Mar 19, 2005

By the turning of the Earth

something Spring-like this way comes.

I grew up and still live counting the seasons not by how cold or hot or wet it is, but by what the farmers in our little community do. The Farmalls and John Deere's have spent the last week or two starting up, tuning, running engines up and down, working hydraulics, and in general making sure that everything is ready. In the still chill mornings I can look out across the swath of green rye grass and see the huge barns, somber in the morning fog, filled with dormant machinery coming alive. If you strain you can just see the tiny figures, coveralls-clad, working and knocking, filling tanks with fresh fuel, greasing fittings and cleaing the winter's dust and cobwebs out of cabs and off seats.

I grew up knowing that when the humid smell of fresh-turned dirt and the sweet smell of diesel fuel is in the air, and when the overall view outside turns from green to brown then Spring is on the way. The weather has been temperate if not a bit damp, and the weekend has hit, so the air is alive with the roar and tumble of cultivators and disc plows and spade blades turning the ground into thousands of neat brown braids.

I know that they're turning all the Winter's growth of rye grass back under so it will help fertilize this year's cotton or soybeans, and in the coming week I will see the same dingy red tractors with their smudge of a driver behind scarred plexiglass cabs, working diligently up and down the new rows hauling a different style of plow behind them--this time one with big yellow seed bucks hunching over each of a dozen spades, followed by flat rollers, dropping cotton seed into the waiting earth and then covering it back up as it passes. Things will quieten down for a while, then the curiously flat tops of the brown earth will be transformed into geometric patterns--row after row of tiny green sprouts. Then starts the cycle of fertilizer and herbicidal sprays, giant yellow fiberglass containers filled with curious murky fluids will be hauled up and down the roads and into and out of fields, and one day I'll look out my front window and everything will be tall and dark green and white, sweltering in the Summer sun, growing almost visibly by the day. The occasional rain will come hard and fast, and leave the fields steaming in the Summer sun, while the ground and the roots therein suck it up faster than it can fall.

Soon after that the sky will be filled with a menagerie of bright yellow AgCat aircraft, scraping their tires on the cotton plants 6' tall tops, leaving behind their wings huge rolling vortices of white herbicide, and that peculiar sweet stink it carries. A week or two later and everything will be brown and white again, only this time it'll be dead plants straining their dry stems under the weight of full cotton bolls, and it'll be Fall fast approaching that I smell in the air, the return of the cool mornings, and the occasional fog padding in over the land.

When the lumbering hunchbacks of the cotton pickers roll across the fields it WILL be Fall, and the air will be fragrant with diesel again, and the hot greasy fragrance of machinery hard at work, and the full scent of fresh cotton is carried in every breath. The roads will be snowy with bits and pieces of cotton blown from trailers en route to the gin, and then the bush-hogs and the cultivators will return, cutting and chewing the old empty spindly stalks with their leftover sprigs of white like the Grim Reaper return'd in a huge room of grey-haired old men. The tillers will pass over their prostrate and broken bodies, churning and returning them to the earth again, and the planters pass once again, this time huge containers full of seed standing proud over broadcaster propellers, sowing their heavy load of rye grass seeds, and as it lands it seems to instantly begin to grow; with a rush and a green roar there sprouts a fine springy moss over the fields, and Winter has come, with it's load of rain and cold and clouds, and it will brood over this curiously brilliant green patch in a land of dead grass and empty trees until such time as I hear the tractors in the morning, clearing their mechanical throats, checking that lifts work, plows are clean and oiled, and the farmer's burden of ushering Spring back in will begin anew.


Jackson said...

Very nice post. Brings back memories for me, especially the smells of dirt in the fields in spring. Thanks.

Irrelephant said...

Glad you liked it. There are times when I really sincerely enjoy being out in the country, and this time is one of them.