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.
In the three weeks since I shot this video, the pig have grown markedly larger and more aggressive. These days when Mills or I go in the pen to feed or move fence, the pigs nudge at our calves and take tentative nibbles at our boot toes. During such moments I am always reminded of Montaigne’s essay “That To Study Philosophy Is To Learn To Die,” in which he lists all the many ways his contemporaries and their ancestors have died, including Philip, eldest son of Louis le Gros who died “by jostle of a hog.”
A sentence or two later he writes of the men he has known who died “betwixt the very thighs of women,” so danger is everywhere.
Good 4th last night. Sat on our ridge with a fire and 70% homegrown food (have never successfully grown marshmallows), just enough breeze and woodsmoke to keep the mosquitoes and gnats in fly-by mode, and for miles in all directions, amateur fireworks (some of which get bigger every year).
Have never been a fireworks guy. Don’t care to play with them, and figure you might as well light five dollar bills and throw them to the wind. But yesterday I harrumphed and approved the expenditure of $16.50 toward a simple grab-bag batch. We parsed them out over the evening between homemade campfire pies and watching the bigger bursts in the distance. Saved a bunch of colorful ones for the very end. And after watching the 11-year-old dance across the yard writing with a sparkler in the dark, after hearing the four-year-old’s peals of laughter at the colorful ones that spun in the driveway…well, sometimes a guy has to unbend a little, huh? We spread that $16.50 out over two hours and while I stood holding my wife’s hand in the dark as the last colors fizzled, we did the math on any number of other manufactured entertainments and figured we took the cash for a decent ride.
Earlier in the day my wife and daughters went to the river with friends while I stayed home to write, move some chickens, and help my neighbor (same guy who did this) bale a batch of hay. (Later that night when we were going to make campfire pies and realized we didn’t have any bread, I ran back over there and he lent us half a loaf – there’s yer rural barter system in full effect).
Y’know how it is in the country, sometimes you’ll get a call from the neighbor needing some help with unloading a cow. So you get on your tractor (OK, your mother-in-law’s tractor) and you head on over there.