Category Archives: farming

The Real Magic in that Old Home Town

Rowan, Iowa… Not the place I was born, but the place where I got to be a stupid kid, and have the lessons of the good and god-fearing life hammered into my head hard enough to make a dent and make it stay with me for more than half a century. I got to go to grade school there. I learned to read there, especially in Miss Mennenga’s third and fourth grade class. Especially in that old copy of Treasure Island with the N.C, Wyeth illustrations in it, the one Grandma Aldrich kept in the upstairs closet in their farm house. I got to see my first naked girl there. I learned a lot of things about sex from my friends there, and none of them were true. I played 4-H softball there, and made a game-saving catch in center field… in the same game where my cousin Bob hit the game-winning home run. But those were things kids did everywhere. It didn’t make me special. There was no real magic in it.

Being a farm-kid’s kid taught me the importance of doing your chores, every day and on time. If you didn’t do them, animals could get sick, animals could die, crops could be spoiled, the chickens could get angry and petulant and peck your hands when you tried to get the eggs. Cows could get grumpy and kick the milk bucket. Cats could vow revenge if you didn’t direct a spray or two at their little faces as they lined up to watch you milk the cows. And you never knew for sure what a vengeful cat might do to you later, as cats were evil. They might jump on the keyboard during your piano recital. They might knock the turkey stuffing bowl off the top of the dryer when Mom and Grandma and several aunts were cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. And I know old black Midnight did that on purpose because he got to snatch some off the floor before it could be reached by angry aunts with brooms and dustpans. And all of it was your fault if it all led back to not doing your chores, and not doing them exactly right.

But, even though we learned responsibility and work ethic from our chores, that was not the real home-town magic either. I wasn’t technically a real farm kid. Sure, I picked up the eggs in the chicken house at Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm more than once. And I did, in fact, help with milking machines and even milking cows by hand and squirting cats in the faces at Uncle Donny’s farm. I walked beans, going up and down the rows to pull and chop weeds out of the bean fields at Uncle Larry’s farm. I drove a tractor at Great Uncle Alvin’s farm. But I didn’t have to do any of those things every single day. My mother and my father both grew up on farms. But we lived in town. So, my work ethic was probably worth only a quarter of what the work ethic of any of my friends in school was truly worth. I was a bum kid by comparison. Gary G. and Kevin K, both real farm kids and older than me, explained this to me one day behind the gymnasium with specific examples and fists.

Being a farm kid helped to forge my character. But that was really all about working hard, and nothing really to do with magic.

I truly believe the real magic to be found in Rowan, Iowa, my home town, was the fact that it was boring. It was a sleepy little town, that never had any real event… well, except maybe for a couple of monster blizzards in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Bicentennial parade and tractor pull on Main Street in 1976, and a couple of costume contests in the 1960’s held in the Fire Station where I had really worked hard on the costumes, a scarecrow one year, and an ogre the next, where I almost won a prize. But nothing that changed history or made Rowan the center of everything.

And therein lies the magic. I had to look at everything closely to find the things and strategies that would take me to the great things and places where I wanted to end up. I learned to wish upon a star from Disney movies. I learned about beauty of body and soul from the girls that I grew up with, most of them related. And I invented fantastical stories with the vivid imagination I discovered lurking in my own stupid head. I embarrassed Alicia Stewart by telling everyone that I could prove she was a Martian princess, kidnapped and brought to Earth by space pirates that only I knew how to defeat. And I learned to say funny things and make people laugh… but in ways that didn’t get me sent to the principal’s office in school. Yes, it was the magic of my own imagination. And boring Iowa farm towns made more people with magic in them than just me. John Wayne was one. Johnny Carson was one also. And have you heard of Elijah Wood? Or the painter Grant Wood? Or the actress Cloris Leachman?

Yep. We were such stuff as dreams were made on in small towns in Iowa. And that is real magic.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 12

Canto Twelve – Mom Matters

“Honey, I’m not trying to be mean to you or anything,” Valerie’s Mom said so that Valerie was clearly meant to understand that she was about to be very mean, but she wasn’t trying to.  “You have to tell us where you are going and what you are doing… and who you are doing it with.”

“Oh, Mom.  I’m not a baby anymore!  You need to trust me.”

“I do trust you.  I just don’t trust everyone you’ve been hanging around with in town.”

