Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
The first of March I always start getting my sodbusting equipment together, rent me a mule, and prepare myself to put in another crop and see it through to fruition.
This defines my year and gives my life purpose and dignity. I feel like one of Jefferson's yeoman farmers, the pride and hope of the Republic. It keeps me from worrying about having wasted my life, as human beings have devoted their lives to tilling the soil for at least 17,000 years, perhaps 40,000 years, and some of the authorities say 60,000 years, and have generally found fulfillment and peace of mind in so doing.
March gives you real dirt to work with instead of the Alice Stewart or Andrew Breitbart kind — real dirt, perhaps with a little barnyard enrichment, to clear the mind and the soul and the nose of a different demoralizing kind of sludge.
Farming must be in my blood. I can't claim like Blanche Lincoln, the former senator, to be of the seventh or 17th generation of a single Arkansas farm family, but then again I didn't ride that pony into political exhaustion and then turn around and sell myself as a lobbyist and advocate for the faceless monied interests that have just about extirpated family farming.
Take a drive today through the old agricultural district and find me a family farm. Tell me how many people you see on any of the apparently boundless corporate farms. Tell me how many farm animals you see. Make a note of every truck garden of any consequence, or home orchard, or residence that bears even the slightest resemblance to a farmhouse, or recognizable barn or suite of outbuildings, or plum thicket, or roadside briar patch where wild blackberries grow.
Now you're more likely to hit a deer than see a sheep. The chicken coop you espy will be a kind of prison, a quarter-mile long, as nightmarish as any 19th Century asylum. You'll see green desert fields running to the horizon — fields of corn that will never be eaten by man nor beast, fields of poisonous soybeans.
Yeah, you have to cook the poison out of soybeans, the way you do wild poke. And then cook them down to a kind of goop or paste, which, if you add the right artificial flavors and other foodstuff imitators, you can turn into a passable simulacrum of ice cream or less-passable one of a hamburger patty. Or you can turn it into one of the cheese-food analogues akin to the too-yellow name-brand versions that are popular with the Mike Huckabee-types who use them as between-meals gullet stuffers, cramming whole loaves down distended esophagi in a manner that brings to mind the furious ramrodding of charge and wadding by the cannoneers of the Brothers' War.
I don't know this as a fact, but I've heard there's a grooming consultant at Fox News whose sole occupational responsibility is to spot-check loon hosts just before airtime to make sure there aren't residual dribs of pimiento spread or soy-approximating-queso dip festooning an extremist necktie or squished into the dogmatic interstice between a crypto-fascist incisor and its next-door enemy canine.
True or not, this is the sort of unhappy imagery you get into when you begin discussing, or even contemplating, soybeans. The Extension Service people can do it with more aplomb, without the grimacing, keeping their attention on facts and figures related to nutrition and acreage and so forth, but I can't. And inasmuch as I've allowed this altogether unappetizing digression to squander by far the better portion of my allotted weekly space, I'd prefer at this point to move discreetly on.
I've got several more topics to treat and room to treat them is fast running out.
Prime among them is the sudden and uncharacteristic desire to make a personal confession, probably unnecessary as you surely already knew that the happy farmer posture assumed way back yonder in the first graf is in fact an uncalled-for imposture, with no excuse for itself. I don't bust sod every March, I don't rent the mule, I have absolutely zero of nostalgia for the vanishing family farm, I wouldn't know a cottonseed from a Junebug, my forbears weren't husbandmen but rather sawmillers and jackleg lawyers and coarse Smoky Mountain do-nothing "aristocrats" of the Old Hickory stripe, and I don't exhibit my home-canned produce at the annual county fair, anticipating ribbons, as I have often alleged in this space. It's all been a masquerade, a no-account layabout's pathetic way of trying to insinuate himself over time into your unearned semi-admiration and slightly more elevated esteem.
In truth I've disdained the georgic arts pretty much categorically since I was about 12, when I first heard Bo Diddley's exasperated lyric, "I may look like a farmer but I'm a lover, " and claimed it as my own. I knew I wasn't just another little country jake with oiled hair and wide-spreading toes, but I wanted all the hot babes and stud-ducks to know it, too, and to testify as to my evolving credentials as the up-and-coming Podunk Fonz. A tall order anyhow, and impossible if I were to be seen out harnessing Marvin or trudging along behind him pushing a stupid plow.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.
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