The Good Earth

Once again the sod has been turned, last year’s stubble now plowed under.  Rows of rich black earth await the disc and harrow.  Soon the seed will be sown, as another cycle of planting, growth and harvest begins.

I caught the end of a half-heard announcement over the radio as I drove home from work past freshly plowed fields at the end of a long week:  Five farms, a series of broadcasts about life on a family farm, to be aired this May.  The first, a Massachusetts dairy farm; then a hog farm in North Carolina; a southwestern Hopi farm in Arizona; a grain and livestock farm in Iowa; and last, a California organic fruit and vegetable farm.  Nearly half the land in the country—a billion acres—is still tended by ranchers and farmers.

The announcement transported me back to boyhood days, when I would occasionally help out on two dairy farms owned and run by families of friends I grew up with.  As a youth I lent a hand milking cows, baling hay, gathering eggs, plowing fields.  The thick-walled limestone farmhouses kept you cool in the heat of summer.  I close my eyes and still recall the spring scent of freshly manured fields and sweet hay drying under hot summer sun.

All this set me to thinking about the land and our connection to it, and that reminded me of a John Steinbeck novel I read in late adolescence entitled To a God Unknown.  When I got home I searched my book shelf; and sure enough there it was, wedged between The Grapes of Wrath and The Wayward Bus.  Of all Steinbeck’s works, this one speaks most poignantly about man’s ties to the earth:

“The spring came richly, and the hills lay deep in grass—emerald green, the rank thick grass…When April came, and warm grass-scented days, the flowers burdened the hills with color, the poppies gold and the lupins blue…And still the rain fell often, until the earth was spongy with moisture…All the flat lands about the houses grew black under the plows, and the orderly, domestic seed sprouted the barley and the wheat.”

Here in New England, recent rains have turned the countryside a luscious green.  Persephone has made her appearance, dancing through the woods and meadows.  In our back yard the hosta has leafed out, the bleeding hearts hang heavy in bloom, forget-me-nots cluster by the fish pond.

I step out onto the porch and survey our verdant quarter acre, a microcosm of those family farms from my youth; draw in a deep breath, and savor that ancient attachment to the good earth.

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