Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


The Land

This summer I opted not to take any classes, but to instead stay at home in Jones County, MS, and find a job, which is always an esteemable and useful thing for college students to do, I suppose. I had thought about working in a restaraunt or some sort of office job, but instead heard about a chance to work on a local farm that mainly grows peaches. Well, despite growing up in rural and semi-rural places, I have never worked on a farm, and aside from piddling on my grandparents' farm and our occasional vegetable gardens, had no experience with that sort of thing. Nonetheless I decided what the heck: I might not get another chance to do that sort of work.

So I took the job. We start out at six in the morning, picking peaches or peas, depending on which is ready, or do various odd jobs around the farm and orchard. We sell our produce at the farm, which is on one of the more heavily used thoroughfares in our county. It can be hard sweaty work once the sun comes up high enough, by midmorning, to heat things up. Lately the humidity has been high, even at sunrise- that stiffling thickness of air (it doesn't have to be hot outside temperature wise to be hot and humid) that clings to you and soaks through. The peaches have been smaller than usual, thanks to the hurricane which stressed them extensively, and then a prolonged drought that really began after the hurricane.

But I have enjoyed working there. Granted, waking up every morning before light- something I'm not accustomed to- can get a little old, but I find myself now feeling out of place if, on a day off, I wake up later, after sunrise. Then working out on the land, among living things, as the sun is climbing up and burning through the fog out over the bottomlands down below (the farm is up on a fairly substantial ridge)- is beautiful, and calming. Every morning has its own poetic aura to it (even the heavy humid ones). Gathering and selling the produce is rewarding: you tend the trees, then pick the fruit and sort it out yourself; you get to see both the work and its end. Gradually you begin to feel a connection to the land, to the living things you work with, and the soil and sky around.

My greatgrandmother, who is still living (she is almsot 89), kept extensive vegetable gardens until last year; her health has declined a great deal lately and only that has kept her indoors. She has often told me how much she loves to garden, to work in the fields planting, tending, and picking. She would be out working in her peas and corn right now if she could, not because she has to, but becasue she genuinely loves the land and its fruit, has that connection down in her blood with it. In my few days of farm work I have begun to somewhat understand that love, the satisfaction and poetry, the contentment of having earth under your fingernails and sweat on your brow and the smell of grass and corn and soil in your nose, in your blood.

There is something sacramental about work, and I suspect it runs even deeper when that work is with the land and with living things. We were created as tenders of a garden, made from the soil of the earth, and that connection still beats down within us somewhere. In our industrialized (post-industrialized almost for some of us) world however it is easy to sever that connection. I could elaborate but there is no need to: the land, the soil, free air and water and trees, are things mostly foreign to us. They are not part of what we do, how we live. There is something sad about that loss, though I do not imagine there is much we can do to reverse it. Nor do I suggest that a 'return to the land' is practical or desirable for most of us. Yet the loss is still, I think, a loss. It is one that is increasingly global, as farmers are driven off their land by economic forces far beyond their control; or they grow tired of agriculture (it is much harder in developing-world countries!) and seek the cities for jobs. Sometimes their situation grows worse, sometimes better. Either way something is lost, as more farms are either consolidated or abandoned.

The farm I work at is really a labour of love, with precious little real profit: so are most small, non-mega farms in this country. Suburbia is already creeping up around the peach orchards, strange as that is to contemplate in rural Jones County. I wonder how long such places will survive? If- or perhaps when- they are all gone there will be a genuine loss, a loss of some of the poetry and life and beauty in the world.


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