Gene Everlasting



That’s the title of my new book soon to be out. It is sort of a testimonial on how living close to nature can give comfort to those facing the inevitability of death which is all of us. I also try to work in a little humor about the futility of trying to avoid the inevitable. The sub-title says it better perhaps: “A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts On Living Forever.” I started writing it after I found out, much to my amazement, that I was not going to live forever. I had cancer. I was not taking bets on whether I would see the book published or that I would even get it finished but it seemed like a good time to write about things like immortality. If I upset some readers, they could go stomp on my grave. But modern medicine worked its wonders and the cancer went into remission. The docs now think something else will kill me, probably an irate religious fundamentalist. But getting over cancer became something of a story line for the book, running under the main topic about the meaning (if any) of life everlasting.

As I looked closely into how society faces the subject of dying these days, I learned that there are a growing number of people who are not satisfied with the usual religious attitudes about death and are looking for something that makes more sense to them. You may have heard of death cafes and death dinners where people gather together in a sort of party mood and mode and talk about dying. Surprisingly, these discussions are becoming popular. There is also something called “green burial” coming into practice where much of the ritual and display and expense of traditional funeral practices is replaced with simple burial in ways that allow the body to decompose naturally into fertilizer rather than encased in sealed tombs. One might call it the birth of the organic cemetery.

Another surprise came my way in doing research when I discovered Taoism. I even learned how to pronounce that word correctly. For years I was vain enough to think that I had originated the idea that matter is eternal. That concept is at the core of Taoism and uncounted thousands of people thought of it long before I did. But it is a dangerous conclusion to reach. If matter is eternal not only is a religious god unnecessary to explain life but not always will a scientific cause be necessary to explain natural phenomena either. Such an outlandish notion brings down anathema on me from both scientist and theologian.

I had abandoned long ago most of the religious notions about living forever in some faraway paradise. I honor everyone’s right to believe what they want to believe in this regard, but I reached the point where I honestly could not accept it anymore myself. I sought refuge and relief in science for explanations of the mysteries of life. But as  I bumbled along writing this book, it seemed to me that scientists now are beginning to sound like theologians, demanding of me belief in theories for which they do not have positive proof except in their own minds. I like a quote accredited to the late Terence McKenna, the famous (or infamous, depending on one’s views) researcher into psychedelic drugs. The Big Bang theory, as he described it, was “just the limit case for unlikelihood, that the universe would spring from nothing in a single instant for no reason… It is in fact no different from saying ‘and God said, let there be light’.  What these philosophers of science are saying is, give us one free miracle and… it will all unfold according to natural law… Well, I say to them, if science gets one free miracle, then everybody else gets one free miracle.”

In my book, I apply this kind of contrariness to what scientists are saying about Higgs bosons and black holes and outer space and all that stuff they try to define with numbers no one can count.  Seems to me, science is trying to reinvent God.

But most of the book is about the homely and homey life of farm and garden. Yes, it is sad sometimes. If anyone can read it without one tear at least, I’ll give them their money back. But living close to nature on one’s own little garden farm can be a soothing, almost happy, consolation in the face of death, especially for those of us who get all the paradise we can stand by walking through the woods on a quiet evening in June, listening to a wood thrush singing.


Just finished this book, and let me tell you, Gene, you will be here every spring for as long as the world turns, feeding your land with your body and your loved ones with your spirit!

A couple of other thoughts stimulated by your book:

1. Loving my goats as I do, I know how hard it was for you to sell off your sheep.

2. The perfect illustration of hope is an older man or woman planting a tree! I think you need to plant a tree this spring!

Love you,

    Betty, Thank you, and all the others, for your kind words. You are all just so great. I promise you I will be planting more than one tree this spring. And the trees in our woods will be planting a whole lot more. Gene

I am reading your book now. I just wanted to let you know that my copy came with a hand-written note from your publisher to Scott, who apparently has listeners. Scott’s book got placed in the wrong stack, however, it wasn’t sent to Scott, rather it was sent to whichever bookseller I bought it from, and now it’s mine. I’ve decided that my book was intended for Scott Simon at NPR. Don’t tell me if I’m right or wrong. It’s better to leave me with this happy fantasy. But do send Scott (Simon) another copy.

