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November Plowing

Soil and old memories are both turned up.

I gave the trip rope a mighty heave and the creaky steel-wheeled plow settled onto the ground like a rusty dinosaur skeleton sagging beneath its own weight. I engaged the John Deere A’s clutch and opened its throttle. The plow bit into the earth, flipping over muddy slabs that shone like fractured obsidian.

It’s November and I’m plowing our garden. This is a task that takes more time for preparation than the actual job. It takes me longer to gas up the tractor, hook it onto the plow, and lubricate the coulters than it does to till the garden. But as they say, the anticipation is often the best part.

As the plow turned the garden’s rich soil, my mind wandered back to another November many decades ago.

I was in high school and Dad had told me that I could have a patch of ground to farm in exchange for my summer’s wages. The 4-acre strip sat on a stony sidehill on the north side of a shelterbelt located at the farthest reaches of our farm. Conventional wisdom held that I should plow the oat stubble in order to maximize the yield of the corn crop the following year.

I drove our “A” – a tractor that I later refurbished and currently use – down to the lonesome little field. Using dead reckoning, I struck a furrow down what I hoped was the middle of the tract. As the plowed strip grew wider, I would learn how well I had guessed at hitting the field’s center.

Like many teenagers, I suffered from an overabundance of angst and longing. But I only had vague ideas regarding why I was anxious and what I was longing for.

The “A” has neither cab nor heater nor radio. I didn’t mind the lack of audio entertainment. My mental jukebox was fully operational, although on that particular day it was stuck on a loop of “My Maria.” Not the cover by Brooks and Dunn; the original (and superior) version by B.W. (Buckwheat) Stevenson.

November was wearing a raggedy gray skirt. I drove the “A” slowly back and forth beneath a glowering, lowering sky as an icy northwesterly wind sliced through my insulated coveralls. The jukebox crooned, “My Maria, there were some blue and sorrow times.”

I would stop on the headlands to check the tires and gingerly warm my gloved hands on the tractor’s exhaust manifold. The aroma of scorching cowhide would inform me that the rest period was over.

Half of the time I would be driving into the slashing wind. I perched sideways on the seat in an effort to shield my face. I attempted to run some calculations: a two-bottom plow at 16 inches per bottom cuts a little over 2½ feet. At roughly 2½ mph, 4 acres is going to take… well, a while.

“My Maria, don't you know I've come a long, long way.

I been longing to see her,

When she's around she takes my blues away.”

I didn’t know who the “she” was in that song, but I felt a definite longing to see her, whomever she might be. During one of my stops on the headland, I inspected the plow. The iron soil had polished the steel moldboards to a silver finish. A funhouse mirror version of my face rippled across the moldboards’ concave surface. Was this how the world saw me? No wonder I was alone and longing!

The gloomy afternoon slouched toward dusk and snow began to fall. Like most snow in this part of the world, the white stuff came down sideways.

It became increasingly uncomfortable to ride on the tractor’s open platform, but the field was almost all plowed. I decided to stick with it as long as possible. The plow began to bury alabaster snow along with the amber stubble.

I cut the final furrow just as the “A” was beginning to lose traction due to the snow. I pointed the tractor homeward: north, and into the razor teeth of the wind. A mile and a half later, the welcoming glow of our dairy barn’s lights hove into view.

I thought about that long-ago November as I plowed our garden this fall. I glanced up at our warm farmhouse where my wife was making dinner and recalled the lyrics:   

“Gypsy lady, you're a miracle work for me

You set my soul free like a ship sailing on the sea

She’s the sunlight when skies are gray

She treats me so right, lady take me away”

It struck me, as it has countless times before, that what I had been wishing for is exactly what I have.           

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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