“You don’t trust Mary Philips?”

“Oh, I trust Mary fine, I…”

“Is it Pidney you don’t trust?  He’s a football hero, you know.”

“Pidney is fine too, I…”

“Ray Zeffer?  You don’t like Ray Zeffer?”

“I’m sure he’s a fine young man, but…”

“Then you don’t like Danny?  He’s practically my best friend.  He ain’t a girl like Jane and Wanda, or my cousin Stacy, but I can actually talk to Danny!”

“Valerie Elaine Clarke!  You are jumping to conclusions again.  You need to let me talk.”

Mom looked out the kitchen window at the table in the yard where Daddy Kyle and Uncle Dash were in serious discussion.  It was farm talk.  But it did seem an awful lot like older brother, Dash Clarke, was seriously lecturing younger brother, Kyle Clarke, about something that was seriously upsetting to both men.  Was that worry on Mom’s face?  Valerie wasn’t sure whether it was worry for Valerie, or worry for Daddy Kyle.  But she was sure it was worry-wart levels of worrying.

“You do realize,” Mom said, “that Conrad Doble is a lot older than you are.”

“Yes, Mom, I know.”

“And you know he was in trouble with the law?  He was involved in that whole wolf-dog thing when those attack dogs killed poor old Mrs. White.”

“Yes, I know.  But I don’t even like creepy old King Leer.  I try to stay away from him.”

“He’s a part of that club thing that Mary Philips is stirring up again.”

“You mean the Pirates?  We are a 4-H Club softball team, Mom.  They want me to play second base.”

“It’s a long time before summer softball comes around.  And you don’t understand what it was like before when those Pirates were making trouble in the 70’s.”

“Mom, Brent was the leader of the Pirates then.”

“Well, yes.  And your cousin is a fine young man now.  But the Pirates tell such weird stories and get into such weird situations.”

“Werewolves and an undead Chinese wizard, huh?”

“Now, you know I don’t believe any of those stories were true.  It’s just that…”

“You know that Torrie Brownfield had that hair disease that made hair grow all over his body.  He was an awful lot like a werewolf!”

“Okay, but that’s not what I’m trying to say right now.  That Doble boy is not trustworthy.  He is capable of some very bad things.  Maybe even drugs.”

“Believe me, I know, Mom.  But I can take care of myself.  And Pidney and Ray have both told King Leer to leave me alone or they would beat the snot out of him.”

Valerie’s Mom gave a brief chuckle.  “Pidney could do it too,” she said.  “Doble would be black and blue all over.   I have great respect for Pidney Breslow’s football muscles.  It’s just that…”

“I know.  When a girl reaches a certain age…  You know I had this talk with Daddy too.”

“Yes, well…”

At that moment, Daddy Kyle and Uncle Dash came storming in to the kitchen, the screen door making a sound almost like a gunshot as it slammed closed behind Uncle Dash.

“That goddam agent lied to me, Dash!” Kyle shouted.  “He promised me more time, and now he doesn’t even admit what he actually said to me before.  He shook my hand on it!”

“But he’s a government man, Kyle!  You should’ve known better than to trust the goddam FHA like that.  They wanted a chance to foreclose from the very start!”

Mom’s eyes were large and frightened as she looked at Daddy Kyle for answers, and Valerie was sure her own eyes were also.

“Kyle?”  Mom sputtered, “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, it’s the goddam FHA… er,” Kyle looked at both Mom and Valerie and appeared to finally register the big scared eyes.  “Um, it is something we should discuss later.  Not in front of the Princess.”

Uncle Dash suddenly quieted himself as well.  “Yeah, um… we’re not done yet, Kyle.  But I promised Dad I would look after all of it before he died.  I am not going to go back on my word.  We’ll find a way.  I just wish you hadn’t accepted those last two loans.”

“It takes money to farm, Dash.  You know I didn’t plan on the hail or the combine breaking down so soon.”

“Hell, I know you didn’t, Kyle.  We will find a way.”

Uncle Dash looked grim.  Daddy Kyle looked sad.   Valerie walked up to him and hugged him around the middle.  She didn’t know why, but she knew it was a very important thing to do just then.  And Mom was looking at her and nodding ever so slightly.  Not everything Valerie did was wrong.

