the story goes that when i was little i’d stay up all night during a road trip, just to see the cows.
in fact, i remember: nose pressed against the glass, crawling along the back seat of whatever was the family sedan, climbing helter-skelter over one brother or another. excuse me, i need to see the cows. i would moo at the window, hoping the cows might moo me back. my papa, i’m told, mooed right along.
now what in the world i was doing searching for nocturnal cows, i do not know. commonsense is not often a thread in family legend.
as i grew older it was a silo that became the object of my affection. though i don’t recall mooing at the window for a silo.
no, no, for the silo i had other plans. the silo i wanted to climb from the inside, to carry up my typewriter, to make a window, hang a simple curtain, and spend my whole life on a farm, typing and watching the world down below.
farms call me. farms are in my blood. one kentucky farm i never got to see. and a horse farm that wasn’t ours but that my papa knew; my papa grew up there. but, since my papa was not a raconteur, not about his boyhood, anyway, i do not have volumes of horse farm stories. only one or two.
when i plant my foot on farm soil, i feel something. it is rather like a vein is opened up, and something of the earth courses through me. i see the hard, back-breaking work, but i feel the poetry.
a farm is elemental. it is pure. it is loamy soil teeming with lessons worth sinking your hands into, getting muddy. it’s earth and sky, and hard-won curriculum in between.
it’s ancient. it’s eternal.
you cannot speed up the germination of a seedling. you cannot make it rain. but you can sow seed. and you can hope. and you can, God willing, make it on your own. feed yourself, your children, the good folk down the road. at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. that’s the beauty and the tragedy all at once.
it is you and God, down on the farm.
you have entered, i do believe, into a holy equation that depends on sun and rain and soil. too much, too little, and all is lost. days and weeks and months of labor, of getting up at dawn, of sweat rolling down your nose and muscles aching. of praying. on your knees begging for the rain clouds to come on, to bring the benediction that just might be a quarter inch of rain.
it is, i do believe, a hands-on PhD in all the truths of life. you name it, it’s in the book. birth and death and resurrection, sometimes. anticipation. heartbreak. hallelujahs.
just last week, on a day i was blessed to turn my car down a gravel lane, where the corn gave way to a place called beauregards farm, i was out walking with a woman who is now a farmer and there, right before us where the queen anne’s lace was trampled, lay the head and the feathers of what had been one of her 23 “stepford chickens,” she calls them.
just like that, a weasel, she figured, came and snatched a bronze-feathered hen. she crouched down, the farmer woman did, stroked the feathers, cursed the weasel and then walked on. said she’d be back to bury the dear thing. it was just another moment on a farm.
heartache comes in spoonfuls all day long. you get used to heartache, i suppose, because you know there just might be a hallelujah around the next bend.
i worry that it’s what we’re missing, here in our saran-wrapped urban and suburban worlds. by the time the lessons come to us they’ve been rinsed, flash-frozen and packed in little boxes.
we don’t even know any more what a tomato is supposed to taste like. let alone the goosebumps when a weasel takes your hen.
my farmer friend took me ’round the corn crib, walked me up to ike, introduced me. ike is what you’d call a scarecrow, only she doesn’t, because ike is not there to scare the birds. not so much anyway.
“when i’m not cursin’ them, i’m blessin’ them”, she tells me, of the tug and pull that underscores so much of life, especially on a farm.
ike is there for the chickens. ike is dressed the way my farmer friend usually is. in bib overalls. only ike’s are 10 sizes bigger. and ike is there so the nosey chickens think the farmer’s there, where the broccoli and the pole beans and the eggplant grow.
were it not for ike and his too-big bibs, the chickens would poke around, pull out whatever just got planted, drive the farmer crazy. ike is there, not for scaring purposes, but to make the hens think they’re not alone.
i took a shining to big ol’ ike.
now, when i drift off to farmland in my sleep, i seem to dream of droopy-bottomed ike keeping company with the nosey hens.
i wish my backyard had room for ike. i wish my backyard rolled on and on, in tidy rows of whatever sun and rain and soil had set to reaching for the sky. i wish the world in which i lived was not saran-wrapped, but more earth-stained. i wish i knew the aching arms and legs at the long end of an even longer day. i wish, most of all, i lived the poetry that is the farm.
and i kinda wonder, too, what would happen if you mooed at ike.
anyone else out there yearn to sink your toes in farm dirt? anyone else believe in the poetry of the farm? ever notice how the farmers might know a thing or two that we’ve not even bothered to realize is mighty important? anyone else moo at a cow or a silo or a chap named ike, out standing in his field?