Oh, and the conceit of contrariness about science that begins the book… stop that. You don’t really think science is trying to replace divinity with incalculable calculations. The calculations aren’t incalculable as a sophisticate like you knows very well.

Finally, thank you for Killdeer Woman. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of my dad’s death. I’ve not been able to visit his marker. But, your story made me feel like maybe this month when I’m home, I can go see him.

    Constant Gardener. I shall make sure my publisher knows, but I imagine that every publisher sends books to Scott Simon, hoping. As for my wisecracks about science mimicking theology these days, you are correct of course, but note this quote out of yesterday’s NYTimes: the title of the story is “Scientific Pride and Prejudice and the quote is: “Scientists now worry that many published scientific results simply aren’t true….A major root of the crisis is selective use of the data…” Just like theologians. Gene

Gene, I am 50 pages into your book and I am not disappointed. I think it is your best work yet! (And after the last one, that’s saying a lot!) You show us how to stop and sit with nature and let it be our teacher on the big issues. You have a gift for “seeing,” making the connections, and then reporting all that in a way that makes it accessible to others. I don’t usually buy brand-new, hardcover books at full price–I read so much that I’d go broke. After reading your earlier works, I’ve made an exception with your books and have even pre-ordered! Thanks so much!

A side issue–if you can still write like this at age 80?! Well, I’m sorry to say that you’ve encouraged me so much that the world may be subject to my blog for at least another 20 years 😉

Oh I cannot wait to read this book, especially being written by the Contrary Farmer. Death is the one topic we all, no matter what, have in common. How fascinating it will be to read your observations and thoughts on the very many different ways we each think, believe, feel, and deal with death. When I lost my mom at 50, it gave me a serious kick in the pants to get my life on track, to achieve my big goals. I don’t want any regrets, no matter what happens when and after I die. That is nothing to worry over really, as what will happen, will happen. I’m so very glad to read you are in remission, but also simply continuing to appreciate each day as you did the last. “All the paradise you can stand” – what a great line.

Amazon emailed to say my book will be here on January 23. I’m looking forward to a great read. Thank you Gene.

Another sister, here. Yes, great last line, and I feel thankful to have just that very consolation, and many similar satisfactions.


There isn’t much a young wippersnapper like me can contribute to this discussion (I’m only in my mid 20s) but I will say that I look forward to reading your insight into this matter. I’ve recently begun thinking about what my life will leave to the world, and realized that when I’m through here, I want to be able to show something that I’ve actually contributed to this world. I don’t want to just live, have a nice time, and go. Gene, you continue to inspire and enrich many lives, and any higher power will surely be pleased with that.

After you spend years in a profession such as nursing, you learn that science definitely does NOT have all the answers, and in many cases, hasn’t even begun to ask the right questions yet. I’ve also talked to enough people who had near-death experiences (very rational, smart, thoughtful folks, some of whom were medical professionals) to suspect there is something out there. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how it works, and I suspect it’s so much bigger, richer, more complex and wonderful than we can ever imagine, which is why most gods and goddesses just don’t cut the mustard — they’re creations of humans who simply can’t comprehend what’s really out there. One of the grandkids asked me the other day if I believed in God. We had a considerable discussion about the presence of good and evil in the world, how different people had different ideas about what a god/goddess was/wasn’t and eventually she said, “So you don’t know.” I said, “That’s right.” Her next comment (and this is a 7-year-old) was, “And you’re OK with that.” I said, “Yep,” and thought of this quote.

“I don’t know Who is cranking; I’m pleased He doesn’t stop.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

    Beth Greenwood: Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” was a big influence on me when I read it many years ago. Gene

      Me, too! I learned more from Heinlein and other SF writers, not to mention John Galsworthy, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling, than I ever learned in the course of my formal schooling. I always had a book to put inside my schoolbooks for classroom reading, because I went through the text books within the first week or so of school (which the teachers never believed) and then was bored.