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Hope Comes From Science

Of late I have been rather obsessed with the coming darkness. Death. Ragnarok. Mass extinction of all life on Earth. My own situation as a pessimist quickly approaching the end of my own personal life has probably colored my obsession to a very large degree. And I should point out, my own prognosis is not going to change for the better. I do not have the financial power to prevent the problems I already have using modern effective healthcare. I am personally doomed. But even though the whole world seems easily as doomed by climate change, that doesn’t mean everyone shares my sad fate. There are potential solutions to the problem that only require the people who do have the financial power to fix it to decide that life on Earth has more value than their personal wealth and privilege. (Uh-oh… there’s a dependence on goodness where it seems like none actually exists.)

I often turn to science and books by very smart people to give me ideas that comfort me and give me hope. I recently did some binging on YouTube’s Answers With Joe. He does an excellent job of providing answers to things that worry me underpinned with scientific facts.

Thomas Malthus (from Wikipedia)

I have been worried about the environment from the times in high school science class when we learned about Paul Ehrlich and his book The Population Bomb.

Then we were learning about how the overpopulation of the Earth and its attendant need to produce food for all those people threatened massive famine, resource scarcity, and eventual extinction for humans. It was pointed out that, at the time in the 1970s, we were using chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the fields in Iowa to increase yields that would not only pollute the water and air in Iowa, but would eventually make its way through the watershed system into the oceans where it would overstimulate the algae and create an ocean environment throughout the world devoid of oxygen, fish, and all other lifeforms. I could see the threat and the validity of the science that Ehrlich had done.

Paul Ehrlich

I learned, over time, that population stresses do not necessarily cause extinction events in a matter of decades. The 1980s came and went and we were not extinct, despite eight years of Ronny Ray-gun, the jelly-bean president, and massive success in increasing food production. As Joe does an excellent job of explaining in the video above which you didn’t watch, population problems proved at least partially self-correcting. Families generally slowed their growth rate as health and wealth improved and made them more productive, more intelligent, and better able to support the heavy layer of living people that now covered the Earth.

Recently I became obsessively and pessimistically concerned with the dire predictions of environmental scientist Guy McPherson. I do recognize that his work reflects the extremist point of view among climate scientists, but ;there are a number of facts that he presents that are irrefutable in the same way as the arguments of… Paul Ehrlich.

In the second video above that you also didn’t watch, Joe explains how the problem of greenhouse gasses can be undone by renewable energy, carbon capture and air-scrubbers, and the search for viable products made from CO2, helping to reverse greenhouse gasses. He also explains how chemical cooling of the atmosphere and actual planetary weather control are possible. Technology already exists to solve the climate problem. The only drawback is that somebody has to pay for it. And the people in control of that kind of financial power are all entitled low-down greedy bastards that would rather build massive survival bunkers in the Ozarks than pay for the rest of us to survive. So, there is hope, which comes not with a grain of salt, but with a giant’s saltshaker filled with rock salt. Still, it isn’t time for all of you to give up. Just me. I am the one most completely doomed.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, insight, Liberal ideas, pessimism, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 3

Canto Three –Discovery Doesn’t Happen Without Risk

Leaving the Ghost House, Valerie waited until Conrad Doble had left.  She didn’t like old King Leer looking at her.  She would’ve been happier if Pidney had stayed around a bit longer.  Not only could he protect her, but she really liked looking at Pidney’s broad shoulders and cute behind.  But Pidney left when Mary left.   She didn’t have to worry for too long though about being alone with Conrad.  He left shortly after Pid and Mary.  Danny Murphy and Ray Zeffer were both still there.

“You wouldn’t mind if we walked you home, huh, Val?” asked Danny.

She looked out the cellar doorway where Conrad had just disappeared.  “It would be kinda good to have two guys around when I have to go back home and that creepazoid is around somewhere.”

“We promised Pidney a long time ago that we would look out for you,” said Ray.

“I don’t really know you very well, Ray.  Why do you wanna help me?”

“We are like second cousins or something,” said Ray.  “Grandma says there are connections between the Zeffers and the Clarkes.  Back a couple of generations maybe.”

“Besides,” said Danny, “You may only be ten years old, but you are so beautiful.  We’d do anything for you just because of that.”

“That’s kinda sexist, ain’t it? You know my mom and I are both feminists, right?”

“Maybe,” said Ray, shoving Danny for having been so stupid.  “But it is entirely true.”

