On the Farm
as I was green and carefree, famous
among the barns/ About the happy yard
and singing as the farm was home . .
. Time let me play and be/ Golden in
the mercy of his means"
(Dylan Thomas, 'Fern Hill')
I could turn and be a lad again,
I'd do it on the farm where I
was raised, and during the late
40's early 50's, when, for a
boy, roaming North Dakota fields,
and haunting the banks of the
Boise de Sioux, life was rich
was a savage then as most boys are,
and I lived in an enchanted world of
dreams, discoveries, and miracles. A
great one was the Daisy 'Red Ryder'
BB gun I got for Christmas when I was
8. How I loved that gun–the smell
of its oil, the click of its mechanism,
and the no-nonsense 'phutt' when I pulled
the trigger and a bb actually came out.
the daisy in hand, I was no longer just
some kid; I was Dan'l Boon tracking
a "baar," or Kit Carson scouting
meat for the wagon train or even John
Wayne with his Winchester 73 holding
off attacking 'patchies.'
I became the farm's 'white hunter,'
Wild pigs fled screaming at the report
of my gun, and our Angus bull, (a gigantic
African cape buffalo), studied me with
rolling, baleful eyes and crossed his
Minotaur legs at my approach. Part of
him knew the authority of that Daisy's
dad forbade my killing song birds, but
English sparrows, and starlings were
fair game. I hunted them relentlessly.
favorite ambush point was our outdoor
toilet. We called it the 'back house.'
It sat adjacent to the pole upon which
perched our martin house, and through
the half moon window I had a clear shot
at the evil European invaders looking
to usurp our native purple martins'
dwelling place. (Ah, purple martins’
many hours I lurked there like a troll
and how many sparrows and starlings
bit the dust, only He who keeps count
of such things knows, but to my recollection,
it was many.
those days too, 'how sweet I roamed
from field to field,' even as William
Blake had it in his poem. Fields were
much more charming then. Not the endless
black expanses seen now most of the
year, but much smaller and fence-lined,
and joined by intriguing brush and tree-lined
lanes which supplied fine cover for
all manner of birds and critters.
sparrows, upland plovers, and meadow
larks whistled from the fenceposts,
and a sharp-eyed boy could easily spot
the lairs of striped gophers, skunks,
and badgers if he knew where to look
from studying his dad's Sports Afields.
game was plentiful: pheasants were everywhere,
and there were plenty of partridges
and jackrabbits too with foxes hot on
their trails. A boy could hardly cross
a field or walk a lane without flushing
something to invoke wonder or the thought
of a hunt.
north and bordering our fields to the
east was the majestic and mystical Boise
de Sioux. What a haunt for savages!
We hand-lined bullheads and suckers,
speared carp with pitchforks, and mined
the banks with traps for weasels and
reader, that was living, and a new adventure
beckoned every day.
the deltas where field-draining coolies
emptied into the main stream, we could
often find petrified wood, and sometimes
arrow heads, which to my fertile brain
meant only one thing: the Indians couldn’t
be far away. I looked for mocassin tracks
a lot but never found any. My imagination
had them camping somewhere to the south,
probably across the South Dakota line.
times I was unlucky enough to have to
plow down next to the river. What torture
to have to work with Paradise only a
BB shot away. But my Dad always told
me, 'If you get tired, take a nap.'
(He didn't want me falling under the
machinery.) Oddly, I got tired a lot
in those golden summer days, and usually
sleep-walked over to the river bank
where I could rest better, under the
shade of a cotton wood and with a spear
or a hand-line clutched in my eager
the river banks, the lane was perhaps
my favorite outdoor haunt back on the
old farm. The dirt on the trail was
finely powdered from the passing of
livestock and machinery. What a place
it was to run bare-footed. The soil
felt cool and kind to my feet, and it
seemed I could run faster there than
anywhere else especially -- at evening
when the coming darkness made the trees
and the fence posts fly by as I did
my joyous Jim Thorpe imitation running
well I remember loping home at dusk
from adventures down along the river,
dog at my heels, and gun in hand. There
were always tiny brown beatles that
hummed slowly up before us against the
twilight. And I would run and leap and
snatch them out of the air as I raced
joyously for home, hungry for supper
and 'The Lone Ranger' on the radio.
were indeed my golden days, and how
I thank God for placing me on that humble
farm in that glorious peaceful time.
But those days have vanished now. Devouring
Time has snatched them away like fleeting
beatles from the sky.
now when I think of those wondrous fields,
the river, and the lane, I feel sorry
for kids who have to grow up in sterile
cities and soul less farms with only
their techy toys and concrete for company.
They have no notion of what priceless
prizes penniless Dakota farm boys once
had to enjoy a’plenty.
I could turn and be boy again, I'd do
it on a Dakota farm much like I was
raised on. Only I'd probably toss in
a duck slough, a mountain and a minky
creek for slight improvements.
essay first appeared in "Where
the Wild Thyme Blows" a column
I wrote back in the 70's. I've re-edited
it here with the benefit of a few years
G Pinkney, 9/18/06