The Harrows of Spring
© 2016 Jim Kunstler
The long winter is ending, and the earth is growing green again, but it is still a time of hardship and sorrow. Food stores are limited, and predators — human and animal — stalk the land. Fourth in in Jim Kunstler’s World Made by Hand series, Harrows of Spring completes the seasonal progression and brings us back around to our beginning, this time forcing the people of Union Grove to rally together against and outside aggressor, even as they struggle to put food on the table and tend the sick. The fourth book ends on a hopeful note, and is stronger than The Witch of Hebron or A History of the Future.
We open to find the people of Union Grove in the ‘six weeks want’, the lean period when winter’s stores are nearly exhausted, and the earth hasn’t begun to deliver fresh bounty yet. Making matters worse is that no outside supplies are coming in: Stephen Bullock has stopped running his boat down the Hudson. Brother Jobe and Robert Earle think Bullock’s peevishness is the height of their problems, but they soon spy a group of tents on the outskirts — a traveling community of very peculiar young people, who speak with the zeal of missionaries but despise religion. They are traveling the width and breadth of the land, preaching Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality — and also, give us your money, because we’re here to restore the government. No one in the Grove is interested in what they’re selling, and these DIE-hards soon resort to every statist’s favorite tool: violence and theft. At the same time, the Grove has the usual problems: machines failing, people dying of diseases that the doctors understand but are powerless to remedy, and the odd bear attack.
Harrows of Spring is much stronger than World Made by Hand, focusing as it does on the real problems of the Union Grove village, instead of trying to make us care about some narrative history about the goings on far away. Even so, the outside antagonists, the Berkshire People’s Republic, border on preposterous when they’re not practicing violence: I get what Kunstler was doing, though, in trying to show the appeal of political ideologies in a time of stress. Fortunately, we don’t have to spend a lot of time hearing them preach, and they expose their true nature as brigands with a penchant for speeches soon enough.
So ends The World Made by Hand series, which I’ve enjoyed despite its quirks and weak spots. Any one of the books can be read in any other, since Kunstler always fills in background, and all have the same basic appeal: illustrating to us what the problems of the future may be, and offering hope that people are resilient enough to find ways to rise to the challenge. The result is a story seemingly set in the 18th century, but with odds bits of our world integrated into it: characters make a distant trek to Albany over the broken state highway, through the remains of old strip malls and decaying suburban homes, both of which have been stripped for usable materials. The main problem in this being a believable depiction of ‘the future’ is the way past culture re-appears: as I commented in either the World Made by Hand or Witch of Hebron novels, it’s implausible that clothing stores would suddenly be called haberdasheries, or that old folk songs would be the only thing played on people’s fiddles. Is there no one trying to recreate “All About that Bass” on the piano? (…I hope not, but wouldn’t people try to play the music they knew, and not just ‘old-timey’ music?) Still, I like experiencing this world, and partially because of that strong historic flavor. It’s not for everyone, admittedly, but despite the apparent rout of peak oil theorizing, I still think a harder, leaner world may be in store for us, and this series helps to imagine what may be demanded of us.