She looked at him then… really studied him for a moment.  Ray Zeffer, tall and thin, was nice to look at too.  He had big brown eyes like a deer…  Bambi’s eyes.  Those eyes could look soulfully through you like x-ray eyes.  He could see Valerie’s heart inside her ribcage.  She shivered ever so slightly because of those big Bambi eyes.  But those eyes were sad.  Something about the way those eyes looked at you told you that something deeply sad and soul-searing had touched Ray. She was fairly sure his mother hadn’t been killed by hunters though.

“Let’s go then.  If you walk me to the north edge of town, that will be good enough.”

“You skated in all the way from the farm?” asked Danny.

“Walked to town,” she answered.  “You can’t use the board on the gravel roads.  It is only two miles.”

“That’s still a long way,” said Ray.  “But if you don’t mind, we’ll walk you all the way home.”

“I don’t mind.  You are both very sweet to do it.”

                                                              *****
The walk along the gravel roads had been pleasant.  The rocks and sand crunched under your sneakers in a way that was reassuring.  Your feet were firmly on the earth when you walked on the gravel.  No danger of floating away into some dream world.   And the sound the gravel made could warn you of oncoming cars both ahead of you, and behind.  Stalking King Leers too.  They couldn’t sneak up on you without being heard.

“That farm place there is where I live with Daddy and Momma,” said Valerie.  She looked at Ray.

“We know where you live,” said Danny.  “We all three have lived in this town all our lives.”

“Oh, yeah, I know that,” said Val sheepishly.  She didn’t want to be awkward in front of Ray.

“It’s a nice farm,” said Ray.  “Your dad must work hard with so many acres to till.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty busy in the spring, summer, and fall.  He should be in the fields now picking corn, unless he’s finished all the corn that survived the hail in August.”

“I’d be in the fields now, too,” said Ray sadly, “except my dad passed away two years ago.  We just rent our land out now, Mom and me.”

Val knew about Ray’s father.  He had passed away in the Summer of ’82 from a heart attack while driving his tractor in a field down by Dows, Iowa.  Maybe that’s why Ray looked so sad all the time.

“Do you miss it?” asked Danny.  “The field work, I mean?”

“Not really.  Being a farmer is a hard job.  It’s like you are never done working.”

“Danny wouldn’t know,” said Valerie with a mocking grin.  “His dad works in an office in Belle City.  He counts beans or something.”

“He’s an accountant,” said Danny frowning fiercely.  “Bean-counter is a nick-name for an accountant.  He doesn’t actually count beans!”

“What does he really count, then?” asked Ray.

“Payrolls and prices and ledgers and stuff… I think,” said Danny.  “But I have done field work!  You know I walked beans the past two summers, Val!  You walked ‘em too!”

“Ack!  I hate walking up and down the rows with a hoe, pulling button weeds and chopping rogue corn!” said Ray.

“I like it,” said Valerie laughing.  “I pretend some of the weeds are people I don’t like or who have made fun of me.  I grab ‘em by the throat and yank their little fat heads off, or I chop them in two with the hoe.  Besides, walking beans is how I got to see Danny naked last summer.”

Danny was seriously blushing now.  If Val hadn’t killed him with embarrassment before, this was sure to do the job now.

“Tell me about it,” said Ray with a chuckle.

Danny was hesitant, but certainly didn’t want Valerie to tell it.  “Well, er…  I made a bet with my cousin from Clarion about who could clear out the thistle patch in his row faster.   The loser had to do the next two rows stark naked, with the winner holding on to the clothes.  I didn’t know anybody could chop thistles that fast.”

“After two rows in the sun with that white skin of his,” said Valerie, “he was red all over… just like a cherry… even in places a person should never be sunburned.”

All three of them laughed about it and Danny didn’t even die of embarrassment.  Almost, but not quite.

“We’re here,” said Val at last.  “Thank you for walking me home.  You are both gentlemen, and very gallant.”

“What does gallant mean?” asked Danny.

“Like a white knight,” said Ray, “protecting the princess from evil.”

“Are we white knights?” asked Danny, looking directly at Val.

“One white knight and one cherry red jester, I think.” 

