Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fifty Acres and a Fool: The Man NOT Born to Farming

Wendell Berry, the erudite farmer, novelist, poet, and essayist of rural Kentucky, has written one of my favorite poems.  It's titled "The Man Born to Farming" --

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?

I admire that poem (and Berry) mightily.  But alas, even though I live on fifty acres of farmland that my wife Nancy and I (along with the help of various family, foresters, and occasional volunteers over the past eight years) have been turning from pastureland and production agriculture into forest and prairie, I am not "The Man Born to Farming."

Quite the opposite, it seems.  Until 8 years ago, I had never lived on a farm.  I grew up in the city and love it.  I still work in the city.  And love it.

But, for reasons that mostly God only knows, I have found myself entrusted with the care of this particular parcel of land.  And so many of my hours are spent on a John Deere or fixing some implement or battling invasive species -- in other words, acting like a farmer. 

I, and others, have been slow to recognize that role.  Even Nancy, recently, when I said that I was not a man born to farming, said, "You're not a farmer.  You don't raise anything that feeds anyone."  

Count on a farm girl to humble a city boy.

But I disagree.  I do grow something that feeds someone.  The 10,000 plus trees we've planted feed the atmosphere with good oxygen, the berries and nut trees feed all kinds of wild life, the prairie grasses and wildflowers feed the bees and butterflies and other of God's creatures.

And, and the end of day when what I call farming comes to an end and nothing has broken (including my glasses or nose), the work of my uncalloused hands feeds me, too.

This latter point has come as a major surprise.

Because, as I said, I am NOT the man born to farming.  And yet, a-farming I am.  

It sets me to musing.  Sometimes to grumbling.  Sometimes to prayer.  Sometimes to question.  

Today it has set me to resting.  The past few weeks have been filled with planting prairie, splitting wood, spraying thistle and brush honeysuckle, repairing equipment (why does it always break right in the middle of a job?!), mowing, and ...   But not today.  If I have learned anything from my life of faith, if not from farming, it is that even the first Farmer took a break occasionally.  "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." (Genesis 2:1-3)

So I'm taking a sabbath.  A light drizzle, and the fact that it is First-day (as we Quakes call Sunday) reminded me of my need for rest and God's setting that example.  So now, in the early afternoon after Meeting for Worship, I find myself sitting with my feet up, a John Deere blanket around my old legs, and watching a red-headed woodpecker make trips to the bird feeder attached to the picture window across the room from my chair.  Even Mr. Woodpecker is taking a day off.  Instead of knocking his head against a tree, he's eating out today.  Taking it easy.

Sweet rest.  Time to cease from my "not farming" and relax.  Pour another ginger ale, maybe read a book, maybe nap.

Ah, there is that pump on the sprayer that needs fixing.  It'll wait until tomorrow. Thanks be to God.

-- Brent


Unknown said...

It was good to read this today - My father was a man 'born to farming', yet worked in the city for a good 35 years. I asked him once why he went to University instead of choosing to farm. He told me that he had no one to leave him a farm. So when he retired from his city job, at 63 or so, he bought 200 acres near in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario and raised Simmental cattle for about 10 years. I remember two reflections he had on that: - one was that it was almost 10 years before he could read a book mid-afternoon and not feel guilty. The other was that the farm kept him going. There were mornings when he would have preferred to stay in bed, and tending to the cattle moved him up and out. My Dad grew up with Quaker grandparents and throughout his life, when he had a difficult decision to make, would sit in his grandmother's chair for awhile, then pace up and down saying quietly, Faith (looking up) and Practice (looking ahead and down), until he had discerned way forward. So thank you, Brent, for this memory today.

Unknown said...

Sorry for being 'unknown' - learning the process

Brent Bill said...

Well, they say confession is good for the soul, so let me confess. After writing this, and a brief nap, my buddy Dan called and said he thought he could fix my sprayer pump. So I took it off the sprayer, headed to his place and sure enough -- he healed it. And fixed the old pump, to boot. It's always good to have competent friends when you're mechanically inept!