Monday, July 27, 2009

One Picture

At first glance this photo reveals storm clouds and an average countryside. It’s a typical rural scene; and for the most part, quite boring. Except that it isn’t just any old landscape picture. Not to me.

Facing west from our front porch is a panoramic view that speaks volumes of life in the country. The seasons are measured by which tractors are in use at the moment, and time is marked out in three year cycles by the ever rotating crops just on the edge of our yard. Spring winds ripple the green wheat like waves on a lake. For a few brief weeks fireflies fill the dusk with glitter. Sultry summer heat hovers over the soybeans like a palpable cloud and the clock visibly slows. The cicadas shout their glee during the day and the crickets echo it at night. Finally a cooling gust rustles and crackles through the dry corn stalks foretelling a brief rest and time for celebration during the coming winter months. Each change brings with it a host of rich sensory pleasures that defy planning or being organized into life, but are simply experienced with joyful abandon when they present themselves. Free from manmade constraints like train schedules and traffic lights, farm life flows with the pulse of the earth.

The unobstructed view offers up the sights of roiling storm clouds sweeping across the land and sunsets so vivid they bring tears to your eyes. The wide open spaces also bring winds that tear the spit right out of your mouth and rattle the pictures in the upstairs hallway. In the spring, before the crops cover the soil, the wind carries the dust in through the open windows where it settles in fine layers over every horizontal surface it can find.

A little over six years ago, all of this ground was planted in soybeans. After several years of dreaming and planning, we dug a hole and built a house that we love and hope to grow old in. We have to stay here. We planted lots of little trees and we want to watch them grow up. We want to enjoy their shade. Someday we hope that they will block a little of that wind. In the meantime, we’re learning to work with our windy environment and plant lots of sturdy prairie wildflowers instead of fussier hybrids. The yellow patch outside the fence is a perfect testimony to the endurance of native plants. Before the house was finished, or the lawn seeded, I threw out a handful of seeds in the corner of the yard. Nothing happened. The grass grew in and I began the ritual of mowing. For three years I mowed; first with a riding tractor which took more than four hours to mow our three acres. I learned a great deal from that mowing. My Father in Law then gifted us with a John Deere Zero Turn Hydrostatic mower and the weekly task of grooming our grass started taking only 2 hours and became almost a pleasure. At least, it did after I learned how to handle the thing without mowing down our baby trees. Shortly after the arrival of the new mower, I noticed some strange leaves in the grass as I sped past. Upon closer examination, they revealed themselves to be in the Cone flower family and I remembered the casually flung seeds. Several weeks of avoiding the patch rewarded us with a mass of bright yellow Mexican Hats. That patch has been joined by several others now and all of them are fair game for the girls’ flower picking delight.

Memories of family come flooding into mind; everyone flocking together to build that fence and celebrate a special birthday at the same time. There were brothers and fathers and In-Laws digging holes, driving posts and stretching fence. The women chased children and dogs, cooked and cleaned a little and were extremely pampered by the hiring of maids and a chef. There were tractor rides, games of corn hole, and a clay pigeon shoot. Lots of presents were opened, and even more pictures were taken. Hard work, good food and simple entertainment working hand in hand to draw us closer together. And now the dog spends far more time tagging along with Grandpa on the farm or following the kids around than he ever does inside the fence.

On the horizon, just left of center is a white farmhouse belonging to friends, family, neighbors, and piano teacher; all rolled into one. One of the occupants grew up in the house when it was located five miles down the road. Several years ago, he purchased it and we watched as they jacked it onto a truck, hauled it down the road and across a field to its new location just around the corner from us. In fact, every house in that picture holds either relatives or friends. In the country, there are no strangers.

The power lines visible in the distance, while barely recognizable, are the very same power lines that showered deadly sparks on Jerry Shaw and Rachel Holloman on “Route 126” in the film Eagle Eye. Once again, the country bumpkins watched from their porches as the filming crew set up base in the parking lot of the Lutheran church and busily drove their white vans back and forth and flew their helicopters around and even recruited a few locals as stand ins. We purchased the movie as soon as it was available; not because it’s a dramatic movie in which world wide disaster is averted by a few unlikely characters who find the strength deep within themselves in the eleventh hour. No, we bought it because in that one scene we can see a portion of our wheat field digitally preserved for all time.

So this isn’t just a boring picture snapped on a whim. It is a flood of memories brimming with love of family and the joys of nature. And it’s exactly a thousand words.


  1. I think your trailname should be Half Pint. :-)

    I love the prairie and loved visiting it in person after the many years of loving it through description. I drank in the sunshine, the flowers, the animals, the sounds and smells. I imagined the winters and the strong wind. I pondered the history and the people who have lived there. We experienced the rain, thunder and lightening like I never had before. Yes, the prairie and I enjoy a long distance love affair.

    Thanks for the thousand words. They are awesome, my friend.

  2. This so reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and her descriptions! I just loved driving across the prairie and just soaking in the sights on our big field trip.


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