So, Gene, when will your NEXT book be completed?….and the one after that!?…..You’re not going anywhere my dear friend, not yet anyway!

The older I get the more I am convinced there has to be some higher Being responsible for all that is on the Earth.No way I can believe that all the truly Miraclous things I come in contact daily have happened by chance.I have also grown to have less and less faith in Science,not that I don’t think there have been incredible discoveries but Science mostly takes the attitude that it ‘knows all’,well if it knew all in 1990 where did all the things they have discovered since then come from? Science in its defense is in its infancey probably hasn’t discovered 1% of the knowledge there is to know so it now comes under the heading at times of
“A little bit of learning can be a dangerous thing”.Dieing I don’t worry about as its one of those things its pointless for me to dwell on as I can’t change the outcome so I try to live life to the fullest and when that comes to an end I’ll have no choice but to move on to the next phase in my existance whatever form that may be. So mabe we meet again whether its in someone’s compost pile or at a far better (hope not worse) place.

So glad that you are still walking this earth with us and I am looking forward to your new book. It sounds like a conversation that needs to be had.

As long as you are on the subject of favorite quotes,
Curiosity Killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back, Eugene O’Neill-freaky playwright
No one cares about your money like you do, my very tight bottomed neighbor farmer
Know who your friends are, the neighbor who many people dislike but I get along with fine
Where is my coffee cup? -me, at least five times a day…
Get to work, my wife
You are so weird, my daughter
can I borrow 20 buck till payday, my employee

Mine is: “Death is just another path…one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass…And then you see it…White shores and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

For a moving short story that gives a view of what we are here for and where we are going, it is well worth reading “Leaf by Niggle” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Nope, no Orcs or Hobbits, just an artist and a gardener.

    A favorite quote of mine comes from near the end of Tolkien’s “Two Towers”.
    ” I can see that yours is a land of peace where gardeners are held in high esteem”.


I had to respond again after I started re-reading your (1975) book: “The Gardener’s Guide to Better Soil”. I don’t know if you even remember what you wrote but I will quote on page 3:

“If your gravestone could read, “Here lies a person who left his land with over 5 percent organic matter in it,” you could rest assured that you had contributed as much good to the earth as any famed scientist, philosopher, or philanthropist. Maybe more. And in the bargain, you would have achieved a sort of immortality.”

That passage takes on a little sharper meaning now.

Thank you for your work.

I attempted to post earlier. I thought I was pretty funny with a comment focusing on the least important part of you post and referring to myself as a nonviolent and seldom irate fundie but something went wrong in the posting and my new comment is not really funny.
I really like what you said about science and religion. I think people need religion and that they will create their own if there is a failure of the established cultural institutions.
I find it quite amusing that those who congratulate themselves on rejecting cultural christianity have now created their own religion that has to be valid because it involves “science.”
I’m not making any negative judgements towards you or anyone posting here, I’m just saying that I like your post in general and specifically your remarks on science and religion.
It is an interesting topic.

Well, I got a tear in my eye already at that last line, Gene. That’s just achingly pretty.

I love your thoughtful writing and the way you cut to what is important. I think this is what happens as we age, but by then we are irrelevant and no one listens to us anyway (and I’m only 43). Maybe that’s part of the Circle of Life: everyone has to rediscover the same truths for himself, over and over forever.

All we have is right here. I’m glad we have you, and you’ll always be here.

I have been teased for years by the modified rhyme: “Barry, Barry, How does your garden grow?”, to which I always reply: “I put shit on it.” Thanks, Gene, for saying so many wise observations. Your books bear that out, and I look forward to “Gene Everlasting”.

Gene, what a wonderful topic! I look forward to reading more on it when it comes out on January 24,2014. Moments after reading your post, I put in a request in for Gene Everlasting at my local library like I have done for many of your other books. (This book will be our ninth from you, but we still have many more to acquire!)

