IT'S 2:00 AM AND I'M PLANTING CORN
It’s 2:00 am and I’m planting corn.
I wake up on the couch. It’s 12:20-something I think. I’m dusty; my pocket knife is digging into my side. My boots are on the carpet. The blanket probably needs a wash but I’m not sure when it will get one. My hat is resting on my nose, over my face. I’m sure the back of my neck is getting the pillow dirty, but who cares. I was just out in the fields a few hours ago, and the wind was howling—or there was that moment I howled out the wind. You won’t beat me! As a family we just watched Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan was doing that from the top of the fishing boat in a hurricane.
I need to get up. My head is cloudy. Damn this is painful, this feeling of exhaustion. It feels like moss is growing around and between my eyes and my brain. Fuzzy moss and moist, gosh I hate that word as much as I hate that feeling when you wake up, especially when it’s only been an hour or so…. Why in the hell do I need to get up, wait get up? I’m on a damn couch, fully clothed and I’m getting up to go plant corn. I can hear this dripping sound coming from the window. Is that rain? Oh no, that’s what I’m up against, the rain. Did I sleep too long, why did I sleep anyway, what exactly am I doing, where am I? Is this a sense of purpose, or is it duty, or fear - I’m not sure but weather is coming, my weather.com app told me so. I pushed the guys. We got up another hour earlier every day this week. Starting work at 6:00 am has a mystery to it that I like, but a sting. They follow me to the fields, or at least they obey; they are here with me. Why do they? Paul was on the tractor until 9:00 last night. He’s fixing a broken fitting on the sprayer. Why did you come all the way out of the fields? The tractor needs diesel, and exhaust fluid, who thought of that shit? It’s 6:30. 12 hours already passed in the work. Please Paul, please finish the plumbers field, we just need to make it to this tree—I show him my aerial map on my phone; Can you make it to the tree? Ok, I’ll do it. In his eyes aren’t determination, or duty, or passion, or resentment. Just understanding, I guess, or concession. It’s enough for now, thank you.
I have to plant the corn. It will rain. I need time to separate the crops by pollination timing. It’s popcorn. Will people buy it? Is it for them or is it for me? I’m not sure why I have to plant corn, except I do. It’s a purpose, something strong enough to get you out of bed (couch in dirty clothes) in the middle of the night. Something needs me: there is a timeline, a deadline, something to strive for. I miss Rohelio, and Brandon. If they were here, the corn would have been planted in the daytime, today. It’s ok. I open the window. What’s that sound, why is it so loud, that dripping? There’s a little rain, but it feels nice outside, not much wind. The asphalt is damp. Dammit I’m tired. That mossy discomfort—I fight it, then don’t, then realize I’m doing it. I walk out. I can see the exact shape of my truck on the asphalt; it’s more grey underneath and darker black around the outside. I know this sign. It’s there when it rains just a little. Not enough to run along the hard ground, as grandpa says, but just barely enough to settle the dust. I can still plant the corn. I drive the Camry to the fields in Bluffdale. There are a few other cars on the road. I’m not totally bonkers I guess, in perspective. As I drive I wonder, will the neighbors out there hate me? Will I wake them? Who cares! Well, I do, because I care what people think, and I care about their sleep because it sucks to feel mossy. Still, I have to plant the corn. Paul stayed up late; Leo worked till dark. I owe it to them, to the corn, I guess.
I’m on the tractor. I feel the grit of dust all over me. There is a north wind, slight and nice. It’s now 1:00 am and I’m pouring seed into the old planter. Italian made, from the 80s. Bought it from an older guy in Richfield. It represents a dream, or an idea that never panned out for them. It was supposed to plant carrots, to be the start of a new crop. But no one was there to market them or so I hear. Now I’m under the cottonwood trees. That white stuff is like snow on the ground in May. It gets stuck in my mouth. I spit it out and watch the goo run down the fender of the John Deere. John the mechanic says this was a poor buy but I like this worn out California squash tractor. That’s what they said it did most of its life: pull a trailer in the squash fields. Just then it does its thing, shifting into 4x4 on its own and back out just as fast with a thud in the differential. Got to get that fixed. Now I’m to the north of the field, Nathan’s field. He’s a plumber, and it’s not his field, but a lease he got a few years ago after the Mexican Rojas let it go. I’m glad to have a new place to plant corn, and he needs a rotation for his pumpkins. I’m sad about Nathan. He just killed a man, accidentally on a Sunday afternoon on his way to visit a member of church that needed him. The sun was low in the evening after a long day of service to the people of the church and he didn’t see the motorcycle, turned left in front of him and the bike when underneath his old dodge pickup.
