Clyde: Come ye thankful people, come

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 20, 2022

“We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land” —Mathias Claudius 1740-1815

Not too much wheat cradle harvesting going on at Petrea Farms these days. Except for the grim reaper, who will always be with us, the shocks of grain are a thing of the past on the fall fields.

We may as well beat our plough shares into pruning hooks. Not too many dirt farmers actually turn the earth and “plough deep while sluggards sleep.” Even gardeners swear by the no-till method. It keeps out the vetch, darnel and ragged robin from being replanted with the wheat and fares together sown. The old ploughman can’t keep up with the modern ploughboy and his GMO fruits of his labor. Some even produce produce without soil.

In 1935, the John Deere Plow Co. of Moline, Illinois, advertised plows for stubble, blackland, breaking, hillside, mellow land, or combination. “It’s the bottom that makes the plow” was their motto. Dealerships across the heartlands “shipped” tractors, combines, manure spreaders and saw mills to the Frick Company, locally. Mr. Brawley’s history noted 3,500 farms occupying 250,000 acres in dirt-poor Rowan County.

You can see it now, the dark picture of the couple in the field stopping to pray for “The Angelus” bells in the distance. Painted by Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875), it, together with “The Gleaners” prints must have been hanging on every farmers’ bedroom picture rail in our land. And we prayed over our food, every meal. “We thank thee, then, O Father. Accept the gifts we offer. The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, our food” (Joseph Barnby, 1838-1896).

Long before the grasshopper fiddled away and Aesop’s ant stored up for the winter, “we” the people lived “off” of the land. Most never owned the land they worked. To own land or a tree is a luxury even nowadays.

In 1700, John Lawson spent several days at Trading Ford with the Sapona chief where the land could not have been better if “cultivated by ingenious hands,” with soil as rich to the eye of a knowing person with us as any this Western World can afford.” Our cornucopia land of plenty used the Latin “plentius” meaning fullness.

Some people have a different idea of plenty when they eat out. Pesky squirrels, rats with fuzzy tails, never seem to have plenty enough. In this information age, with the touch of a finger and no physical work, you get plenty of useless trivia for you to digest and file. Push delete before you overdose. Just try to get away from telemarketers.

Put your foot on good ol’ dirt. Have you touched dirt today? “O let the solid ground not fail beneath my feet, before my life has found what some have found so sweet” (from Maud by Alfred Tennyson). What lucky hiker can resist stooping to pick up a mere piece of a flint arrowhead; to think it was once held by a young hunter over 8,000 years ago? He fashioned by napping a side-notched hardaway or Clovis point, not even knowing it’s modern name. Finding someone who has ever found a tiny bird point or a quartz dill, is about as rare as the actual artifact. They all got collected but stop by the Rowan Museum to see some.

And the next time you look across a fresh plowed field and you spy a murder of crows at a distance, try to imagine trading places to see what they see on the earth below. What do they worry about? Can they smell the dirt?

The call of the follow field or a distant clearing is loud this time of year. A trek to Healing Springs, Morrow Mt. or a glimpse of the Uwharrie chain as seen from atop the Grubb building on a perfectly clear day, followed by a warm bowl of Brunswick stew with rarebit may be all you need to plan for this impending hoarfrost. Look back on those sunny summer days, take a handful of dirt, if you can find one, and show it to your children and grandchildren before it is all covered over with pine needle mulch, brick or bark chips, cement, asphalt or “ground cover”. But beware brash braggart before you go out digging up downright dastardly destructive dirt on someone, remember the origin of the word itself. The Old English “dritan” means to defecate.

So, go fertilize your fields. Plow straight. Gee and haw, keep in the mindless middles. Don’t spread manure on your nearest neighbor’s fields but keep the stables cleaned out at the same time. A little hard work can clean out your mind. “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isiah 57:20). Keep shoveling and plough straight.

“All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.” — Henry Alford, 1844

Clyde is an artist in Salisbury.