After reading A Sanctuary of Trees, I wondered about your thoughts on an afterlife since you attended the seminary for some time. I guess leaving it should have given me a big hint of your thoughts on that topic. But I guess in Gene Everlasting, I will find out.

I have similar ideas when I think about death. My big gripe with many believers is all the money they spend on trying to get to the next life with their million dollar church expansions and budgets. If there ever was a god, as Pascal’s Wager says is worth betting on, I cannot for one moment believe that shiny million dollar churches accompanied with their ever rising budgets are what a god would want who preaches about helping the poor.

Lastly, that Terence McKenna quote you used speaks volumes. In a recent audio lecture on the power of math, Professor Bloch claims that he likes math because when he is right in math, he is eternally right. I suppose it is the same case why people favor immortality versus a finite life.

I often consider what would happen if more people took your view on there being no paradise at the end of this life and what that would mean for society. Would people continue to commit to lives and occupations that perpetually cause unhappiness? I know I won’t for that very reason. And you certainly didn’t by leaving a successful career in the Philadelphia region for the bucolic Ohio countryside. You are my inspiration Gene!

Thank you for your edifying instruction. You are a true teacher.

    Your comments about math triggered some thoughts. I failed at farming back in the 80’s and have fed my family via mathematics since the 90’s. I was also raised with an abiding respect for the spiritual and retain that. Math has provided some insights to the universal quest for meaning and ” glimpses around the bend”. Calculus has two basic branches and neither would exist without being able to do the impossible i.e, divide and multiply by zero to achieve specific quantitative results. It is made possible partly through the ability to draw conclusions about the effect of the infinite on the finite. Other aspects of use of the infinite quickly taught me that one’s intuition which is shaped primarily by our finite state is almost useless in relation to the infinite. Those insights have been very important to me as I embrace Pascal’s Wager. I have become very reticent to tell anyone what they should believe about the infinite. On the other hand I would be more than happy to tell anyone who asks where this beggar found bread.

    I also look forward to reading your book Gene.

What can I say but AMEN, and Me too? I turned 70 last year, and the year before that survived a bout with colon cancer, complicated by a car accident two weeks prior to surgery. It was interesting. We are as good as new, and I enjoyed being able to garden my heart out in 2013. But if there are only a few gardens left I can’t get too excited. It has been a good life. I don’t believe in spending too many of society’s resources on keeping old people in m isery a year or two longer. As a fanatical gardener one is intimate with the cycle of life and death and transformation. Compost we are, and to compost we shall return.

Amen, especially to listening to a wood thrush singing on a nice June day.

Thanks for giving me a reason to live through this yucky winter. Can’t miss reading another one of your books or make Father Daniel have to come up with a eulogy comical enough to suit me!

Gene, it gives me great comfort to believe that when I die, I will return to the arms of Mother Earth to nurture all life to come. That is something we all know for sure–like every other living thing, bodies are meant to break down into compost when we’re gone. As for our souls? Who really knows? I don’t need to believe that I will live on for an interminable eternity to find meaning in my life now. Whatever will be will be. I look forward to reading your book!
PS: I also believe the big bang theory explains nothing either way about where we came from–something had to be there to create the bang. And so that puts us back to the question of what was that “something” and where did it come from? It boggles the mind that we even exist.

Dear Gene, I like everyone who has posted is looking forward to your new book. I believe you’re like a fine bottle of wine, you just keep getting better and better with age. I’m so looking forward to reading your prospective especially since I’ve spent the last five months on the chemo diet that you’ve written about. Please take care of yourself ( I know Carol does a wonderful job) you’ve always been so special in my life.

Ha! You are immortal. Forever perpetuated by the likes of myself and your other students. Sometimes I do something “crafty” on the homestead, only to be humbled by finding that very trick noted in one of your books. I believe that I sometimes read subliminally. The world is practically shouting Gene-isms everyday. Your essay GEORGIE, found in the book LISTEN TO THE LAND, has always been my favorite.

