First sign of spring weather, I went out to bust up my back 40. That's where for several years now I've planted my cotton, soybeans, and rice, harvesting several bales of each, as my own small tribute to the traditional Big Three of Arkansas agriculture. I also had my chickenhouse out there — also a tribute, to the succulent queen of Arkansas livestock — but it washed away in the flash flood following one of those 10-inch rains that we had with such regularity last year.

I don't know where the chickenhouse wound up. The flood took it to the creek about two mile yonder, and the creek to the river, and (I assume) the river to a larger river, and thence to the Gulf of Mexico if one of those Katrina survivors didn't fish it out and refurbish it into a low-slung Big Easy bungalow. That's possible, as it's happened before. Among others, George and Lurleen Wallace lived in a reclaimed chickenhouse for a spell as newlyweds during the Depression. If we'd all just loaded up our chickenhouses and flatbedded them down there after the hurricane, the people of New Orleans would've been better served than they were by those $300 million worth of heckuva FEMA trailers that never got past the Arklatex. Trent Lott wouldn't have stooped to temporary chickenhouse residency, of course, but you know where Trent Lott can stick it as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, I was going out to dist the back 40 and didn't remember till I got out there that I don't even have a back 40 anymore. Those first floods last year took off a foot of topsoil and five foot of subsoil and clogged up my dreen ditches to a degree comparable to the Great Raft on the River Rojo, so that the later '09 toad-stranglers just collected there atop my own Sunk Lands as a natural reservoir about half as big as Lake Pine Bluff and about the same depth. Some of the local idlers have already been fishing out there, and have reported taking some nice Asian snakeheads, grinnels, and what Pap called Jasper Goulds, which I think was his corruption of gaspergou, the old fresh-water drum that doesn't even rate an entry in the dictionary anymore.

How those fish got into newly-formed Smokehouse Lake I haven't a clue. Cecil Lisenby used to argue me up and down that it rained fish. That's how most stockponds and barpits got them, he said, and even the big mudholes down in the river bottom, and also larger-than-usual hoofprints. He threatened to whip my ass if I laughed at him for saying he'd caught full-grown goggle-eyes out of a hoofprint. Said he drove through a veritable cloudburst of fingerling shiners one time. So many it looked like the ground was covered with August snow.

If it had been his brother Alvis telling me such, I would've known it was merely what Ol' Diz used to call woofin'. Alvis was a master woofer. But it just wasn't in Cecil to josh. He was no Bill Arthur Ward, that's for sure. He never told anybody anything except in perfect earnestness, and he didn't take lightly to imputations of unseriousness on his part. I first assumed he meant some larval, microscopic fish forms that somehow got pulled up through the evaporation process and fell from the sky by the bushel basket, but he promptly made clear that he meant identifiable recognizable fish, maybe sometimes in miniature, but always the real McCoy and not some elusive fish essence like we've all experienced when falling rain has that disgusting unmistakable fish smell.

I get that smell in my tap water occasionally, despite that water's having been pumped from deep wells going down 200 feet to an aquifer that's seeped this way 2,000 miles over a period of years from the Canadian north woods. No way slow-filtered deep-running water like that could've retained a telltale trace of fish slime — and no way a hobo crappie might've got into the big water tank they store it in — but turn on the kitchen faucet during one of those skunkwater spells and it'll might near run you out of the house. It gets in your ice cubes so that if you'd planned on having your highball “on the rocks,” you'd probably just as soon take the glass on outside and let a buzzard throw up in it. It's a mystery. Cecil could probably explain it but I can't.

So you can count me out, at least for this year, as far as serious agriculture. If anything it'll just be some minor truck in the jacklot for ol' moi — some onions, radishes, a hill or two of snap beans, a mess of wheat, maybe a few pineapples. I'll probably just sell the dist and harrow, or give it to the museum as an antique, and go over to one of those rotary tillers like they use in the annual world champion tiller race down at the Emerson pea festival. As a rule, though, I'm averse to farm equipment that's also used by imbeciles to play games with. That seems like an uncalled-for hoorawing of the tradition somehow, like virtual hayrides or designer galluses or chicken tenders or skim milk.


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