Danny grinned again.  Ray laughed.  It was good to hear Ray laugh.  Some people simply need to laugh more.                                                                  

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Filed under farming, humor, Iowa, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

The County Fair 2018

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On the road to Eagle Grove, Iowa, site of the 2018 Wright County Fair

Yesterday we went to the Wright County Fair as it winds down on the last weekend.  My daughter and I went with my mother and father, all of us not ready to run any foot races, in fact, looking forward to viewing the small fair at a snail’s pace, two of us walking with canes.

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It has always been a small county fair.  But it has become almost depressing to see how much it has shrunk since I was a kid and competed there.  Of course the beneficent pumpkinhead that runs the country now has put a cloud over it all by cutting off farmers’ primary markets in the trade war with China.  Soon there may be no agriculture community at all to celebrate with a county fair.

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The Iowa Township Hawkeyes Club that I used to be a part of

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We toured the 4-H projects exhibit building and saw all the baking, woodworking, photography. and sewing projects that the kids in 4-H had worked on all year.  As always they were impressive in the way that enthusiastic kid-work inevitably is.  But it was depressing to see that there are only three 4-H clubs in Wright County now where once there were seven.  The elderly viewers of the goings-on outnumbered the kids about two to one.  Iowa’s farm community population is getting older and older.  Schools are shrinking.  People per county numbers are declining too.

 

But as depressing as the long-range view is, the County 4-H program is still giving kids a firm farm-kid grounding in the values that made America great.  It proves that pumpkinheads don’t need to try to make it great again.

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It is important to celebrate who we are and what we do.  Especially in a time when a tractor-and-cornfield way of life seems doomed.  And a county fair does that.  I helps us define who we are, what values we hold dear, and who we are determined to be for as long as we can be that.

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Liars Run the Animal Farm

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Napoleon the PIG.

Napoleon the Pig makes himself ruler of the Animal Farm in Orwell’s 1945 book by lying about Snowball, his rival Pig, and blaming the destructive acts of the former human Farmer Jones on poor Snowball.  He is driven away from the farm by the farm dogs whom Napoleon has taught to think since they were puppies. This, even though Snowball was actually the hero of the animal rebellion that drove the humans away.  Collusion?  Perhaps.  But definitely a lie.  And the PIG Napoleon, once in power begins to keep all improvements to living conditions for the PIGs.  Other animals, he says, are happier with a simpler, hard-working life.  The PIGs begin to dress like men and walk upright and wear long red ties.

Keith Olbermann in the video is very much like Benjamin the Donkey, who is cynical and skeptical about Napoleon’s methods.  He also reads as well as any Pig.  When Boxer the workhorse is wounded defending the farm against neighboring farmers who attack and destroy the windmill, he shrugs off the the wound and works at rebuilding the windmill until he collapses.  Then Napoleon declares Boxer will only get better if he’s taken to the vet’s animal hospital.  But he calls the Knacker (the man who renders dead horses into glue) to take Boxer away.  Benjamin calls him out.  He points out that it says “Knacker” on the van that takes Boxer away, not “veterinarian”.   He points out that Russian Facebook trolls used targeted troll-posts to help get Napoleon his position of power.  But Napoleon gets away with his lies.  Boxer apparently dies in the so-called animal hospital.

Now, I am not sure which tiny animal on the farm Robert Reich is like, but he is pointing out in this video that once the PIGS got themselves into power on the animal farm, they lie in order to get their agenda operating, enriching all PIGs (or is that GOPs?) and their political donors.  They are doing it all by LYING.  Pigs lie.  We should have learned that lesson by now.  They don’t care who dies and gets rendered into glue.

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In 1945 Orwell intended Napoleon to be a satire of Joseph Stalin in communist Russia.  But I truly believe, as we are living on the Animal Farm now as the hard-working farm animals, that he has a bad wig on his head with whippy straw-yellow hair, and a distinctly orange face, with the same little piggy eyes he always had.  And he is in power because he tells lies.  And what’s worse, he gets away with the lies.  As long as the PIGs are in power, controlling both houses of congress and the Supreme Court, he will not lose his lying grip on the farm.  We are all doomed to continue being hard-working animals who eventually get rendered into glue.

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Speaking in Iowegian

“We’re from Ioway…Ioway!

State of all the land…

Joy on every hand…

We’re from Ioway…Ioway!

That’s where the tall corn grows!”

