I am temporarily at home in Iowa, visiting the farm where my grandparents and great grandparents have owned the land and raised crops for over 100 years. My parents live there now in retirement, and while somebody else tends the corn and rents the land, they maintain the yard and grow flowers. Retirement is hip deep everywhere around the place. My old retired self and my wife and my kids are all descended upon them just like the butterfly who came to sample the purple flowers on the porch trellis. Little work gets done. My wife and eldest son have jobs and contribute to society still, but we retired folks putter and stutter and watch the butterflies flutter. We watch the kids and the flowers grow.
Watching stuff grow has always pretty much been what farming-family Iowegians do. Corn and soybeans, watermelon, pumpkins. cucumbers, string beans, sweet corn, pop corn, strawberries, potatoes… at one point or another I have helped to plant, tend, harvest, and eat all of those things… well, not seed corn and field soybeans… you can’t directly eat those… but you know what I am talking about, making things grow to feed myself and my family. There is satisfaction in working the land and making things grow… a fundamental feeling of achievement that helps us feel like we are not mere parasites, consuming and wasting and decimating… we build for the future rather than take maximum profit at the present moment. Farmers are the good guys.
Only, not so much any more. For our family farm, with three grandsons (of which I am one) available to do it, none of us have become farmers. The next generation after us includes no farmers either. So that fundamental feeling of achievement is basically a memory now. Only a memory and nothing more. Feeding the world has become somebody else’s problem now. We are watching the flowers grow.
Is there value in old farmers watching the flowers grow? Of course there is! The land is still functioning farm land. Iowa is still the breadbasket of America. We still feed the world. And we who own the land are at least providing the flowers and the nectar necessary to feed butterflies. The beauty, as well as the meaning and the metaphor, is there for anyone who wants to see it.