143 / 365 – Forge

FRED VANEK

The prairie is green now. I look out my window and the green seems to burst out of the earth. For a month or two, while the ground is thawing and it’s first turned, you can smell the soil, getting ready. And then suddenly it’s green. The prairie seems to ache with it.

In all the places I lived before I was here, and during the war when we were in Russia, I never saw it get so green as it does here in this empty country. I was young, maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe this is for an old man to notice. Maybe it’s the long winters. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing much else to see in this country.

When I first came here, this is the time of the year when I did a lot of work in my forge, fixing broken shares and coulters and moldboards on plows, or the discs from harrows. Now people just go to the dealer, get a new part, throw the old ones out behind the shed. But back then, people tried to make them work as long as they could. I didn’t really know what I was doing. In Bohemia I had watched a blacksmith stamp out metal fittings from rods of metal, and I thought I could do that myself. I thought all you had to do was heat the metal up red and pound on it. I finished off a few harrow discs that way, the first time or two I tried. People brought them in, hoping to get them smoothed and sharpened so they might get a few more acres out of them, or another season, and I’d heat them wrong or hammer on them when they were brittle and break off big pieces. After awhile I got the hang of it. I was the last one left doing it. People brought parts up from miles away. I liked it, working with that hot fire, you could feel warm up the joints in your fingers. It would singe your eyebrows. I’d come home from work and Lizabeth would tell me I looked like I’d set myself on fire.

That work died out, though. Nowadays the machines are so big and expensive, nobody thinks about the cost of the parts of the plow or the harrow. You just get a new one. But once, when the prairie got green like this, I would look forward to that work. It was part of the season.

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