Yep, I was an Iowa boy.  I sang that stupid song with pride, though we never once called our home State “Ioway” outside of that song.  I have driven a tractor, made money for pulling buttonweeds out of soybean fields with my own two hands, watched the wind ripple the leaves in the cornfields like waves on bright green ocean water, and hid in the basement when we believed a tornado might come and destroy our house.  Life in Iowa is made up of these things and many more, don’t ya know.

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And of course, I learned to tell corny jokes along the way.  That’s a must for a quick-wit-hick from the sticks.  Pepsi and Coke and Mountain Dew are “pop”, and when you have to “run down to the store” you get in your car.  You don’t have to do it by foot.  And other Iowans know this.  You don’t even get the raised eyebrows and funny stares that those things evoke when said aloud in Carrollton, Texas.  You have to explain to Texans that “you guys” is how Iowegian speakers say “y’all”.  Language is plain and simple when you speak Iowegian.  You have to follow the rule of “Only speak when you’re spoken to”.  Iowans are suspicious when somebody talks first, especially if you haven’t known that somebody for their entire life.  That’s what an Iowan calls a “stranger” .  “Frank is from Iowa Falls, and he’s only lived here for twelve years, so he’s still a stranger around here.”   So large portions of Iowegian conversations are made up of grunts and nods.  Two Iowegians can talk for hours saying only like ten words the entire time.  “Yep.  You bet.”

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But that only applies when you are outside the confines of the local cafe or restaurant or beanery or eatery or other nesting places for the Iowegian gossiping hens and strutting roosters.   Inside these wordy-walled exchanges for farm lore and lies there is no end to to the talking.  And because the mouths are already in motion anyway, there is also no end to the eating.  You are not too likely to see skinny farmers.  But farms and farmers definitely affect the quality of conversations.  In Iowa you have to learn how to stuff good grub in your pie hole in spite of the fact that farmers have decided to compare in detail the aromas associated with putting cow poop in the manure spreader (back in the day, of course) and mucking out a layer of toxic chicken whitewash from the chicken coop.  Perfect topic to accompany that piece of lemon meringue pie (which is the perfect color to illustrate the chicken side of the argument).  And, of course, if you have a family of health-care and service professionals like mine (mother was a registered nurse for forty years), you get to add to that discussions of perforated gall bladders, kidney resections, and mean old biddies that have to be helped on and off the bedpans.  You must develop a strong tolerance and an even stronger stomach, or you are doomed to be skinny and underfed.

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And since Iowegian is a language that is very simple, direct, and mostly about poop, they practically all voted for Trump.  Like him they never use transitions more than starting sentences with “And” or “But”, so they understand him mostly, even though there is no chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that he understands them.   It’s what allowed them to elect a mouth-breathing troglodyte like Steve King to the House of Representatives, and I can say that because they have no idea what “troglodyte” means, and will probably think it is a complement because it has so many syllables.  Insults have four letters.  Politics in Iowa is simple and direct too.  Basically, if you are not a Republican you are wrong.  Of course, somehow the State managed to go for Obama over Romney, but that was probably because, to an Iowan, neither one was right, and Mormons are wrong-er than anybody.

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So there’s my brief and beautiful bouquet of Iowegian words and their explanatory weegification.  I know there is a lot more to say about how Iowegians talk.  But I can’t say it here because my short Iowegian attention span is already wandering.  So let me wrap it up with one final weegification (yes, that is a made-up word, not a one-time typo mistake).

 

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Stardusters… Canto 29

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Canto Twenty-Nine – In the Bio-Dome

Being naked was almost more than an Iowa Boy who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s could take.  It was immoral, wasn’t it?  And those feelings that boys get when they are around even the idea of naked girls?  They were back with such force that it practically knocked him on his behind with the sheer power of desire.  Alden Morrell was lost and afraid.  As he stood in the arboretum amongst dying alien trees and dying alien field crops, he tried to hug himself calm.  It really wasn’t an inappropriate desire, was it?  He did not feel urges towards the lizard girl or the naked Telleron girls.  He knew, they weren’t human, after all.  Sure they were pretty, but… and the only girl he really desired so strongly was, after all, his wife… by law.

“Alden?  I was looking for you in the living area?  Why are you here in the greenhouse?  What’s wrong?”

Gracie walked toward him, comfortable with her own nudity in ways that Alden simply wasn’t ready to comprehend.  He loved her… but she was a child.   The size and shape of a child.  Wanting her was wrong… wasn’t it?  He was, after all, a child himself.  At least, in this new body he had been given he was.

