Singing the Land

A Rural Chronology

Non-Fiction - Environment
212 Pages
Reviewed on 07/16/2020
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Author Biography

Chila (pronounced "Sheila") especially enjoys chiseled lines that bring musicality to a piece. She won the 2019 Force Majeure Flash Contest (Storm Cellar), the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award (Red Savina Review), and the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award (Emrys Foundation / Emrys Journal). She also finaled in the 2017 Proximity Magazine Personal Essay Prize (Judge: Adriana Ramírez), and double-finaled in the 2019 Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction Contest via Cutthroat Literary Review (Judge: Heid Erdrich). Her most recent essay credits appear in Passages North, Cimarron Review, Portland Review, Atticus, Tahoma Literary, and others, and her poems appear in JuxtaProse, Panoply, San Pedro River Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband of thirty-eight years, along with a fine son, on a small homestead in eastern Iowa. When not working "the farm," she edits the Eastern Iowa Review, jeeps her beautiful Iowa, and eats chocolate & salads. She's also a darn good pool player. German-born and of German/French heritage, she has been blest with a special young lady who calls her Gramma.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite

Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology by Chila Woychik is a chronological collection of poetic year-in-the life essays about life on an Iowan farm. The author covers a kaleidoscope of experiences in the heartland, from rainstorms to farm animals to wild animals to snowstorms and more. As you go from month to month, starting in January of course, you get snapshot frames and widescreen visions of what life is like, what can be observed and experienced in nature, as well as the hidden wild that humans seldom see. The writing is lyrical and beautiful but has tinges of rawness and simplicity--all reflecting the myriad of feelings that the land, water, and air of this area can elicit. Images accompany the text, giving the book the feel of a photo essay on the environment as well.

Woychik's writing is reminiscent of ballads or epic poems. The imagery evoked is palpable. As you read, you too enter this world; perhaps by foot, perhaps by car--or maybe a bird in flight overhead or perched in the highest branch of a tree. Some take farmland and woodland for granted. Most don't know what it is, how it works, or how harsh/precious it is. But this book can help the outsider gain some insight, and help those accustomed to it find a renewed appreciation. As the reader passes through each season, you feel as though you age with the passage of time--this one year...ever-changing. Nothing stays the same, and life is more complex than we realize. The writing in this book can show you new faces of nature in ways you may never have imagined. Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology by Chila Woychik makes nature come to life--a must-have for your collection.

Vincent Dublado

Within each month of the year, Chila Woychik has written personal observations with just the right degree of revelation. In Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology, she meticulously observes the profundities of ordinariness in living in a quaint, small town, the bustling metropolis, and the serene Iowa countryside. A collection of fascinating episodes, each month touches on specific themes such as the measurement of time, the alien-like beauty of nature, and the joy of caring for animals. It is an anthology of articles published in journals and although the author herself claims that the pieces can be described more as writings about incidents, it still generates a kind of momentum that attracts the audience to read her musings about life and nature. This work is a tribute to her land and how a year that passed has shaped her life.

Woychik’s writing helps to deepen our understanding of the pricelessness of observation and self-reflection without being too self-indulgent. She writes with a balanced sensitivity between what she perceives and what she feels. It is not much of writing that reveals self-disclosure, but more of a definition of space that presents sweet details on our intimacy with the familiar. From here, Singing the Land becomes a threshold of philosophical meditation and self-awareness. Still, we can expect reflective openness in the manner in which the tonality of her descriptions reveals her sentiments. Word painting at its most profound, this collection of writing may fall short under the category of essays, but every sentence speaks to us and, in its lyrical flow, it sings.

K.C. Finn

Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology is a work of non-fiction which features in the memoir style, travel writing, personal essay, and environmental writing sub-genres, and was penned by author Chila Woychik. Spanning these various genres in order to give its fully rounded message and the full breadth of creative expression, this work allows the author to relay to us a year in the life of an Iowa family farm. From the weather-beaten wilds of the mid-US, we experience the many forms of life and the hardships and triumphs which come and go as the seasons pass. The work is a celebration of wildlife, environment, and humanity’s connection to the natural world.

Author Chila Woychik has crafted a gorgeous work of creative non-fiction that really steps beyond the standard memoir and brings to life an accurate lived experience in all of its sensory glory. One of the things which I really enjoyed about the work was the author’s own voice, which lends itself to lyricism and emotion as well as relaying the factual information of the piece. Author Chila Woychik pens her landscapes as gracefully as an artist, and the thematic work around the passage of the time and the cycles of nature in every year delivers a poignant perspective on those moments we might fail to notice when we’re wrapped up in our busy lives. Overall, I would highly recommend Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology to readers who want a new slice of life that is beautifully portrayed.

