Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A lot has been said about the current median age of the average American farmer.

We're all supposed to be shaking in our boots 'cause its somewhere around 60 years old.

The future of farming, it is often said, rests with the young. A conservative statement at best. A dull one at least.

Sometimes I wonder about the inherent antagonism that exists between generations...especially on a farm, where a man's identity is literally spelled out in windrows, fencelines, and fields. Lately it has struck me that there must always be some kind of gritty friction, high expectation, and hard won camaraderie between the old and young farmer. Friction to sharpen the senses, different expectations in each....the older farmer expecting work ethic and lively wits in the young, and the beginning farmer expecting the tried and true proverbs of experience and some kind of leg up from the seasoned hand.

Haying time is pure magic. The old hay-farmer a magician. I suspect that the men and boys and women helping with the harvest become younger by years than they are as they spin dried grass and clover into cash. The heavy repeated actions of grabbing bales and stacking them high on the wagon as the baler plods on down the windrows is a kind grown-up re-enactment of Rumpelstiltskin. And everybody, sweaty, sticky, covered in scratchy bits of grass heaves to with a kind of unspoken understanding that this indeed is noble needed work.

Shane and Nathan help Cecil with his haying from time to time, in exchange for some bales for Winter feed on the farms. The more people I meet around here, the more I find that most everyone in the neighborhood has been out haying with Cecil...courting couples, awkward boys, and older men...Greenville's own version of the age old summer ritual.

When I listen to the men receiving the telephone call about haying at 2:00 I smile at the acceptance with which the appointed time is met...its as solid and simply done as Sunday church. There's no question of whether you're going to go. If the grass is ready, you just do.

Walking into the hayfield a few days ago
was like stepping into the 1950s. Plaid shirts, worn ball caps, and cold watermelon from Cecil's "Royal Crown Cola" cooler. The women stood around chatting as the men and boys would take turns leaping on to the two outgoing balers. Machines magical in their methodical maneuverings...spitting out perfectly packed and twined bales...I watched them with the fascination of a newborn. When they had finished one load they'd park it underneath the lone oak tree in the middle of the field. The sight of that simple act created such a desperation in me it choked me with surprise. I suddenly flamed up with this flailing desire to be a great painter, or sculptor, or poet, so that I could manage adequately to capture that unbearably beautiful, utterly ordinary scene which spoke so casual-eloquently the language of gratitude for the sturdy old oak and the first new cutting. In other words:

The visual poem for the

the 60 and 70 something farmer-magicians and the new cutting of farmers beneath their shade.

1 comment:

  1. "the new cutting of farmers beneath their shade" is pure poetry. How you guys can grow pigs, make scones, box up food to feed your neighbors weekly and note observations like the above is beyond me. How lucky we are to benefit from it.