“I don’t know.  I can’t stand being naked so much.”

“You look good, and I love you for it.”

“But, I…”

“Alden, we are farming folk.  We know about soil and plants.  Can’t we help Sizzahl save her planet?  And those lovely zhar-does?”

Alden looked about him at the withering undergrowth and the soil beneath it.  He was a farmer, wasn’t he.  He picked up a handful of moist black dirt and held it to his nose.

“The soil smells rich with nitrogen, like it had a soybean crop planted in it last season to fix nitrogen in the soil.”

“Do lizard men know about crop rotation?”

“They must to have soil this rich and fertile.  If only we had some good corn and beans.”

“Could we get some on the Telleron space ship?”

“Most of the plants they grow on board the mother ship are ferns and fungus.  They prefer swamp plants mostly.”

“Rice, you suppose?”

“Maybe.  We can ask Xiar if we live long enough to ever see him again.”

“Alden, we are here by a miracle of God.  I was old and dying, and now I’m young and alive again.  You’re younger and more energetic than I’ve ever seen you.  I wish we had grown up together so I could’ve known you when you were like this before.  I would have loved you from the very first time we met and known you for so much longer.”

Alden stopped thinking so much about himself.  It made things easier.  He focused on the problems of Sizzahl and the tadpoles.  Yes, he was a farmer, and this was a farming problem.

“Maybe we can help Sizzahl and all the rest,” he said.  “Maybe we could find leaves and stems among the plant samples that don’t have the disease and try growing some small cuttings into whole plants.  I don’t see any place here where they’ve tried that.  And we can ask the tadpoles about what seeds they have from Telleri.”

“And maybe even Earth,” added Gracie.

“Yeah.  Maybe even Earth.”

*****

alden-gracie

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Dows, Iowa

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Bustling downtown Dows with the grain elevator in the background

There are many simple truths to be gleaned from a simple visit to the scene of your childhood.  You need every so often to get in touch with where you came from and the roots of who you are.  Dows is not the town where I grew up.  But we played them in 4-H softball, and we won almost as much as we lost to them.  It is a town near enough to my little home town to be a place that impacts who I am.

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You have no idea what this is, right?

Day before yesterday we went to Dows for a dinner with relatives.  My cousin and her second husband were there.  Her parents, my uncle who still lives on Uncle I.C.’s farm place that has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and my aunt who is going bald a bit, were also there.  We ate in a totally Pepsi-Cola-themed restaurant and had a Rueben pizza with roast beef and sauerkraut on it (talk about your total cultural potpourri!)  The experience taught me a simple lesson.  We come from a bizarre mixture of themes and things cooked together in a recipe for life that can never be repeated and cooked again for our children.

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You don’t order Coke here.

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We avoided talking about politics because Iowa is very conservative and none of us enjoy yelling at each other about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using fact-free Fox News talking points and cow poop about how building a wall that Mexico pays for will cure all our economic problems because we all think we know how Hispanics moving into Iowa are ruining our lives.  So, instead, we talked about how Eaton’s machine tool manufacturing plant in Belmond is facing more lay-offs.

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The restored and re-purposed Dows’ Rock Island train station.

We talked about businesses that have gone out and not been replaced in the little Iowa towns around us.  We talked about how no one walks beans any more, walking the rows of soy beans to pull button weeds and cockle-burrs by hand and chop rogue corn with hoe.  We talked about how farming has gone to spraying weed-killing chemicals and factory-farming pigs instead.  It is a simple lesson in how ways of life come to an end and are not necessarily replaced with something better.

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There is an artist working on a patriotic project to put one of these in every county in Iowa.

We constantly remake ourselves as the world changes and ages around us.  Nothing lasts forever.  Life is a process of growing and withering and regrowing.  A simple word for that is “farming”.  Who we were impacts who we have become and will affect what comes after.  But we learn simple lessons from going to the places we love best and doing our dead-level best to get from there to here and move eventually to someplace beyond.  And Dows, Iowa is just one of those places… I guess.

 

 

 

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Butterflies and Blossoms

A Red Admiral butterfly...

A Red Admiral butterfly…

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.

The Family Farm House

The Family Farm House

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.

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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.

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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.

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Filed under autobiography, farming, humor, photo paffoonies