    Scott, GEORGIE is reprinted in my new book too.
    To all of you: I am just overwhelmed with all your kind words. I feel so humbled and uplifted at the same time. Gene

“In the beginning was the Word”; so begins the Gospel of John. Indeed the word or words are expressions of ideas or concepts that were in someone’s brain at one time. Only by writing or oral tradition can these words be kept so that generations after can ponder their meanings. At least in that way can thoughts translated into words impart a type of immortality to the original thinker. Note: I still read the Gospel of John even those the words were written thousands of years ago. So Gene, please keep on writing, so at least your thoughts will then achieve some type of immortality, or at least longevity, in human terms. I need your word(s) because not only do I receive instruction and inspiration therefrom, but it pleases me greatly to know there is at least one more contrarian in the world besides myself.

I am looking forward, dear brother, to your new book. It promises to be one of your best, and I think I will love most of the ideas you are writing about. However, I disagree with your statement that scientists demand that we believe them. As opposed to religion, science, of course, is always open to new discoveries and the willingness to change. ‘Demand’ is a word that belongs to religion? Keep ’em comin’!


A contrarian is just someone who sees the truth and is willing to speak it. Looking forward to this new read and many more after. May you have a long, happy, and productive life. Your writings matter.

Thanks for putting your thoughts down, Gene. I appreciate the contrarian and tend to be one myself. I find no small degree of comfort in religious belief and practice even though my training and experience is in the world of science. I especially appreciate your assessment that scientists use much of the same language purveyors of religious nostrums employ, even though the details my differ substantially.

I think the transformation in my outlook came when I realized that if God does exist, it’s kind of pointless for me to try to prove it since, well, he’s God and is big enough that he is not depending on the likes of me to secure his place in the universe. And if he doesn’t exist, then my efforts were wasted. So now, I leave his existence up to him and don’t worry about proving him or defending him, but rather taking delight in the things (and even the people) he created. And if he doesn’t exist or didn’t create them, delighting in them all the same.

A blissful ever after for me would be spending an eternity learning more holy shit and the intertwined workings of the universe. I’ll leave the angel wings and heavenly choirs to those more inclined to musical pursuits while I grub in the soil. Or contribute to building it through decomposition, if that’s all the hereafter I’m granted. Whatever.

I’m thrilled to be able to read more of your words. I can hardly wait. Thank you for working so hard and sharing your thoughts.

I too will pick this book up. With such a large part of the US population now going on 60 plus it has to be a subject we must openly discuss.
I myself can not fathom anything but intelligent design. Look around at all the miracles of everyday life around us. The older I get the more I notice things around me and the more I realize we have just scratched the surface of knowledge. (I will confess I am a Methodist.)

Gene, all I can say is I hope you have started another book or two…..we need your wisdom in a world with little of it.

By the way where will it be available for sale first?

Glad your here with us, Gene. May the Wood thrush bless you and give you comfort and peace, As it can. God in the Wood Thrush, in the nova, and everywhere you look. In their God, in The Way, Bahamian and everywhere you look.
Seems to me, also contrary, that this is the only work there is worth doing, getting ready to die, practicing seeing everything everywhere you look – trying to see without eyes and think without a mind. Practicing to remember where you came from. What it was like before.

Looking forward to reading and crying.

    Eumaeus, yes, “the only work there is worth doing, getting ready to die.” I’ve always been shy about saying that, but here you are saying it, and so i say it, too–to all the world that lives on Gene’s blog and beyond. And if you’re listening, Gene, may you wake up tomorrow early and find you’re happier than ever you imagined and that 10s and 10s of thousands are reading your book and agreeing with each word.

Big sigh of relief that your cancer is in remission. I am one of your many fans, selfish enough to want you to put off the big sleep for a long long time.

Gene I am so happy to see another book from you and hope that there will be many, many more. As I can see the big 6-0 looming on my horizon, end of life thoughts flit through my head. I know some people must be talking and writing about this, but not much. Seems like there is a manual for everything except how to die gracefully. Anyway, I’m off to buy this and to recommend it for library purchase. Please stay around a lot longer…we still need you here!

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