His back to the breeze, his face squinting into the overhead sun, Reg bent at the knees and slipped his hand into the dark earth. Lifting the soil in his cupped palm, he separated his fingers and tilted at the wrist, watching small clumps tumble earthward. A bit dry. Ready for a good watering. Felt a bit light, too, this soil he held in his hands, knowing it by touch as had generations of men as far back as the Dust Bowl, and before.
“You don’t live on the land, so much as with it,” his father had told him. Reg always wondered if the words had been passed on from farmer to farmer, father to father, or if they were his father’s originally. So much had been passed down, one could never tell the assumed, acquired beliefs apart from those born of one’s personal reflection and insight.
Reg was a mix of both. He lived with the land, but knew those days were gone, closing like the final pages of a novel that tugged at your heart the first time. No matter how many times you reread, discussed, contemplated, a novel read is never read again for the first time.
Such was his farm. The day he quit working the land, it would become a home, not a farm. No matter how many times he paced it, gazed over it, knelt on it and plunged a hand into it for no reason other than that’s what felt right, he was closing the book.
He was set to make more money with little to no work, but what joy is a check each month, a fat check not earned but given?
Living on the land, no longer with it.
It wasn’t a shock, though, to Reg, his family – both offspring and lateral relatives on the family tree. Sad, yes, but surely no shock.
Corn had seen its up and downs, but there was joy in farming for Reg. The tangible results of long hours under the sun, long and straight rows planted, watered, tended to. The first sprouts of green, slowly emerging into life until one day the crops suddenly– “hot damn, there’s lotsa green out there in that brown” – went from hope to fact, from prayer to reality.
The dirt, the picking up and feeling it move in his hand, felt as right as holding hands with his girl and heading onto the dance floor, the letting go as painful as kissing her goodnight at the door before dawn. It felt as familiar as the body of his wife beside him, the letting go as hard as unwrapping his arms from around her for the crops in the biting cold of the pre-dawn world.
He watched the last bits of soil leave his fingers, staring at the bits clinging, refusing to fall until he wiped his palms on his faded jeans. He did this as he took in the wind farm in the distance, the turbines spinning in the wind rather than falling to it. He couldn’t watch those last bits of home fall to the ground, instead taking in the distance. The future that was slowly and inevitably making its way home. There was just some formalities, a contract signing here, meeting there, and it would be done. He’d look out and never again see the acres and acres of brown, or green stalks. Instead, he’d sit and stare at thousands of dark rectangles, tilting at the sun like so many sunflowers, all in place in the name of going green.
Letting go was the hardest part, especially when there was more to be done. He stared at the wind farm, and at the reflection of the sun off the lines of imaginary, inevitable solar panels that each day grew closer to his fence. Yes, letting go was hard. Knowing it was the last time was hardest of all.