by Ali Berlow
She expected the hawks. Red-tails mostly. Even the crows couldn’t keep them away. Not when he plows the field. And the smaller raptors—kestrels and kites—would soon be taking advantage as well. Then vultures.
A working tractor scares up and chews up all kinds of wild little ones. It happens no matter what. It’s a consequence to the nature of the machine. Rabbits, mice, voles, snakes. Creatures who make their nests, burrows, and dens in the field haven’t a chance. Even an occasional lovely grouse who’s too slow to fly out of her own way. Many make it out alive—running all helter skelter triggered by fear and in flight—a chaos of churning dirt, limbs and metal. For a sorry some, it’s the end as the tractor rolls unwavering, holding its line.
From a distance, watching the two red-tails circle from her kitchen window was like spying on an old couple hissing over the earlybird buffet at Shoney’s. With nowhere to go and no cover to hide in, the hawks ate at their leisure. What they liked and lots of it—their prey flushed and darting. Thanks to the machine, hunting was easy. A piece of cake, so to speak.
As a farmer, it was a wonder to her, what they were in all of it. Every spring they crack the earth open, force-feeding it vitamins into fertilization, conception, gestation. Reaping what they sow, to finally plow it all under. Treading heavy on the soil—they alter it in their vision, their will and into their submission. One of the hawks dove from her view, below the tree line that clung thinly to the margins. With a struggling, twisting body in its talons, it re-entered her field of vision. Then off to the nest with it, to feed its chicks. Damn, she thought, they would feed the whole bloody neighborhood after the events of such an auspicious spring day. It was goodto be alive, if you were at the top of the food chain, she mused.
The man, her husband, worked hard to make a living (and a lifestyle) for them off of the land. With the smells of raw exposed dirt and sounds of coyotes wafting through their bedroom, she confided to him how early spring left her grey, despondent, anxious. Until the first greening of the fields.
Farming was by nature, nothing but human. Aggressive and intrusive yet nurturing. Destructive and constructive. Action, reaction. Demanding and exerting control where no control could actually exist. Defying yet humble. Was she the nobleman, peasant or the savage? The predator, savior, or martyr? These were the things that haunted her. Not deer or the blight of raccoons. It only took one good shot to quiet them. Innocence is a naïve concept, she had concluded seasons ago.
The more she embraced that to be a farmer was an act of faith left up to fate, the better she slept at night. How you play the odds is what and all anyone can do to grow food. She and her husband were no different, no better or worse than anyone else. That’s how she could look herself in the mirror and go to work each day at their farm, The Salt of the Earth.
When she would walk her dogs in the field after a day of tilling, the smell of diesel fumes hung heavy over the contours of the land. She’d miss the winter when all lay hushed and still and clean under deep blankets of snow. In many ways, a newly plowed spring field felt like a cemetery to her. Serious yet potent. A plot in which the fruits of their labors would grow from decaying bodies and bones in order to feed themselves and others. Salt of the Earth’s greens, corns, squashes, roots, and nightshades were of highest quality and sold for a premium.
Her ears sensed a shift in the tractor. He was turning home. She set the teapot on the gas stove, readied a plate of leftovers, pulled a beer from the fridge. He’ll be jangled, then hungry and for the time being, deaf from listening to his iPod all day. It was all he could do to both focus on and zone out the pulsing grind of driving two tons of steel. Coming down again. It was like coming off a high. Not easy on the body or the mind.
She knew to let him rest, let this day pass gently now. Animals to still, earth to heal, plants to grow. She prayed. Life will begin anew in these warmer days to come, beside the sunshine. Wouldn’t it?