Thursday, February 25, 2010

Corn Cutters

"Boys," Mat says, "It was a hot day. There wasn't a breeze anywhere in that bottom that would have moved a cobweb. It was punishing." He is telling Elton and Andy.
It was a long time ago. Mat was only a boy yet, though he was nearly grown. His Uncle Jack hired him to help chop out a field of tall corn in a creek bottom. It was hot and still, and the heat stood close around them as they worked. They felt they needed to tiptoe to get enough air.
Mat thought he could not stand it any longer, and then he stood it a little longer, and they reached the end of the row.
"Let's go sink ourselves in the creek," Jack said.
They did. They hung their sweated clothes on the willows in the sun to dry, and sank themselves in the cool stream up to their noses. It was a good hole, deep and shady, with the sound of the riffles above and below, and a kingfisher flying in and seeing them and flying away. All the afternoon when they got too hot, they went there.
"Well sir," Mat says, "it made that hard day good. I thought of all the times I'd worked in that field, hurrying to get through, to get to a better place, and it had been there all the time. I can't say I've always lived by what I learned that day -- I wish I had -- but I've never forgot."
"What?" Andy says.
"That it was there all the time."
"Redemption, " Mat says, and laughs. "A little flowing stream."
-Wendell Berry, from Remembering

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"We didn't know any better."

That's what mom would tell me every time I asked her how she and her family managed to eke out a living on the northern-ish prairie in post World War 2 Iowa.

I suppose you could interpret it to mean that these backward farmers were too stupid and unaware to realize they didn't have to raise livestock and can tomatoes in order to skimp through the winter, that they could get "real" jobs that didn't involve backbreaking labor and ridiculous hours. (What are those jobs again?) That they could go to college and lead lives of relative ease and leisure. (Some did go away to college; most came back even better well-read farmers.)

Or you could be more generous and conclude that that was simply their life, the one handed to them by their parents, and their parents before them; it's just who they were and what they did. They didn't really have a choice, as such.

Not me. The more I think about how brutal north central Iowa winters can be, and how pungent the poop of 2 dozen pigs and cows can be, and how the kitchen garden wasn't hidden behind the homestead but was planted as close to the road as possible, as large as possible, in order to show your pride and thrift in running a farmhouse to your neighbors -- the more I consider the notion, they really didn't know any better. What could be better than participating in a system of growing and sustaining things that in and of themselves begin not only to sustain themselves but also the small universe around them? Horses eat oats, horses poop, cows eat grass, cows poop, poop goes on the fields (and the garden) to grow vegetables and, well, oats, horses eat more oats and work the fields used to grow oats, corn, beans, tomatoes (obviously).

Chickens forage, lay eegs, get fat and delicious from the "wild" grasses and fruits and whatnot they come across, they brown up nicely in the oven or crisp in the shortening-laden frying pan, served with just-picked russets and asparagus (in April, of course).

You get the picture. I.e., poop really is a beautiful thing.

Hard to believe it's already been a year. Exactly a year yesterday evening at 5:50 PM. I think I miss her now more than I did a year ago.

Funny. It's all in the hands of some title company in Cincinnati, not exactly known for its, what, alacrity with regard to foreclosed properties. But I did promise her during her last breaths that I'd move up there and protect my nieces and nephews from their parents. And even in her compromised condition at the time, I'm convinced within myself that she of all people knew I was only half-joking.

Payback may be a bitch, but redemption is the bastard everybody pretends to like but forgets to talk to.

Not me. I'm all but yelling in its face. Go figure.