by the Night Writer
My grandfather was born at home on his family farm and the life there was soon ground into him like the loam on his bare feet. He worked the fields and the stock as he grew up and though he ultimately made his living in a suit and a tie, farming was always a part of him. One time I bought him a Stan Rogers CD that featured a song entitled “The Field Behind the Plow”. Rogers had a remarkable talent for getting into the heart of people’s lives and stories and his stoic portrayal of the farmer’s life resonated with my grandfather. He and my grandmother took a car trip out west with my parents shortly after he received that CD and he just about wore them and the CD out, wanting to listen to that song over and over. Part of the song goes:
Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight, dark rows
Feel the trickle in your clothes, blow the dust cake from your nose
Hear the tractor’s steady roar, Oh you can’t stop now
There’s a quarter section more or less to go
And it figures that the rain keeps its own sweet time
You can watch it come for miles, but you guess you’ve got a while
So ease the throttle out a hair, every rod’s a gain
And there’s victory in every quarter mile
The song, and memories of my grandfather, kept going through my head Sunday afternoon as I carved rows of my own across my lawn while my tractor roared. The sky had been overcast and the clouds lowering before I started mowing, threatening an encore of the rains from earlier in the week that had already left my lawn on the verge of verdant rebellion. I had measured the sky with my eyes before mounting up and knew it was an iffy proposition as to whether I could finish before the rain, but I had to try or else the neighbors were likely to start losing small dogs and children in my front yard. The rain was on its way, but every rod was a gain.
I stayed dry as I finished the front yard (I call it the “north 40”) and the side yards, and as I turned into the backyard with yet another look at the sky I thought I just might finish in time. It wasn’t 10 minutes later, though, before the first, fat drops began to pattern the dust on the tractor hood and find the inside of my collar. I still had half-a-dozen passes to make, so I eased the throttle up a little higher and adjusted my hat, thinking of how much my grandfather would have welcomed the rain.
In an hour, maybe more, you’ll be wet clear through
The air is cooler now, pull your hat brim further down
And watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows
Put another season’s promise in the ground
I certainly didn’t have (or need) an hour, and I finished just as the rain started to pick up, turning into the dry darkness of the shed just as my shirt was starting to stick to me. After I turned the tractor off I stood for a moment , breathing in the smell of dried grass, old oil and the earthy moisture riding the breeze before I trotted along the walk to the back door of the garage. The main door there was also open, framing a wide-screen picture of the front yard like a 300-inch plasma screen as the rain really began to pour. I felt a shiver of satisfaction even in the humidity as I stood just under the big door to appreciate the perfect moment.
For some reason, my garage has always smelled just like my grandfather’s garage did when I was a little boy. No other garage at any place I’ve lived has ever had that same scent, but I noticed it when we moved in twelve years ago. Standing there, breathing in the garage and the smell of the rain, I could imagine Pawpaw standing behind me, watching as the grass turned even greener in the dimming light, admiring the straight tracks the tractor had left on the lawn and the silvery shimmer of sheets of rain waving toward the house, absorbing the white noise of water pounding the shingles, clattering through the gutters and babbling out of the downspout at the corner.
For the good times come and go, but at least there’s rain
So this won’t be barren ground when September rolls around
So watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows
Put another season’s promise in the ground
FYI: Stan Rogers died in 1983 but it is almost eerie how much his son Nathan looks and sounds like him today. You can listen to Nathan singing “The Field Behind the Plow” in this video: