Observant, gentle reflections on rural life; A Countryman's Journal: Views of Life and Nature from a Maine Coastal Farm, by Roy Barrette. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co. 187 pp. $11.95.

If essays are the products of well-lived lives, Roy Barrette qualifies as an essayist. There is little distance, it seems, between his life as a retired Philadelphia insurance broker on his farm in Brooklin, Maine, and his graceful essays about that life. Originally written as columns for two New England newspapers (the American in Ellsworth, Maine, and the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.), these 77 short essays are personal but not presumptuous, astute without being preachy, and meditative without being too probing. Like the life he describes, they seem peaceful and nearly effortless--rare qualities in contemporary writing.

For the most part, they are studies of small things: sundials, dogtooth violets, ginger jars, cellar holes, and the like. An inveterate gardener, he writes in latinate detail about his plants; a bibliophile, he shares his delight in first editions and fine prose. Sometimes, like good conversations on leisurely walks, the essays wander. Never intense, never crude or raw, they are the product of a mind made observant by literature and gentle by affection. They are content to dwell on such themes as the place of simplicity in our lives--to look back fondly at the past and to celebrate that balance between a sense of community and a respect for independence, which rural Maine still preserves.

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