David Langston is known by many names. His best friend, surgeon Dr. Carey, calls him “David.” To others in the area he’s known as Medicine Man, Harvester, and even That Lazy One. The other farmers call him lazy because he raises no large crops on his land. Instead, he tends to the herbs that made medicines in 1900. He grows them, harvests them, and sells them to Chicago for a nice profit. You have just discovered The Harvester, a 1911 book by Gene Stratton-Porter.
Twenty-six year old Langston enjoys a good life. His bank account is sufficient for his needs, and his needs are few. David takes his job and his life seriously. Each spring he re-evaluates his life and work at the arrival of the first bluebird of Spring. He lets his trusted dog Balshazzar decide for him, and this year brings a surprise. Then he experiences a dream –– or was it a vision? –– that changes everything. He immediately sets about the business of updating his little cabin so it will be fit for two.
But who is she, this Dream Girl? And where can he find her? While he searches he tends to his acres of plants, harvesting one to cure this ailment and another to cure that one. As the reader, you walk with him through the paths. You hear the birds call, see the calm of the pond, and hear the babble of the creek.
Gene Stratton-Porter, naturalist
Part of the charm of The Harvester is that it was written by a naturalist. Gene Stratton Porter was a regional writer who told stories about the Limberlost Swamp area of northern Indiana. She also documented its native moths, plants, and birds in various nature studies.
Long one of my favorite books, reading The Harvester again was a joy. Although the story takes place through all the seasons over a year’s span, I always think of The Harvester as a spring/summer book. Perhaps it’s because the action opens with the arrival of the first bluebird of spring and follows from there.
Is The Harvester high literature? No; very little published in 1910-1912 was. However, many of these books provided good reading. The Harvester remains a charming read more than 100 years after its writing. If you want a book to curl up with, whether your companion is a glass of iced tea under a tree or a mug of hot cocoa by the fire, The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter is one of the best companions I know.
A book of its time
Like many of the books I write about each month, Gene Stratton-Porter’s The Harvester is a book of its time. For one thing, you may find some of the word spellings odd. You’ll know them when you see them. I don’t know whether this was regional spelling, the time period. or something else that made Stratton-Porter attach strange endings to some of her words.
You may find controlling characters, small-minded characters, and fearful women. Or you may not. One thing you will find: an author who believed that she and the women around her had something to offer her world. She wrote about it, and she lived it through her books, nature studies, short stories, articles, and photography. If you haven’t discovered Gene Stratton-Porter before now, you are in for a woodsy treat.
Read it yourself
You can find a copy of The Harvester at Project Gutenberg, The Internet Archive, and Google Books. If you’d like a physical copy, they are available in both hard and paperback reprint from your favorite bookstore.