The sun is setting golden on a small clearing in amongst tall pine trees, and a ditch in the center of the field serves as a dividing line: to the right are brambles and clusters of Johnson grass, but to the left are the visible rows of last year’s garden just begging to be planted. Any time, now. Any day.
It occurred to me when I posted the picture this week that it’s one my grandfather, Albert Brasfield, would have liked — but for totally different reasons than me. The plain image fires my imagination like crazy, with thoughts of the bounty of fresh vegetables that will be filling curb-market stalls in a few weeks.
And I can have all of them I want. God bless America. My granddad, on the other hand, would have been thinking two words: Planting time. He’d be closely watching the calendar, amounts of wind, and amounts of rain, data which he’d combine with common sense and memory of past successes and mistakes to arrive at a decision of exactly what to plant on which day.
He said he loved farming to a degree he loved few other things in life. I have to take his word for it, because to my knowledge he never lied to me. But that’s hard to do, because the plowing and planting aspect is specifically what I have to keep OUT of my mind in order to enjoy spring.
The sheer amount of physical labor and decision making required for even the simplest garden — work that can all be erased in a heartbeat by bad weather or bad luck—breaks my heart to think about it. This may be plain laziness on my part, because it was true decades ago, long before early onset arthritis descended on me and made opening a doorknob a painful proposition, much less crouching to plant a zillion seeds. Eating fresh vegetables lifts my heart. Planting them does the opposite.
We’re all exceedingly blessed that a relative handful of people feel the opposite way I do about planting and weeding and harvesting. There’s even a popular movement called “Eat Local,” to promote the wonderful, and logical, idea of eating food grown and prepared within a 50-mile radius whenever possible. My granddad was ahead of his time in that regard, except that he took the zero off the radius and made it five miles — which encompassed the places in the woods where poke sallet was plentiful and his favorite fishing spots on the Warrior River. He had such a knack for catching catfish that his river visits amounted to harvesting rather than fishing. Add in his fruit trees, chicken houses and rabbit pens, and he was able to keep our four families — plus a few favorite neighbors — reliably supplied with vegetables, fruits, fresh catfish, rabbit sausage and broiler chickens. Not a bad haul, especially for free.
One day after my granddad got to be 80, he said to me, out of the blue, “What are the chances of being in the world 80 years, with two World Wars and the Great Depression, and never having gone to bed hungry? Is that a blessing, or what?” I agreed that it was, and my good fortune in that regard continues till the present day — except that mine depends on the kindness of green-thumbed strangers. Kentucky author Wendell Berry, in one of his essays about the mindset of farmers, writes “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do it for love.’ Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants.” It’s a standard I’ve never been able to live up to, and never will. The best I can do is to eat my share of others’ crops with gratitude, respect and ... even love.
This year, Lord willing, I may even double down.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, books, photos and radio features are available on his website carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 and is archived afterward on his website.