135 / 365 – Bust

LARS NILSSON

That last wind blew some of the roofing off the northwest corner of the barn. It probably didn’t do it, but you can see that some of the rafters are rotted out up there. I’m going to have to fix some of that or else it won’t keep any of the animals this winter. But I can’t fix that and plant a full crop this year  — last year’s crop wasn’t enough for me to do both. Well, that and splitting up the farm. It always comes back to splitting up the farm. Farms are supposed to be getting bigger and bigger to support all the money you have to lay out for machines, chemicals, seeds. The big ones did all right last year, even though we had a terrible spring. The smart ones were probably the ones who kept their machines idle and went fishing all summer. I think it takes a wiser man than me to know when it’s a season like that, even when the rain keeps coming and the fields are too wet to get the machinery out on them.

The smart ones are growing, and instead I’ve had to split my farm up. Farms weren’t made to survive divorces, or wet springs. Or people too stubborn to spend money on all the new technology, the new seeds, the new chemicals to make them grow faster, bigger, better. To keep the bugs away. Each one of these little things, life picks off a few more.

Back when I was in school, in college, I used to come home excited about some of the things we were learning about — farm economics, soil microbiology, some of the new technology. I was going to be a very scientific farmer. Our family admired those things, science and technology. They were forces for good. I’d come home, eager to share.

My granddad always had time to talk on those visits, but he never seemed to have time to listen. My excitement wasn’t his excitement. It was frustrating. At one point I thought I would end up going somewhere else, to a different part of the state. As if I wasn’t wanted. I finally said something to him. He told me about how the family had built up our farm a little bit at a time, back from the original homestead. They made do with a sod house until they could really afford to build one of wood. They had a tiny house until they had saved enough to build the two-story house I knew. “You wouldn’t believe it, but the house I knew as a boy was smaller than a chicken coop. And we had seven kids in there.”

He said when he first started farming, it was the bumper years during the first war. Prices were so good, people plowed every inch of soil they had. “People thought you were a fool if you didn’t. My dad didn’t like the feverish thinking of that. He kept steady. He distrusted good times, I guess. Maybe that’s what it takes out here. Then the drought came, the Depression, and a lot of those families blew away on the wind. Couldn’t keep their farms. Those years were so bad, they took even a lot of the best farmers.”

He said, “Some years, nature will offer you more. And then you think you’re entitled to it. She tricks you. You start grabbing at what extra she offers you and she’ll finish you off.”

He had survived by not getting too excited about changing things, by thinking a new machine or a new seed or a new herbicide was going to be the short path to riches. He had another thing he said, which I hear differently now. He said, “Those new things might be the solution to everything, but somebody wants you to pay for them, usually a lot. And they’ll still be asking for you to pay that bill whether it works out like they said or not.” I tried to learn from that. For twenty five years I think it served me well. We did all right. I was able to keep farming as my family had and we did all right. We made it through the hard years. This way worked, to get us through anything nature would throw at us. It just didn’t keep us through what we would throw at each other.

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