We spent the better part of the day chopping corn on the north slope of my neighbor’s farm. He drives the tractor with the old John Deere 35 and I drive beside him in my truck pulling the dump trailer behind me. The fields are set on a north facing slope with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. The trees are giving off the first color of the season and from a distance the russet tones have overtaken the deep greens of only a week ago. Each pass between rows requires that the truck maintain a distance of less than two feet between the chopper and the trailer that catches the silage as it flies out of the blower. We installed two pieces of plywood standing on end to catch the spray of shredded material, but to hit it precisely the speed and the interval must be maintained to within a tolerance of inches at a speed of five miles an hour on a fifteen degree incline across a field filled with buried boulders and hidden declivities. I have learned to use the passenger side mirror as a my sight and the model number of the tractor as the target. The chute that serves as the ejection port can be operated by hand to adjust for height while the tractor is in motion, but only if my neighbor looks back over his shoulder while driving. To avoid colliding requires a constant state of intense concentration on both our parts; to do the job properly, to catch every bit of the corn in the trailer requires something more, a complete trust in the abilities of each operator to do exactly what is needed, what is necessary. This is our third year working together on this project and each year we refine the chore based on the conditions of the field and the weight of the corn at harvest. In the end we clear his field for tilling and I am able to put seven acres of high protein feed away for Winter, both of us better for our combined efforts.
We had a very dry Summer and the forage this year was not as good as it should have been but we managed to keep the animals fat and happy by managing their grazing carefully. The final calving tally was our best yet and the herds and flocks have grown into a number that allows us to sell one or two when things get tight and not suffer the loss. There is a cycle that is becoming clearer, year by year, and in it I am starting to sense something much more profound than the old world we inhabited, though I cannot say exactly what it is. I would love to say with conviction that God is playing a role in our lives and using our combined efforts to help us discover Him, but I don’t want to lie to myself. Maybe there is nothing to it at all, but I can’t say that either. There is revolution in the purest sense of the word, a greater turning from season to season, year to year that manifests itself in everything I do and whatever the engine is that drives it, it does so with the same intensity and purpose as our turns around the cornfield.
Yesterday my oldest son dropped by in the morning to lend me a hand with cord wood. I cut blocks from the stack of hardwood trunks I had stacked by the trout pond last Winter while he operated the wood splitter. We worked together at a good pace, processing about a cord an hour until he finally asked if we could take a break for lunch. I sent him up to the house to get something for the both of us while I took over on the splitter. The wood was bone dry splitting into clean blocks of quartered firewood; cherry, beech, birch, maple, oak and ash, each one bearing the distinctive coloration and grain of its species. When I cut the logs I took the time to remove the burls and the branch holes to use later on the lathe. The spray of chips from the chainsaw cover the ground and serve as future soil along the edge of the pond. Every so often a fish breaks the surface to grab at a late season insect that has fallen there, concentric ripples spreading outward until they dissipate. No matter how often I look up from my work I am always stunned by the beauty of it all, the soft maples blazing scarlet amidst the golden flutter of poplar leaves, the cattle grazing in the upper pasture heads looking towards me with an occasional lowing bouncing off the terraced hillsides. The temperatures have been unseasonably mild in the past few weeks and with the exception of an early frost a couple of weeks ago, it has been nearly perfect weather for working outdoors. Between the wood orders and the last of the fence line going in there has been precious little time for anything else, with darkness creeping up on us earlier and earlier as the days go by.
We’ve stocked away a large store of winter squash, bags of dried mushrooms, sweet corn, freezers full of sausages and smoked meats like bacon and hams against a Winter that looks, to my eyes at least, just over the horizon. Outside of our life the world limps on around us, I see it every time I leave the farm to drive into the Capitol to renew a license or pay an annual fee to someone for something as required by law. There are the seemingly endless knots of adults wandering around in the middle of the day with nothing to do, the increasingly obvious signs of economic dissolution in shuttered stores and FOR RENT signs emblazoned on practically every commercial business I pass. When I stop in to buy a new pair of boots or work pants I am shocked by the price hike from not my youth, but in the last year. Every part I need for equipment repair requires not only a deposit, but an increasingly longer wait between order and fulfillment and in most cases, for whatever reason I find that the first attempt almost always delivers the wrong part, the incorrect size, or the dreaded excuse that it is “out of stock”. These days I make pieces by hand, reconfigure or trade with someone who has what I’m looking for locally. Our old Asplundh wood chipper, a monstrous chuck and duck, seized last week so we pulled out the Ford 6 cylinder engine and set it on the work table in the hay barn to rebuild. Out of curiosity I priced a new engine and it was more than twenty times the cost of a rebuild with a ten week wait, payment required in advance. For less than three hundred in parts we will have it back in operation by Sunday.
There are times when I ask myself what I can do about the world we are living in, about how far off course we seem to have gone in so many ways, but then I refocus on the things I can do and set about getting them done. After our lunch my son and I loaded the same trailer that held the chopped corn with firewood and drove the delivery to a home that sat above the lake. We usually drop the load in the driveway for the owners to put away, but this one had requested that we stack it in the woodshed and so we spent a good hour and half in the thick, humid air placing each stick of firewood with care until the shed was packed tightly with seasoned cord wood. We talked about a lot of things; F.Scott Fitzgerald, Klezmer music, his latest girlfriend, why 7th grade was important, favorite foods. The work was steady and so was the pace of our conversation and before we left I thanked him for his help and he thanked me for letting him. I watched him drive off down the long lane that led to that house on the hill and I stood there as the first of the long awaited rain began to fall, thinking that I had done just about everything I could to improve the world we live in. Outside of that I’ve got nothing else to offer. There is a season for everything, there is growth, death and rot and what goes up must come down. The leaves, like the long looping circles we drove harvesting corn, were turning yet again and down below the woodshed the lake slowly vanished before my eyes as the downpour intensified and I thought for just a moment about Gatsby standing on that dock, facing the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.