Friday, June 27, 2008


On his income tax returns, my father would always write “farmer” as his profession. It was only a marginally accurate description of a job that required equal measures of animal-husbandry knowledge and marketing mojo. During the summer, his job also became mine, and since my dad was never one for coddling, he’d instruct the foreman to give me one of the farm's lesser-envied tasks -- cleaning up the fencerows.

Summer on the edge of the Ohio valley is usually humid (at least up until August) and always hot. The air hangs torpid and heavy, sheltered from cooling breezes by a bowl-like topography. And as long as there’s at least a little rain, the grass grows and grows and keeps on growing. Our farm wasn’t all that large, but it was subdivided by loops of tar-coated fence, miles of it. Regular sweeps with the riding- and tractor-drawn mowers kept the grass in check everywhere except directly under the fencerows, where it stood up like a cowlick. That was where I came in.

The foreman would load me, a weedeater, a fuel tank and a jug of water into the creaky red pickup. I’d be set down at the start of a row, my fuel and water dropped off a place the foreman estimated I could reach by noon. The weedeater usually took a few cranks to start, and by the time I got it going the pickup would’ve receded into the distance. Sweat already starting at the back of my neck, I’d look down the row and think, There’s just no way.

There was a way, of course, and it was simple: You go from one post to the next until you’re done and you don’t stare down that never-ending, confidence-breaking stretch of fence. It was a lesson well-learned, one I try to remember whenever I’m looking at an even-longer expanse -- that of a blank sheet of paper.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Jim Frazier)

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