I saw something that shocked me a few days ago. I’m pretty sure Target is gearing up for their back to school push.
Summers used to be longer. Even in North Dakota.
I grew up on a vast wheat farm in central North Dakota. Summers were an endless stretch of activity that ran the gamut. Work and play were so intermingled for our family that it was difficult to tell which you were engaged it.
The photo you see here documents my first successful kill with my Ryder BB gun. When Zion sees this picture I’m going to be toast because we haven’t let him get one yet. The dachshund spaniel cross that sits at attention was named Jada. We’d been together since before we were both 2 years old. As near as I can figure, we’re both about seven years old in the picture. I actually remember this photo being taken. I kind of wish I still had the boots, although I don’t know if I have the panache to wear one pant leg tucked in like that.
As a kid, summers were spent riding a tractor, a horse, or a motorcycle. There is an age honored tradition in the wheatlands of North Dakota that the locals call “picking rock”. Thousands of years of the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw-repeat cycle mean that rocks are continually being churned up from some great rock quarry below the loam. Your perfectly plowed brown field of top soil will never stay perfect because the moment you pick that last rock, somewhere deep below, another one starts it’s trek toward the surface.
On land my father had farmed for 40-plus years, we once hooked the top of a rock with a cultivator in a place no rock had been before. Getting an old WPA shovel, we started to dig around it. And around it. And around it. Two feet below the surface, it was still getting bigger. When we finally had most of the rock exposed, it was about the size of a Volkswagon. Dropping a chain around the rock, we tried to pull it out of the hole, only to discover that the tractor didn’t have the horsepower to pull it more than a foot or two. As my father would yank it a foot out of the hole, I would chuck small (gallon sized) rocks underneath it until we had it sitting on the surface (sitting next to a Volkswagon sized hole full of gallon sized rocks). Dad used a bulldozer to push the boulder to the edge of the field and left me to empty the hole.
Summer time seemed to stretch forever. School would dismiss and it seemed like six months until the fourth of July parade, which in my town, stretched three blocks and turned left to go down by the school. First the marching band, then the floats, followed by random kids on bikes and a couple dozen horses. Always, the horses last, for reasons that would make themselves obvious if you weren’t able to sort it out for yourself. The band would regroup at the school and the horses would continue on across the bridge into the park to be loaded on to trailers.
Then it seemed like another six months until we were cutting wheat in August, seeing the fruit of our labor in the form of hard red spring wheat, praying for low moisture content and sixty pounds to the bushel. We never made much money…and then Jimmy Carter the Farmer President was elected, after which we never made any at all…but we farmed, because that’s what we did.
Short of my faith, my life is entirely different now. My work is different than my fathers. My schedule, my skills, and to a great extent, my perspective all represent a life he would not have understood. My guess is we would have my feelings about summer in common though.
They were so much longer when I was a child…and they’re so short now that I have children of my own.
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