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Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)

"ForToBe a farmer, or a manager, or just a writer sometimes."

Fruit picking has been a part of my life since I was a toddler. I felt liberated yesterday when standing near the top of that tall orchard ladder with my head nearer the stars and my hands pulling five, six, seven, or eight cherries off at a time! Whatever the crop, my experience seems similar. I face a randomly-distributed collection that I try to tame. I feel challenged to figure out a process that promises progress as well as satisfaction. I often need to recover almost-forgotten techniques, though no harvesting yields to any single best way. The Muse scrambles up very near the top of any ladder she climbs, preferring altitude above all else, while I typically make my stand mid-way. We pick at almost the same rate.

Some crops demand that I get down on my knees as if to pray and reverently harvest.
Others insist that I stretch. I have been Honing my harvesting approaches for ages. I fondly remember crawling through rocky sweet onion fields, pulling two or three at a time, and cutting off their greens with a super sharp blade, sometimes nicking a finger. We'd start at sunrise and work until noon, it becoming too hot to stay in the fields any later. We'd box up those babies, stack 'em, and collect our pay, a nickel per box or something, but the work was never really about the pay, for it seemed more like play than almost any work since. It was daunting and hard, yet still, somehow, a genuine pleasure to perform, a source of tremendous pride and self-esteem. I paid myself in self-powered ego strokes of satisfaction.

The many forays out to find strawberries and sometimes peas, we'd leave the city behind for a Saturday morning and live the time as if inhabiting a radically different life, one where urban cares seemed far away. We'd come prepared with our garage sale plastic flat which we thought almost made us appear professional. We'd remember our hats. We'd eat as much as we'd pick at first before settling in to produce a supply for the ages, or at least enough to hold us through the upcoming winter. That evening, country still clinging to our clothes, I'd sit out on the back stoop shelling fresh peas, perfectly content. In that idle hour, I worried about no mortgage; I cared nothing for neighborhood crime. My kids ran around the yard with strawberry-colored fingers, already starting to repeat what I'd done. They'd go picking for recreation when they grew up. They would weekends live as if ForToBe a farmer, too.

Which single role could ever prove adequate to satisfy anybody? I seem to need to be a multiplicity, switching roles and identities. I could never bear to merely remain whatever I'd become. Achievement breeds its own dissatisfactions. I know for sure that had I grown up on a farm, I would have itched to escape its boundaries like I had ached to escape the small city where I was raised. Fortunately, within that Walt Disney movie where I was raised, I could escape from town and country, slipping both ways between extremes without becoming wholly captive to either. I insist that mine was a healthy response, not just to assume my inheritance but to fantasize about alternatives. I thrive as a landless farmer, paying the owner for the privilege of harvesting his crops, perfectly satisfied with where I've landed, straddling there and here; ForToBe a farmer, or a manager, or just a writer sometimes.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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