Just about every year I plant some oats. Usually harvest them with a scythe. This year, with book tour a week away, I found myself cornered by the calendar and the weather, so my neighbor “other Tom” (not that Tom) came over with his John Deere 530 and knocked’em down. That green tractor sure sounds nice chugging up the hill. He has more than one, and this isn’t the first time he’s helped me get out on book tour.
Did the window-to-window centerline breeze-shoot with my neighbor yesterday, he’s given up on getting the corn in, going with soybeans. My oats have been four inches tall for a week-and-a-half. Spring stuck in low gear. Can’t wait to get down to the feed mill and mope…as I buy three bags of chicken crumbles and pretend I’m a real farmer.
An improvisational painting by Carol Berning based on the Prologue to Coop:
And the prologue in question:
At the earliest edges of my memory, my father is plowing, and I am running behind him. I see my feet, going pat-pat-pat over the soil, I see my father, left hand on the wheel, right forearm braced against the fender, head turning back to check the depth of the plow, then forward to gauge his progress. The soil is red and sandy in the high spots and dark and loamy in the low spots, where it curls from the plowshares like strips of licorice, leaving me this square, shin-deep trough in which to travel. I trail the sound of the little tractor, so close to ground I can hear the soft plop of the overturned clods. Now and then the plow slices the soil so cleanly that a chubby white grub drops into the furrow, unscathed. The grubs are translucent white, their black guts dimly visible, as if through rice paper. Grackles and cow-birds flock the plow, pecking through the new-turned dirt. The grub will not last long. There is my father on his underpowered Ford Ferguson, and there is me trotting right behind him, and there is God above, looking down as I run the straight groove of the furrow, my life laid out on a line drawn in the earth.
This is what happens when you forget to close the garage door overnight and there is road salt residue on the floor:
Actually, I kinda envy his way of dealing with trouble. Hide your face and act prickly.
When I was little we had a similar situation. My dad tossed his cap on the porky’s back and got some quills for us.* So I did the same with an old dishrag, and both girls had something for show and tell.
*Late-arriving fact-check email from my mom: Hey, loved the picture, but got your facts a little off. You guys were walking with me … and a juvie [young porcupine] was walking west. We followed it for a while, then I took one of your caps and touched it to the little fellow and got some spines. Dad did the same for me on our honeymoon or I probably would have been too afraid to try it since the old lore was that they could throw their quills, not just let them loose.
If ever I needed more proof that I stand with one foot in the literary world and the other in the pig pen, this email removes all doubt:
My wife Amy is currently reading Coop. On the way back to St. Paul from visiting my mom in Bloomer, she was reading in the car about one of your trips to Farm & Fleet and specifically about the salt blocks. Since she grew up “in town” in Lake City, MN, she previously had no idea what a salt block was. We had already planned on stopping at Fleet Farm in Menomonie, since it was “on the way” because I was out of peanuts. Fleet Farm Virginia peanuts are the best peanuts I have tasted (much better than Fishers or Planters) and I highly recommend them. So while we were there, I took her to the Farm aisle so she could touch a salt block (she did not lick it though). She was surprised at how smooth it was. I also pointed out the milk replacer and alfalfa cubes.
This little field trip definitely enhanced her reading experience.