A Farm Breviary: Sext

It’s the midday office and I’ve brought my chair to the bottom of a grass-covered bowl, my own private Greek amphitheater. The greening spring grass grows thick where the play-goers sit; the stage for the actors and chorus is set hard against a fenceline, its backstage leading out to a former wood.

Here, our play opens. The oracle enters, predicting that where the fenceline stitches its feeble wire suture on the land, in a hubristic claim of ownership of what can’t be owned, the future already knows what we have forgotten.

The backdrop to the play is the clear-cut forest where I used to harvest ramps each spring and chanterelles late summer, deep in its quiet center. Now it lies as an exposed landscape of splintered trees and muddy roads, marking a deafness of the present custodians and neighbors to the past and the future.

Stage left is land that until recently belonged to an aging farmer who is in the long process of retiring, step by slow-moving step. He stopped by to deliver some much needed hay the other day, and I had a chance to chat with him about his life. Had he ever worked with horses? Yes, he said, he used to love to drive a team out into the field to pick up shocks of corn, the rhythmic stooping and bending work he liked as a youth. How old, I asked, when you were allowed to drive that team by yourself? Oh, very young, he responded. Eight years old.

Can I name a child of acquaintance who has the intelligence and responsibility to handle a team of horses and spend the afternoon doing physical labor? The sadness and absurdity of thinking we have improved on the past by infantilizing our children, swaddled even into youth and young adulthood, their girth and limbs malformed, their intelligence maladapted to the work of being men and women.

With these unsettled thoughts, the midday hour closes and I pick up my chair and walk back down the lane to the heart of the farm. The sounds of the chorus fade.

Rounding the last bend, I ignore the muttering of the audience and pretend the oracle’s prophecy was wrong. Blinded, I reenter this modern life.


Reading this weekend: Cottage Economy, by William Cobbett

10 thoughts on “A Farm Breviary: Sext

  1. I think I was already eight the first time I ever saw a team working. A team of mules, harnessed to a molasses mill. This would have been a bit closer to your end of the planet than where I presently reside. I’m thinking we were in far western Kentucky, likely within several miles of the river. Sweet sorghum stems were being fed into the mill in the center of the ring traversed by the mules. There was quite the smell in the air – very sweet and thick like the molasses itself. It was so warm that day, workers carrying the very long stems in for processing were soaked in the sweat of a meaningful day’s employment.

    It’s interesting (to me) I recall the sight so vividly – given the time (over 50 years) since I witnessed this. I also recall how wrapped up in it my father was. I’m sure he’d seen this before – and likely had even helped when he was younger. Half his motivation I’m sure was so that his boys could see something it was obvious even then would become something unknown in too little time.

    Thanks for sharing the conversation with the neighbor. He and my father would have had a great time sharing stories.

    • What an excellent memory, Clem, of your father. I’ve watched something similar up at Muddy Pond, TN (a Mennonite community up on the Cumberland Plateau). You should haul the kin up there next time you are in the area. They mill their sorghum in late summer.

      • I think they have a you-tube video of the Muddy Pond operation – and you may be onto something there. I’ll show them the video first and if it engenders any interest… off we’ll go.

        By way of a small coincidence I had an opportunity to help on a research project in Nebraska where sweet sorghum was being grown to accumulate some background data on productivity, sugar content, costs, etc to look into using sweet sorghum as a renewable energy source (the sugar made into ethanol). Grain sorghum is more commonly grown on dryland acres of the high plains so the thought to go with sweet sorghum for energy made some sense. It didn’t end up going anywhere (oh, we didn’t use mules… that’s probably why it didn’t pencil out).

  2. Round here, the people who apparently think of themselves as the preeminent custodians of the land recently received an anonymous tip that a strange, possibly illegal, structure had been erected on my property. They sent a low-level bureaucrat to investigate. Who was told the structure was called a fence, and was there to keep deer and boar off the vegetable beds.
    Let’s see what trouble that will get me into.

    The all-seeing eye will punish you for what it sees.
    I’m looking forward to my hedges being dense enough to compost tipsters in their duff.

  3. A truck came and tipped the firebird’s ashes onto my Taj Mahal Redux lawn.
    It then retreated to leave the rest to me, expecting me to tip exactly 5-7 wheelbarrows of feathery dust onto each bed.
    I have not found a tipster’s notebook in the pile yet, but that may be because the mice have taken it away, to rat on me later on.

Any thoughts or questions?