Third Place Winner
By A. Gina Ross
The grass whispered soddenly under his feet as Jim trudged through. A stone remained unyielding as his toe stumbled. A partridge whirred across his path. Still the dark pall of despair isolated him. His land, which had always been his joy, was doomed to alien control. His feet took him through the grassland and into the trees where the leaves rustled beneath his feet. He passed between the gaunt branches that had so recently been verdant. From there he came into the field where the grain had lately been a golden promise. Only then did his feet of their own accord stop and his eyes took over.
Before him lay the first ground broken by him. It stretched smooth and fertile under the stubble to the edge of the slough, which lay without a ripple below the low hanging clouds. It was on that slough that he had taught Jamie to skate. In the woods so recently traversed they had hunted together. The dark pall tightened about him. This was his life, his soul, to be cared for by that same Jamie when he himself was gone.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Jamie’s voice had been downcast but the set of his shoulders steely. “I can’t see myself stuck on a farm chasing pigs and cattle for the rest of my life.”
“A farm!” Jim’s mind had seized the word. This wasn’t just a farm they were discussing. These were the acres into which for forty years he had poured his life. For the last twenty, he had dreamed of perpetuating this land, himself, in this son of his.
“Today farming is a business,” the young voice had been monotonously relentless. “That is a concept you refuse to accept. To make this place pay you have to bulldoze those precious woods, drain that slough, break those waste acres and borrow against them to buy new machinery. That’s farming today, Dad. Not tramping over your acres watching the crops grow as the season passes but by scientifically calculating the returns.”
Stung, Jim had shot back, “My land is clean, the yields good and when did we ever lose more than a day repairing machinery?”
“That’s not it Dad, you and Mum are just existing. When did you last buy something entirely unnecessary? How about a trip south for the winter?”
There had been no answer to that one. Leave the farm in the winter? Leave his cattle and pigs to a hired hand? Miss those oases of winter days when all seemed right with the world? He had turned abruptly, had trudged through the corral where cattle lumbered to their feet as he went by, past the barn where the old saddle horse raised his head expectantly, to reach this favoured spot.
Almost half a century ago, on a bright spring day when the mint green of burgeoning branches had become the pale green of leaves, he had quietly closed his schoolbooks and reported to his father that he was now a farmer. Thus in due time he had inherited the land, as his father had before him and as he planned that his son should.
Now from strength of habit he knelt on one knee, took a handful of soil and tested its texture. There was no conscious thought as the feelings formed and dissolved. The land was part of him because it was himself that he had toiled into it. He had been one with the elements while the soft spring breeze enveloped him and the ribbon of furrow uncurled behind the plough; one with the calling gulls as they followed that strip of promise. He had been one with the heat of the sun on his back, the sweat on his brow and the dust lying like a cloud as be harrowed. His was the pleasure of coming home in the peace of the evening, weary horses, weary man, to the fit rewards of the industrious: rest and the satisfaction of a work well done. Of course there had been days of bitter winds, drizzling rain and raw discomfort, but that only made for awareness. Farming was not a business. It was a way of life, you were one with the elements, and you were part of creation.
Jamie sat quietly in the golden haze of autumn. Before him the field of ripened wheat shimmered in all the glory of fulfillment. This crop should help reduce the bank loan that had grown over the years. How quickly they had slipped by and it seemed each one had added to, not diminished, that punitive debt.
It had begun with the combine he had bought the year he had taken over the farm. Yes. He had taken over the farm. The threat to leave had been negated when, his father by moving into town, had given him free rein.
Until lately it had not occurred to him to wonder how his father had felt watching the farm, as be knew it, disappear. Within a few years the livestock had all been sold; their pasture converted into cropland. It had become a grain farm only. Quarter section by quarter section he had acquired more land, broken more acres and used the latest in farming methods to make them pay. Now interest rates, lower grain prices and the rising cost of production were suffocating him. Those well-cultivated fields were simply no longer paying the debt load.
He sighed. The golden day had lost its glow. A decision must be made soon.
Young Jimmy was restive.
Jamie sighed again. To be honest, it wasn’t just Jimmy’s pressure that made the decision urgent. Something had to be done quickly to avoid bankruptcy. Perhaps his son had the right idea: sell some land, some equipment and narrow the base. Diversify: buy some cattle, a few pigs, return to the way he had broken with forty years ago. Yes, let young Jimmy try his hand.
Once more Jamie sighed, but there was a glint in his eyes and he felt the golden mantle of autumn again enfold him.
“Move over, Dad,” Jimmy muttered. “It’s my turn now.”