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Cracker Barrel: E-I-E-I-O

A recent search for bales of unspoiled straw took me to a small farm a few miles south of Brainerd, on the road to Pierz.

Nearing the place, I was struck by the serenity of the day and the beauty of the season. A late afternoon scatter of dumpling clouds floated in a sky of pale blue, migrating ducks and geese arrowed about from pond to pond, and through the open window of the truck came the springtime symphony of peeping frogs and courting red-winged blackbirds.

When I pulled off the highway into the farmyard, a scatter of youngsters waved hello and I waved back. Curious, they converged on the truck and bid me welcome, toddlers and preteens alike.

Behind them surged a second wave of gabbling chickens, also intent on examining the intrusion. From somewhere came the bawl of unseen cows and the far off barking of a dog.

A man appeared in the barn door and gestured for me to back up under the haymow.

“Right on time,” he said, looking at his watch. A woman stepped out of the barn, extended a further greeting, and told the crowding cluster of kids they could go up in the haymow for just a minute before grandpa started tossing bales down to the truck.

I looked up, said hello to the older man high above, and a moment later the kids disappeared into the barn and a small flock of alarmed pigeons flew out of the haymow door.

A few minutes later things had settled back in order and we began loading the truck. I should say they began loading the truck, while I busied myself uncoiling rope to lash the load down and stood around delighting in the sounds and smells.

There’s something about a farmstead that triggers a wave of pleasant memories, in part, I suppose, because I’ve never actually lived on a farm and never had to confront the endless round of chores and emergencies and disappointments attendant on keeping lots of other creatures healthy and dozens of tools and machines in working order.

But there is something innately satisfying about farmyard life, and I paid close attention to every odor, every noise, every color and texture, aware that each year there are fewer and fewer Americans still living on farms, and that many of those who do are forced by economics to make their primary living elsewhere and only farm on the side.

Forty bales later my little dump truck was heaped to overflowing and we secured the load with a webbing of rope and I wrote out a check. When I handed it to the farmer I told him it had taken all of my willpower not to start singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” while he and his dad were at work, and they both laughed.

But when I pressed them, they admitted that in spite of all the challenges farm life presents, for them the satisfactions still outweighed the downsides.

So as not to embarrass anyone, I waited till after I’d waved goodbye and was on the road home before I broke into song. I sang verse after verse, as best I could remember, and after half a dozen or so it struck me why farms so warm the heart.

Farms are where life is.

(Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at