I’m in the furrows now. Paul did a pretty good job, despite those giant rocks we pulled out a couple days ago, and despite the GPS freaking out on the New Holland. He broke two shanks finishing the beds yesterday but fixed them and kept going. The vacuum starts on the Monosem planter. Ruby Red popcorn seeds are clinging to the seed plate, going around and then dropping, one by one every 8.5 inches or so, because it’s in centimeters. I go a few feet and get off to check: yeah, it’s planting well. My feet sink into the soft, powdery soil, all bedded up in long, mostly straight, rows going east to west. Four rows at a time, I go up and down the field. Just got to get past that tree: that’s 2 acres of ruby red popcorn, that’s what the crop plan says. Gosh I miss Rojo; why do I miss him so much?
Got it done, and now I’m driving to the other field, the triangles. I need sleep and need to get home. I’m maxed on on the JD 6420. She’s at 19 mph. These roads in town these days are so bumpy with all the construction. They are constantly digging them up. I hit bump after bump. Tractors don’t have shocks, just in the seat, but those stopped working years ago in the squash fields. The seat, in fact, has seen better days all around. The vinyl is cracked and the foam is showing. Something is wrong with the mount and it rocks back and forth and back and forth as we shake down the road. The arm rest is gone on the right so I balance myself on the fender, trying to take the pressure off my sore back. I strained it down low when we moved back to the farm. Then I strained it in the middle push starting the motorcycle with two little boys in tow. Craig on the back, and Finn up front, sitting on the tank. That was a fun ride, anyway. I’m so tired, but it’s nice at 2:00 am, planting corn. I pass Walmart, Biolife, Costa Vida, a new bank, a gas station. The street lights even do my bidding this time of night, turning as I approach. It’s not bad farming in town at night. Now I’m headed west to the yellow corn field. We found just enough seed to finish the last 6 rows and then I’ll be back home in bed. Bang, bang, bang: another damn bump in the road and the planters bounce up and down. One of the red lids shakes loose and is hanging on by a corner. It’s ok, I’m only 300 yards away from the field, just need to cross through the light at Bangerter highway. Passing Panda Express and Einstein Bagels now. I look over and see 4 or 5 cars in the parking lot. What are they doing there, oh, Starbucks. Are they open this late? I see some people sitting in a booth and the lights are on. Bang bang BANG!! I just bounced off the asphalt onto the concrete approach to Bangerter. One of the planters bounced so hard It broke halfway off. Dammit, what am I doing at 2:00 am planting corn? Sparks fly on the road as the disk openers of the planter skid along on the concrete. I slow down, and let planter 3 ride on the rubber wheels on the back of it. Those are the press wheels, to make sure the seed gets good contact with the soil after it drops through the disks. I’m going so slowly through the intersection that the light turns red halfway through. Who cares, it’s just me and a tow truck on the road this late. Why am I planting corn at 2:00 am? I pull off the road and jump the curb into the field and set the planter down on the sidewalk. It’s a field right in the corner of a 4 lane highway and a 6 lane parkway to Herriman. The planter is broken. The top parallel metal arms broke right at the bent angles; the chain for the drive is snapped and so is the vacuum hose. You can’t get these parts very easily. They have to be ordered from Europe, and they are metric. It’s 2:00 am and I’m planting corn. My hands are already scabbed over, evidence that planting season is in full swing. I scratch and bang them against the planter and the sharp edges of the broken metal supports. Who paints a planter blue, anyway? How do I brace this thing up so I can finish planting? I find a piece of strap in the cab of the tractor and it just happens to be the exact length, at least once I find the perfect place and method of attaching it, looping the metal hook back through a loop someone tied in the end. It’s ok, I can just use two planters and make a few extra passes; soon I’ll have the 6 rows done and I’ll be back home. Planter 3 is dragging and moving soil, digging up the seed I just planted on the other pass. Who cares. I am planting corn and now it’s 3:00 am. I’m done and driving home. Slower now; I don’t want to break anything more. There’s an Old Hay field on the left with white dandelions blowing off in the wind. A crisp wheat field on the right has just been sprayed for broadleaf weeds, I know because I smelled the chemicals this morning when I passed this way. I’m headed north and the wind is in my face, sure sign a storm is coming. The wind always blows in Riverton, but from the south. Deep breath in, and I smell the dew, a smell I know well from my youth, the smell of the night, many nights baling hay till this early in the morning, or until first light. Now I’m on the oiled road again, but slowly I pass the tattoo shop, the car wash, and the Chinese restaurant. The Urgent Care sign from the clinic waves in the wind as I note my ground speed. 11.7 mph. No bumps are going to ruin the rest of this adventure. The barn is ready to shelter the planter. Got to stop just short of the old brown Yamaha I traded to Rojo for a sheetrock job 3 or 4 years ago, before he came to work for me. Paul rides it now. Rojo traded it to him for work on his truck. I miss Rojo. I walk to the house but something pulls me to the office. I want to write about tonight. I see my little picture of Sophie on my desk and stare for awhile. Her little hands, tucked up under her chin. Who would you have been, little girl? It’s 2:00 am, and I’m planting corn….
Every 10 years we evaluate our life. This year is 10 since I came back to the farm. Where am I going, exactly?