My favorite stories are the ones that at first seem unremarkable.
But wrapped inside reveal the fascinating rhythms of our daily lives, and better yet, clues on how to live it richer, with more empathy and understanding of the world around us.
Jim Black’s new book is a collection of such stories.
Titled “Just Call Me a Gardener — and other wonders along the way,” the book is a collection of 32 engaging essays that first appeared in the Walworth County Week and Walworth County Sunday newspapers.
The book reads like a Saturday morning chat over the fence with your most approachable neighbor.
Sometimes the discussion is over matters down the street in Fontana or Lake Geneva. Other times, it’s the news of the day or perspectives on national headlines.
The topics are the things we talk about daily — our neighborhood, the passage of time, our own personal space and our place in the world.
I first met Black when I was editor of The Week when he arrived in the newsroom to show me one of his essays.
That began a years’ long publication of his columns in the paper.
His background is varied, which certainly informs his writing. After spending his early years in Walworth County, he traveled extensively.
He lived for eight years in New York City and another eight years in Nicaragua during the height of that country’s civil war where he worked in the Presidential Press Department of the Sandinista government.
He stayed on after the war and worked for the bilingual newspaper Barricada International.
But then he returned to Walworth County as a single father with his then 6-year-old son. He is now married to his wife, Eileen.
Some of my favorites in the collection are also ones that will resonate with readers here in Walworth County.
In “The Lake by Any Other Name … is Still Lake Geneva,” he tackles the endless debate over the proper name of Walworth County’s crown jewel.
(My understanding has always been that the official name is Geneva Lake, yet locals have been grandfathered in and still allowed to call the lake, “Lake Geneva.”)
“Right or wrong, correct or not, the name ‘Lake Geneva’ has become generic just as surely as Kleenex has replaced the word ’tissue,'” Black writes. “It’s more than a lake and more than a town on its eastern shore. In my humble opinion, when people refer to Lake Geneva, they are speaking of a geographic region. Yet, it’s more than that.”
Then again, “The Treasure of Lake Geneva,” reads like a love letter.
“Maybe its because the lake is the soul of this area,” Black writes. “It is the physical center of a population that surrounds it. The area that we inhabit is defined by the lake.”
Part genealogy sleuth, part historian, Black opens and reads a series of letters between his Irish grandparents written from 1899 to 1902 in his essay, “The Letters.”
“Reading her letters is like listening to someone talk on the phone,” Black writes, “you only hear one side of the conservation, but it paints a specific picture.”
Black cautions that the essay from which the book takes its title, “Just Call Me a Gardener,” won’t teach you how to raise plants.
Despite being written for a different time, it’s particularly poignant today as Russian troops have launched their attack on their Ukrainian neighbors.
Black shows a way we can cope so far from the frontlines.
“The world of politics is complicated. Gardening is simple,” Black writes.
“We live in a dangerous time, but then it has always been so. Politicians come and go. The World adjusts.
“Until it does, just call me a gardener.
“Leave it at that.”
Read excerpts from the book HERE.
Email Black at email@example.com