Finding a Clear Path

An eloquent invitation to slow down and pay attention.”

— Sandra Ballard

Finding a Clear Path
WV University Press
ISBN 978-0-937058-97-8

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Finding a Clear Path intertwines literature, agriculture, and ecology as author Jim Minick takes the reader on many journeys, allowing you to float on a pond, fly with a titmouse, gather ginseng, and grow the lowly potato. The reader visits monarch butterflies and morel mushrooms, encountering beavers, black snakes, and bloodroot along the way. Using his background as a blueberry farmer, gardener, and naturalist, Minick explores the Appalachian region and also explains the ears of an owl, or the problems with how the typical Christmas tree is grown. Reading this collection of essays invites you to search for ways to better understand and appreciate this marvelous world, opening paths for journeys of your own.

What others say

In Finding a Clear Path, Jim Minick maps the trails, real and metaphorical, that twine through the ancient Appalachian hills and through the hearts of those who love them, gracefully uniting the land, the wildlife and its people.”

— Scott Weidensaul, author of Mountains of the Heart

Another shining writer has emerged from the Southern landscape. Here Jim Minick has written an exquisitely beautiful book about his Appalachian farm and his engagement in a life that makes sense. In impressive vignettes, Minick sketches his life and his desire to know the depths of it. ‘I need to name what I love,’ he writes. With merry deftness, he tells of counting osprey, growing beans, and finding box turtles, but beyond the immediate, his subjects outline a formula for a good life: community, rootedness, history, family, the beauty of nature. The Virginia mountains are lucky to have Minick as a new voice: would that every place find such a singer of praises.”

— Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

In Finding a Clear Path, Jim Minick walks woods, gardens, and fields with a poet’s eye; his seeing is sharp, his knowledge deep, his sentences tough and lean. And he is as practical as a farmer’s almanac, too, offering not only observations and reflections, but advice on country matters of all kinds. Minick knows that on this lovely, flawed planet of ours, much is well.”

— Richard Hague, author of Ripenings

Finding a Clear Path is an eloquent invitation to slow down and pay attention, to the birds and box turtles, to the soil and what it grows. Jim Minick is what I’d call a “kitchen table activist”—an environmentalist whose ideas took root at home and affect everything along the way.”

— Sandra Ballard, Editor of The Appalachian Journal

Compelling, practical and hopeful, Finding a Clear Path will inspire both rural and urban readers to seek their own solutions to what Jim Minick sees as a systemic dilemma of modern life: ‘We create the same world that we eat,’ he writes, as well as the same world we inhabit. One thousand words would be inadequate to describe Finding a Clear Path. Minick is a powerful poet and advocate—and person. This book should be in the entire American thought-system. Hooray for this crucial work!”

— Marilou Awiakta, author of Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom

Jim Minick is blessed with brevity. Each of his essays meditates on one small thing, yet manages to enhance our understanding of the whole wide world. Readers be warned: seeing the macrocosm in a microcosm is a dangerous subversion of the normal egocentric human perspective, and may cause changes in attitude.”

— Chris Bolgiano, author of Living in the Appalachian Forest


An excerpt, the title essay “Finding a Clear Path”

Walks frame my day. Early every morning, the dogs and I head east where I greet the sun and say a prayer. Lost Bent Creek fills the small valley with the sound of water slipping over rocks. Wrens and cardinals shake their feathers and wake their voices, a cacophony of joy. The birds love the morning, even in the rain. Sometimes I’ll catch the screech owl’s last wavering call descending from the ridge, his “good night” song to the rousing day. In the evening, after a day away at a desk and chalkboard, I journey out again, this time on one of the many trails we’ve cleared on this farm. I might hike the newest trail through hundred-year-old oaks to the remains of Ms. Lefew’s chimney, the land of her cornfield now towering in pines. Our two dogs, Grover and Grace, often scare up turkeys here, their wings

In the evening, after a day away at a desk and chalkboard, I journey out again, this time on one of the many trails we’ve cleared on this farm. I might hike the newest trail through hundred-year-old oaks to the remains of Ms. Lefew’s chimney, the land of her cornfield now towering in pines. Our two dogs, Grover and Grace, often scare up turkeys here, their wings thumping through the pines, their scratching feet having fluffed the forest floor like a cushion. Usually on these evening jaunts, I walk our lane to check the pond, to look for the pair of wood ducks who raised seven yellow balls of feathers last summer. When I see the male and female flying in through the budding trees, I know spring is near. From the pond, if I’m ambitious, I’ll hike the back loop, or if I’m too tired, the shorter loop, complete with hammock and daffodils. Both trails come out at the blueberry field, the rows of bushes turning color, the bark changing from red to yellow, the buds swelling. It won’t be long.

In all this walking, I try to be quiet, attentive to this place. Usually, though, I have to first turn off the voices in my head, especially after a long day at work. Sometimes I’ll walk the half mile to the pond before I realize I’m still living in my head and not here where I am. Then I’ll sit at the pond a while, trying to mirror its smooth surface.

Today in a foggy mist, the dogs and I wander up the bee hill road. We all three start at the flight of a grouse, the explosion of whirring wings carrying it over the ridge. In the old orchard, Grover and Grace take off after two deer. I only see the white flags of their tails arcing over a split rail fence.

Whistling for the dogs to start for home, I notice that I am surrounded by mist gathering into drops. On the pines, the wild roses, the golden broomsage, the spider webs, on all of it, the water hangs like a giant, dancing necklace of clear jewels. I hold a bending branch close to my face and peer through each drop, discover the pointy pines on the other side, curved and upside down. Microscopic life swims in the sea of this drop, having traveled thousands of miles from river to sky to fall as mist here on this hilltop. The shimmering radiance stops me, opens me to the world as it is, in this moment of beauty.

On my tongue, I gather one of these globes of water and taste its cool sweetness. Then I turn and head home, the dogs leading the way, the path through the world, for this moment, clear.

 

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