Things Are Not Like They Were

The machine shed is damp,
the dirt floor milled to powder
from years of boot and tractor
and machine traffic.
I look for the spade
I used when I was young,
when my grandfather said dig
and I dug holes
the depth I’d been taught
so the posts would stand,
hold the miles of barbed and hog wire
dividing our ground…
Dig, he would say,
and all morning, afternoon,
until it rained, until dark,
until I couldn’t lift the spade and grub
and he said enough,
I dug through dry brown
until it turned yellow clay
or black earth caked
to the tip of the steel. He taught me to measure
strength by depth,
narrow the hole around the oiled post,
and sturdy the line he’d laid
before I was old enough
to blister from work,
acquire the knowledge of straight,
of strength, cool soil,
rusted staples and splintered wood,
the knowledge of bending spikes
new, splicing wire,
swinging a hammer down hard,
the ache from hours of digging,
calloused hands and sunburn.
He trained me to rake,
tamp, stomp, pack dirt and clay,
the weight of the earth around the post,
its strength into the line.
Now the hammers, pliers and cutters are gone.
No rolls of wire hang from the beams.
No boxes of staples and spikes jam the shelves.
The tamping stick is broken.
Someone has wrapped duct tape around the spade handle;
the steel has rusted brown and rough;
a crack climbs from the tip to the mud-caked neck.
He would say it is useless,
that things are not like they were,
and I could repeat his words
but I have left the machine shed;
my hands have lost their calloused ridges;
my sweat, strain and ache are buried…
~Curtis Bauer from “A Fence Line Running Through It”
The old farmers in our county are dying off,
the ones who remember
when horse and human muscle provided the power
instead of diesel engines.
They have climbed down off their tractors
and into their beds
for a good night’s sleep
and stay good asleep.
Their machine sheds are cleared
in an auction,
their animals trucked away
for butcher,
their fence lines leaning
yet the corner posts,
set solid and sure in the hard ground,
keep standing
when the old farmer no longer does.
These old farmers knew hard work.
knew there were no days off
no shirking duty,
knew if anyone was going to do
what needed doing
it was them,
no one else.
Things are not like they were
though the strong posts remain,
ready to hold up another fence line,
showing a new generation
of farmers
what hard work yields.

One thought on “Things Are Not Like They Were

  1. Thank you, Emily, for an honest, poignant look back at one of our national treasures – our family farms..

    Like many other former ways of life that we have abandoned in the name of ‘progress,’ farming has been co-opted by outside greed-driven multinational corporations usually referred to as ‘agribusiness.’ Most prominent among these corporations are Cargill, Monsanto, Con/Agra, and Nestle.

    Small and mid-sized farmers cannot compete economically so they are squeezed out, forced to sell to these corporations or to enter into contract farming agreements that strip them of their autonomy and disregard their knowledge and experience. The dire result of these actions has resulted in the loss of family farms and an honorable, life-giving way of life that have sustained us since this country was founded. The methods used by these corporations include, among others:

    -intimidation by forced use of poisonous pesticides and genetically modified seeds
    -feeding livestock and poultry antibiotics and growth hormones
    -inhumane practices in feedlots and cramped animal pens during growth periods and just prior to slaughter.

    Each of these practices, and more, directly affect the food that we put into our bodies, the long-term effect of which we may never know – until it is too late.

    We are now at the mercy of these corporations because they shape our government’s food supply through special interest groups, paid lobbyists and political backing of our elected legislators. The actions and influence of these corporations dominate the world’s food system and have created an unsustainable system of production and distribution. At the personal level they have destroyed a way of life for millions of Americans. At the global level, in times of catastrophic famine anywhere in the world, the United States farmers were the first to respond to the call. Can we expect the same from agribusiness?


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