My new job comes with a commute. Only in a place like northwest Arkansas does everyone ask if you will move because your drive to work is now 35 minutes. I like the drive. Not only is it a chance to plan my day going in and decompress coming home, but all of it is on curvy, two lane country roads. Unless I get behind a Walmart truck going to or from the DC, an occasional chicken truck, or a retired farmer no longer in any hurry, the drive is pretty relaxing.
I grew up in the country, amongst the wheat fields of Kansas. My great-grandparents on both sides were farmers, back when almost everyone was. By my parents’ generation we’d left the farm, following America’s wholesale move into its cities, but we were never far from it. Both of my grandparents lived in the country when I was a kid, one with an exquisite red barn complete with horses to ride. I grew up a “city kid” in a farm town of 1,300 where everything revolved around harvest and farm work and the fun (and trouble) we could get into just outside the city limits. Though I never lived it directly, I absorbed farm life through its proximity.
My new drive offers the daily privilege of cattle and hay bales and windmills. Fog sets in some mornings, bringing its special peace. I pass two closed-down gas stations…one nearly new, one with old style gas pumps from my youth…both someone’s dream now dead. I ponder which internet theory is right on why barns are red vs. white: is it the cost of paint, or the part of the Old Country your ancestors came from, or does it really have to do with the physics of dying stars (!)? There’s a shack whose paint has long since lost its color near a luxurious horse estate. I ponder if the people in the shack are there because they are trapped with no way out, or because they get the same view as the estate on the cheap?
So far I’ve only seen the scenery in one season; I look forward to watching the seasons change, up close and in slow motion, just as my ancestors did. I’ve missed the country…it takes me back to my childhood and to my roots. That connection brings me peace, though I’m fully aware that a farmer’s life is anything but peaceful. The farmers I’ve known love the lifestyle and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. They chose independence and control over their destiny, happily trading fluorescent lighting for the great outdoors. Now, for an hour every day, I can appreciate why.
“The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” –Will Rogers