings a pastoral song.
"A Prayer for the Prairie" reminds the reader of the work of authors Kathleen Norris, Linda Hasselstrom, Sharon Butala and others, all who have written about farming, ranching and the spirit. Raylene Frankhauser Nickels' book is a fine addition to this genre.
Reprinted with permission of the Bismarck Tribune.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
I spent some time on a rural farm Thursday, sitting right here at my desk in the Herald building.
It was Raylene Frankhauser Nickel's beautiful book, "A Prayer for the Prairie: Learning Faith on a Small Farm," that took me to a place I've never been, a place my big-city upbringing will never let me understand.
It's a quiet book, contemplative of course by its nature, and I would argue that it isn't necessarily about farming, but about life, about returning to simpler ways, hard work and the good that does a mind and body.
It celebrates faith, farming and rural living with a gorgeously written collection of essays and short stories grown from Nickel's Christian faith, her years as a journalist and her life on the family farm.
Nickel's book is not the first of its genre, but it is the only one that has ever brought me to the farm, let me feel a cow's steamy breath in winter, hear the thudding of hooves and slow chewing of hay.
Nickel and her husband, John, returned to her family's small farm near Kief, N.D., in 1990, and endured hardship of all sorts physical, financial and emotional that challenged their faith as well as their every assumption about agriculture, food and food distribution.
But from that difficult time grew hope and inspiration, often inspired by writers Nickel quotes: Wendell Berry, Allan Savory and Tom Sine. It was this hope that prompted Nickel, a longtime agricultural journalist with a horizon-sized list of technical and news pieces under her belt, to pen "A Prayer for the Prairie."
They farm near Kief, a town that's lost all but one business. Even the post office is gone now, and in an effort to be self-sustaining, the Nickels are transitioning their cropland to grow forages. Operating on 468 acres of farmland and 700 acres of lakes and rangeland, they have a goal of marketing forage-fed beef from their commercial, Shorthorn-based cow herd of 65 head.
Agricultural economist Dr. John Ikerd, who speaks and writes on issues relating to sustainable agriculture and the economics of sustainability, has written the foreword.
Ikerd, professor emeritus of the University of Missouri, says about the book:
"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."
Nickel does write from her heart. Her eloquent passage about riding their horse-drawn cart with her husband and pitching hay by hand to the cattle displays a moment in a woman's life that nearly all dream of but a fortunate few experience. It's a moment of peace, fulfillment, love and contentment not the garden variety, but deep-rooted, immutable and full-bodied.
Another of the essays that stands out is a piece about Nickel's mother in her late years and failing strength, her struggle to believe God still listened to her prayers and how she resolved her spiritual conflict before slipping quietly, peacefully away. It's a journey so many of us travel with our own loved ones, and it will speak to your heart.
It doesn't matter if, like me, you've never been on a farm. As you turn Nickel's pages, she will bring you there.
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks (N.D) Herald.