Planting and Poetry

Was working on this year's planting schedule and seed needs the other day; something I always enjoy. There's the anticipation of planting another crop, trying new varieties of seed, getting the seed wagon ready and seeing all the supplies on hand.  Not to mention how much I just enjoy doing the actual field work and smelling the dirt and playing with the machinery!  And then to see it sprout!! It's *very* cool. 


I mentioned to my friend Erica that I was getting seed ordered and made the comment "Yeah, I guess we're going to try it again."—the usual we-didn't-make-any-money-last-year-but-heck-we're-not-broke-yet kind of comment that us farmers are famous for making.


But Erica interpreted it differently. She thought I was tired of farming.   And I sort of stumbled over an explanation. 

Now let me talk about poetry for a second;

I'm not much for poetry. 

I don't understand poetry.

The metaphors and allusions...and what's with the spacing? And lack of punctuation? And lack of capital letters?

But my good friend Jerry Casper who writes poetry himself has taught me not to worry about all that stuff. 

"Was it a good story?" he'll ask.

"Did it make you pause for a moment?"

"Was there something in the poem that you could relate to?"

And keeping that in mind I have found some poems that I like; that really touch me.

Sometimes It's just the turn of a phrase that catches my interest.  All this brings me back to Erica's comment about farming and a poem that sort of explains why I made the comment I did about planting and maybe gives you a little insight into farmers. 

"Coffee Cup Café," by Linda Hasselstrom from Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land (Fulcrum Press).

Coffee Cup Café

Soon as the morning chores are done,
cows milked, pigs fed, kids packed
off to school, it's down to the café
for more coffee and some soothing

"If it don't rain pretty soon, I'm
just gonna dry up and blow away."
"Dry? This ain't dry. You don't know
how bad it can get. Why, in the Thirties
it didn't rain any more than this for
(breathless pause) six years."

"I heard Johnson's lost ninety head of calves
in that spring snowstorm. They
were calving and heading for home
at the same time and they just walked
away from them."

"Yeah and when the cows
got home, half of them died
of pneumonia."

"I ain't had any hay on me since that hail
last summer; wiped out my hay crop, all
my winter pasture, and then the drouth
this spring. Don't know what I'll do."

"Yeah, but this is nothing yet.
Why in the Thirties the grasshoppers came
like hail and left nothing green on the ground.
They ate fenceposts, even. And the dust, why
it was deep as last winter's snow drifts,
piled against the houses. It ain't bad here yet,
and when it does come, there won't be so many of us
having coffee."

So for an hour they cheer each other, each story
worse than the last, each face longer. You'd think
they'd throw themselves under their tractors
when they leave, but they're bouncy as a new calf,
caps tilted fiercely into the sun.

They feel better, now they know
somebody's having a harder time
and that men like them
can take it.

I like that poem…just feels right. I can relate… This poem came in ‘The Writers Almanac’ from Minnesota Public Radio on a day I was feeling pretty depressed about farming… the radiator on my 4020 tractor had blown up and taken a few other parts with it and I’d just gotten home from Plainview trying to decide if I should fix it and keep it or if it was time to actually trade it in – which I’d been talking about doing for many, many months. I was still milking cows then and prices sucked. I didn’t have any money; how could I even be thinking about buying a new (or even different) tractor?? Roughly $1000 for parts to repair mine and keep it. Or I could buy a beat up John Deere with loader for $35,500 or new CaseIH and loader for $30,000.

Eventually I fixed the John Deere myself, sold it at an auction a month later and a month after that found a really nice tractor and loader in Wisconsin.

2005 was a weird year for crops. It was hot and dry in June and July. My oat crop stank but I sold some straw. Soybeans were good and corn was really variable depending on your soils. I have some rocky ground without much topsoil in places and in those places the corn wilted up and didn’t produce anything. In other places with deeper heavy soils the corn did pretty good. But my total average on corn for the farm was about 90 bushels / acre. Sold at $1.51 bushel… not much in other words… doesn’t really pay for fuel, fertilizer, chemicals, combining, hauling, drying…

But, I guess I’ll try it again this year… might be a better year… could be worse you know…


My old 4020
Radiator Art
Our shiny new tractor

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