Saturday, July 26, 2008


Lessons Learned from Harvest

1. Whoever told me that one pair of jeans was sufficient during harvest time was either lying, or never tried to clean the inside of a bin hours before departing for the airport. I ended up spending the night at my Aunt's house, wandering around in my pajamas while the laundry spun, just so I would not reek on the plane back to California. Then again, I probably have overly sensitive olfactory senses.

2. Makeup is pointless on the prairie. Sunscreen is a necessity.

3. Hats with wide brims may make me look like a gardener, but they are functional.

4. Once upon a time we lived in a country where men read books and made things with their hands--think Thomas Jefferson. We have lost this element of our culture--or at least, there are very few who preserve it. People seem to fall into one camp or the other. I admire people who exercise both their brains and brawn.

More specifically; it is odd to go from a morning on the farm with men who make business with a handshake, and who must trust each other to conduct business, to an afternoon in the city where business is conducted with the "aid" of attorneys. No wonder my father could never entirely leave the prairie behind.

It is also strange to spend a morning on the farm with men who know how to fix things with wire and pliers, to an afternoon in the airport of a major city where men lug around Tumi luggage, while wearing some kind of overpriced sports-and-mesh high performance sandal and rely on a plethora of electronics. Can they fix anything?

Does it still matter if you know how "things" interlock? Does it matter if you know that old and rusted wire intended to keep a bin lid on a bin will fly off in the wind and knock over an augur and that the rain will wet the precious wheat inside the bin and that a crane must now pull the augur back up into place and that all this could have been avoided if the proper wire had been checked in the first place?

I'm old fashioned enough to think that it matters a great deal. I understand that we live in a world where abstract thinking is prized and highly paid and that it is acceptable to hire other people to do everything else. But we are still physical creatures who need to take care of the things that surround us--our homes, our food, our air--and it matters that boys and girls grow up learning how things work and that we are all interconnected. I actually think it effects the way the brain is wired--just a hunch, of course. But how can it not matter that some people know how to think systemically and others do not?

5. Farming is an act of faith. You cannot schedule when your crops will ripen. You are dependent on the weather. Personally, I think this is wonderful. It's very much an illusion in modern life that all can be controlled and slotted into a time frame. There is a reason why, as I keep quipping, the yellow pages in the Great Plains list more prosthetic limbs specialists than psychoanalysts. No wonder, then, that the Axial Age arose around the time that man figured out how to harvest crops. Farming is a delicious balance; it gives us enough food to allow us to pursue something other than worrying about food, but requires us to be trusting of nature.

6. Someone asked me if New Yorkers still had uneducated stereotypes of Nebraskans. I had to think about this. The truth is--and this was the answer I gave--I don't allow anyone to trash-talk Nebraska to me. It's too important to me. And then I got to thinking about the stereotypes we all hold about each other.

As simple as it sounds, I do really think that you will not know a people or a place until you go and see it and them for yourself. And I remembered again how important it is to me for people to really try and understand something and to think for themselves--and how much I want to live up to this standard I've set for others.

7. All farmers are handsome.

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