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Farmer And Writer Donald McCaig, Who Shared Stories Of Rural Life, Dies At 78


We're going to take a couple of minutes now to remember a longtime contributor to this program. His name was Donald McCaig. He was 78 when he died earlier this month.


In the 1990s, between news stories, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED would sprinkle in essays from writers around the country talking about their lives and experiences. McCaig contributed his about the world of southwest Virginia.


DONALD MCCAIG: The first time I lost my faith was because of sex. I was a young teenager at the Bible camp when a visiting preacher treated us to a terrific description of the torments awaiting sinners in hell.

CORNISH: On his farm, he raised sheep and worked with sheepdogs. And he drew lessons from his life.


MCCAIG: The second time I lost my faith was on account of sheepdogs. I use dogs on the farm every day of my life. And they are all different. There are honest dogs, liars, flirts, sober sides, dreamy geniuses and hearty dogs well met.

SHAPIRO: This life was a later chapter of Donald McCaig's story. Earlier, he had been a mad man - an advertising copywriter, like the ones depicted in the TV show. But in the early 1970s, he'd had enough selling. On the advice of the Kentucky novelist, poet and farmer Wendell Berry, McCaig and his wife Anne chose the hills of rural Virginia close to the Kentucky and Tennessee borders. McCaig never stopped writing. His novel, "Nop's Trials," came out in 1984. It was about a border collie.

CORNISH: And he continued to write poems and newspaper articles. He dabbled in crime fiction and book reviews. A little more than a decade ago, McCaig was chosen to write an authorized sequel to "Gone With The Wind." It was called "Rhett Butler's People." But for this program, he focused on his flock of sheep and those dogs who tended them. Here's a part of what he presented on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED October 13, 1994.


MCCAIG: Our old dog Pip was hardheaded and funny. He thought people were a little dim. Pip and I worked together in fog, ice storms, pitch-black nights and snow so deep I feared for his heart as he lunged from one snowdrift to another. The Sunday after he died, I went to church to offer a prayer for him. Anne stayed home. She was afraid she'd burst into tears.

After the service was over, the preacher asked about Anne. And I said, we just lost our old dog. Anne was at home grieving. Well, he said, say hey for me, and turned to the next parishioner. Now, he wasn't being callous or flippant or insensitive. But his church does not believe that dogs have souls. Hence our connections to dogs are sentimental, no more important than a child's attachment to a favorite teddy bear.

I do not believe you can work with animals - certainly you cannot train them - without deciding that if humans have souls, dogs do too. And if there's a heaven waiting for me, Pippy's already in it.

SHAPIRO: Writer and farmer Donald McCaig. He died November 11 in Highland County, Va. He is survived by his wife, Anne.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUCE COCKBURN'S "WHEN IT'S GONE, IT'S GONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

All Things Considered