Learn to Write from a Herd of Cows


Jeffrey Lent credits his practice of writing daily to his youth spend milking cows.

At the recent Northern Woodlands Conference, novelist Jeffrey Lent described growing up on a mid-century hill farm in southwest Vermont, where his father kept sheep and cows. Lent told us that so little heat rose from the wood stove through the floor registers into his second-story bedroom that ice caked the windows, and he couldn’t see through the glass. He also said a farm is a good place to learn the habits necessary to be a writer, as dairy cows have to be milked daily, even on Christmas. He credits his practice of writing daily to his youth spent milking cows.

Since I care for that species of bovine that requires daily attendance at my desk, I’m always reluctant to leave home, especially after just Hiking The Long Trail. And ever since attending the famed Breadloaf Writers Conference over thirty years ago, I tend to avoid writers conferences all together, but there were several promising aspects about this one that lured me away from from the barn. I’m glad I went.

Two really interesting people in attendance included my friends: the poets Verandah Porche (L) & Pamela Ahlen (R)

Two really interesting people in attendance included my friends: the poets Verandah Porche (L) & Pamela Ahlen (R)

The conference included not just workshops for writers, but also for illustrators, naturalists, environmentalists, foresters, conservationists, hunters and trackers; really, anyone with any interest in the Northern Forest was welcome. With 26 million continuous acres stretching from Maine to New York, there’s a lot to learn about the Northern Forest in addition to writing about it. (I attended terrific workshops about writing the nature essay and writing a winning pitch.) Best of all, there were really interesting people in attendance, and a relaxed atmosphere where it was possible to meet and talk.

Held at the Hulbert Outdoor Center on Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vermont, the rustic venue allowed us to step outside into the muted splendor of an overcast autumn landscape, and to enjoy the basic indoor accommodations of camp. As someone just off 25 Days on The Long Trail, I found cabins with heat and hot water pretty luxurious after a month of lean-tos and privies.

In addition to hearing Jeffrey Lent read from his forthcoming novel, another highlight included Richard Ober’s keynote address, “If You Don’t Know the Ground.” As a place-based writer, I was heartened to hear Ober, a philanthropist whose mission at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is to improve lives, express a direct link between “knowing the ground” and the arts, the economy, civic engagement, education, health and the environment.

So after a great weekend, I’ve returned home to milk my ideas at my desk, encouraged and inspired to tend to my cows: to keep writing, to keep improving my craft, to keep telling stories to create change.

Deborah Lee Luskin at the US-Canadian border marker 592.

At the US-Canadian border marker 592 on September 8, 2016.

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs about Living In Place, Middle Age, Vermonters By Choice, and Lessons from the Long Trail at  www.deborahleeluskin.com.




5 thoughts on “Learn to Write from a Herd of Cows

  1. Great post. Like you I have ambivalent thoughts about attending writers’ conferences, but this one sounded amazing. Lent’s connection with scheduled writing and milking cows makes a great deal of sense. I love it. And you walked the walk. Very, very impressive.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks for the kudos, Paul. I think one of the lessons here is to find the right conference. In my case, that turned out to be small, local, and focused on content more than craft, publication or that posing that often takes place between writers and gatekeepers. It’s always a pleasure to see when you’ve liked one of my posts. Best, Deborah.

      • And thank you! You know one of the curses of having a Blog is that our success–as a Blogger– is measured by the number of followers. Unfortunately the curse is that with the larger number of followers the less time you have to read the Blogs and respond! That is if you are busy writing as you should be. But still, you blog is a constant. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

  2. Well -written and well reflected Debbie.I wish I m part of the Northern Forest s adventure with diverse pastors ,overseers of the forest including naturalists environmentalist s and writers of variegated interests .hoping more of the hiking will come out soon to stabilize the splendor and impeccable ecology Mother Nature has created in Maine through New York of 25 million acres.Again surely travailing this stretch of forest should have been rooted in love of nature and word smithing to poetize the grandeur! Well-done Deborah Lee but we would have also expected some excerpts of poetry shared by your buddy poets ,Verandah & Pamela Wish you a robust milking of the herds as you re back to your desk- which isn’t a grindstone but a fulcrum for forging more libraries of books wrought from the fields direct. Gbemi Tijani Ibadan 4/10/16

    Sent from my iPad

  3. I like the image of the desk as a fulcrum – a point of balance between the idea and its expression. Thanks for commenting. -Deborah.

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