Krys Malcolm Belc

"In Chila Woychik's Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology, 'rural' is not merely a location; it is an engine that feeds plentiful meditations on time, movement, farming, and family. Broken into a year in her life farming in Iowa, this collection of essays has firm roots on the farm in the present moment and yet wanders, to the Illinois of the author's childhood, to a quiet chamber in Minneapolis, and the wide open wilds of Alaska. Looking inward and outward, backwards and forwards, Woychik's language is at once playful and evocative, inviting and probing. Woychik confidently demonstrates how we are "all wrapped up in this lyric, blanketed in this kismet called rural'"
--Krys Malcolm Belc, managing editor, Passages North

John Winkelman

Singing the Land invites us to experience a deep connection to the joys and necessities of rural living. The language is beautiful and the descriptions of rural Iowa life are intimate and familiar without ever being cliched. Woychik explores with humor and humility the varied rhythms of country living--daily, seasonal, and generational. Singing the Land would fit well on a shelf with Mary Oliver and Ted Kooser, Kathleen Norris and Jim Harrison. It could serve as a master class in the art of the lyric essay.
--John Winkelman, editor, 3288 Review, Caffeinated Press

Sarah Beth Childers

This seamless, lovely book captures the wildness that lurks under the deceptively quiet surface of the rural middle of the US. The wildness of snowstorms, of sunsets, of wind, of mountain lions and coyotes, of crop- and life-destroying flash floods, of cows that appear suddenly in the middle of a narrow road at night, of damp-baled hay that bursts into flame. The wildness of birth and death. The wildness of soil and sky.
--Sarah Beth Childers, nonfiction editor, Cimarron Review

Sean Prentiss

I told myself: I'll just read the first essay then get back to work. Instead, I got swallowed up and lost track of time within Chila Woychik's beautiful lyricism about rural living in Iowa. The first essay fed into the first month. The chapter on January led to February. Soon it was June before I could put this book down. Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology pulls you in. It grows on you, grows within you. Swallows you up whole just as she is swallowed up by her rural life. This book is a modern take on Fan Chengda's examination of a single place across a year. For Fan, it was Stone Lake. For Woychik, it's a small Iowan homestead. But this book is so much more. It's also an examination of ideas as she reflects on time, sound (or soundlessness), bravery, migration, and onward, probing these concepts across the months, both globally and locally. And all of this examination is a beautiful song, a lyric to her land. A song that asks us to examine, deeply, our own lands. Settle in as Woychik takes us, day by day, through the year and through her life. Buy this book. Read this book. And then go out into your own yard, your own world, and plant something--a tomato plant--or stoop down and observe something--the land at your feet or the home you are from. That's what Singing the Land does: it asks us to see, anew, our world.
--Sean Prentiss, author of Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave (winner of the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography, the Utah Book Award for Nonfiction, and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Biography; finalist for both the Vermont and Colorado Book Awards)


Early on, Woychik meditates on the meaning[lessness] of time, so it is interesting that the book is sectioned by month, with brief dated entries. However, this structure is entirely justified in that the book primarily considers the cyclical turning of the land, about which we invent time to account for changes in our environment ("In April, the Midwest shows a leg."). Much like James Galvin's The Meadow, Woychik's meditation on the symbiotic relationship between human and nature reveals equal parts peace and hardship, which, combined, yield reverence in those who pay attention. Passages discuss the contrast between bustling cities and pastoral quiet, personal relationships, manual labor, people who thrive in climates that appear unlivable, and people who dedicate themselves to animal stewardship in places where that means ensuring their survival as much as tending to them. There is a defense, too, of the Midwest: "We're not long-necked idiots with our heads slung low; we are others before they forgot who they were; we are the backbreaking grunt to their pleasurable groan. Let's remember our manners and not forget what we may not have known in the first place." If you aren't sure you can get attached to a day-in-the-life bucolic narrative, Woychik challenges you, and I suggest you take her on.

Glynda Francis

A book of days journeying through an Iowan year, "Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology" resonates both raw and refined as it logs sadness, joys, the implacable, the beautiful, the playful, and the occasional small miracles that surprise us. Although not Iowan, I found myself nodding in recognition of so many aspects of rural and small town life, the interplay of land/life facets not uncommon throughout the Midwest and beyond. Chila's thoughts and impressions of regional life couched in lovely and lyrical language holds the eye entranced, and once done reading, invites the reader to pause in daily busyness to examine the marvelous mosaics all around us.

Black Bird

Rich and Earthy and Real

Singing the Land is no fuzzy bucolic love song, but Woychik clearly feels and breathes with the land that she loves. Her views of field and forest, clouds and sky, water and creatures, are always beautiful, but they are not always pretty. Her lyricism is undercut with a sturdy earthiness and a farmer’s practicality tinged with humor. This book made me get out my pencil to mark up lines that struck me and it’s only a compulsion with books I really love. You will come away richer and yes, wiser, for partaking of her pithy and lyric and earthy book of days—and the toll the passing of those days takes on us.

Sharon Fedor

This exquisite book was for me a step into a distant time and place of rural folkways and untamed weather. Life is harsh and death is a necessary chore. Each beautifully written word commands attention and the reader will not look away.

Anne Gudger

Chila Woychik's gorgeous book, Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology, is a beauty of a book. She maps the land by seasons and sings it's beauty along with its harshness. I adore her farmer's sensibilities, as she both swims in the beauty of nature and accepts what is, what can't be changed. It's a gem of a book. Good heart medicine.