Things Are Not Like They Were

 fencerow
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.
mistyfence

Keeping Watch

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I will try.
I will step from the house to see what I see and hear and I will praise it…

But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again…
~Mary Oliver from “Red Bird”

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The Farm Dream

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This time of year our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold.  The cherry orchard blossoms yield to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass.  By mid-June, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM.   So many hours of light to work with!  I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book.  Instead the lawnmower and weed whacker call my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded.  It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this.  It’s just that nothing we do is enough.  Blackberry brambles have taken over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles spread on the fields in May are growing exponentially again.  The fences always need fixing.  The stall doors are sticking and not closing properly.  Foals have gotten large and strong without having the good halter lessons they needed when they were much smaller and easier to control.   The supply of bedding shavings is non-existent due to the depressed lumber industry, so our shavings shed is bare and old hay is now serving as bedding in the stalls. The weather has become iffy in the last week so no string of days has been available for hay cutting– we are low on the priority list of the local dairy man who cuts and bales our hay,  so we may not have anything but junk hay in the barn this winter in a year when hay will cost a premium.  No one is buying horses in this economy, not even really well bred horses, so we are no longer breeding our stallion and mares, and for the first time in 18 years, have made the painful decision not to be part of our regional fair.

Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.

We have spent many years dreaming about the farm as we hoped it would be.  We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful.  Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe.  We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 25 year old hand me down truck with almost 200,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming as well as a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year.  Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents.  We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup.  The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything.  We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses.   Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.

And our house would always stay clean.

Dream on.  Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes.   I know ours is.  Yet here we be and here we stay.

It’s home.  We’ve raised three wonderful children here.  We’ve bred and grown good horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields.  We breathe clean air and daily hear dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven.  Eagles land in the trees in our front yard. It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm.  I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality.  Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older.   Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.

We have been blessed with one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between.  This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.

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