November 8, 2016
The June winds that sweep the fields have a different mood to them than all the others. They are not the winds of the fall harvest that send undulating waves through the golden wheat making it seem as though the field were a single, life-providing organism. Nor are they the humid winds of the summer nights that sprint through the sweet corn, rustling the leaves, as if they had been imbued with life itself. No, the June winds are takers, not givers. They come over the crests of the hills, robbing the moisture from the soil and from those who walk it. We shuffle along, soft dirt kicking up into the heels of our worn sneakers, scanning the field for any rocks bigger than a football. Those are the dangerous ones, the ones that could snap off a fatigued metal disc if they hit it just right. We’d grab them up all day for a week or so, tossing them into the bed of that old beat up truck with the dull grinding retort of stone on metal.
Unlike his three kids, my father had an unending well of energy to throw at any task on the farm, this included the most reviled of all – pickin’ rocks. While we shuffled along, barely lifting our feet out of the soil, he’d move up the hills with long, powerful strides.To see him stop for water or take his turn in the air conditioned cab of the truck would have alarmed us. No, he pulled his energy from some hardened source that we had yet to acquire. His energy was like one of the rare geodes he’d find from time to time in the fields. A dull, oval stone with much more mass than it should have had. He’d take it back to the shop and slice it in half with a grinder to reveal a ring of glittering crystals. Thousands of years, perhaps millions, layer by layer, the geodes formed and eventually made their way up to the surface. Like those glittering geodes, my father’s work ethic had been forged by the immense, inescapable pressure that was not simply life on the farm, but generations of life on the farm. Slowly building up like layers of sediment in a river bed.
Every day started with the same reminder, “keep your eyes open for arrowheads.” Sometimes after a strong rain the soil from the crests of the sandy hills would wash away to reveal them. Often it was just a tiny point protruding from the soil, a flinty flash in the sunlight unlike the thousands of other tiny pebbles that dotted the ground. In my lifetime,I have found a couple arrowheads. My father would find a couple every year. Sometimes he would go out right after a heavy rain just to look for them. On his nightstand, he kept a small woven basket – his collection. Often, the four of us would spend an afternoon picking through them on his bed, speculating on all the variations of colors and sizes, though Mom never appreciated the dirt this left.
There was the small, obsidian-glass ones with edges sharp enough to slice your thumb open for being a bit too hasty. There were the large dull-flint ones which were easier to shape and usually better preserved. Finally, there was the prize of his collection, a well-shaped piece of flint about four inches long that he surmised to be a scraping tool.In all there had to be around 50 arrowheads in his collection. It was a collection of shard and stone, but more than that, it was a physical symbol of our family roots, and the principles that those roots embodied. I have come to realize in my time at college that there is nothing more powerful for a young person than to be rooted in a place or in the accomplishments and history of their family.
When I first arrived at the small, private Ashland University, I was surprised to find that the majority of my peers had attended private schools, not public schools like I did. I was also surprised to find that many of them had spent months studying for their ACT with a paid tutor, an option I never knew existed prior to attending college. While it is true that my parents never had the money to provide these two things for me, and I did feel like I was looked down on as the hayseed that blew into campus, I quickly came to realize that those things did not actually count for much in academics, and that they are worthless in life outside of academia.
I, however, have not lived a day in this life where I have not relied on my roots. As I have matured, my roots have increased in importance. They influence me more now than they ever have, even when I spent every single day on the farm. Those guiding principles were forged through hard labor. As I matured and the work grew less physical, they rose above the landscape like a monument impervious to the weathering of time. I feel pity for my peers that did not grow up working. I mean real work, not the mind-numbing first job your parents made you hold. I mean the kind of work that turns true exhaustion into a close acquaintance. It is this type of labor, the work you take pride in that gives you the strength to get up and do twice as much the next day. That’s what life on a farm is like. Those roots run deep.
People always ask me if I plan to return to the farm full-time someday. Honestly, I do not have a clear answer. Sometimes I feel like my farm is the only place I could ever really belong. Could I ever walk away for good? No, the only way I could ever leave for good is if the land I put my soul into was completely obliterated, for then it would take that part of me with it, but as long as that land exists I will find myself back among the valleys and hills. That is not to say that the land has made me its captive, though.No,roots are not meant to physically root you in place. The name is a misnomer. Roots are the initial bearing on the map of life. When you know exactly where you are starting, you can then chart a course to wherever you want to go.It is the rootless, like a boat without rudder or compass, who drift hopelessly. They do not lead a life, they stumble into one by accident.