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Learning the lay of the land

By Walter Geiger Somehow or another I got a farmer gene in my DNA. I’m not sure where it came from but I know it is there. My Dad came here from Switzerland with his parents as a small child. They immigrated legally through Ellis Island. We’d be better off if all immigrants still came through that checkpoint but that is a column for another day. His dad worked in butcher shops in New York City and elsewhere. His mom worked in a college cafeteria. Daddy graduated from the University of Connecticut and Duke University with a masters degree in forestry. He spent years in the woods but is not a farmer. My mom’s folks were all country people from around Bulloch County. Most migrated to Savannah and its jobs. I am sure a lot of them had farm experience but as sharecroppers on small, hardscrabble plots owned by someone else. I know there is an agrarian influence somewhere in my genes because I love the smell of fresh plowed dirt and a newly mown meadow. The taste of a homegrown tomato from one’s own garden on white bread with mayo is unbeatable. It is best enjoyed with a slice of Vidalia onion and the juice running down your face. The dirt gets into your blood. Whether tending potted plants on an apartment balcony, keeping up a suburban lawn or agriculture on a larger scale, the work grows on you and you eventually learn the lay of the land. Riding on a mower or tractor is a great way to develop this skill. I love spending time on my tractor. Much of my writing is done in my head while pulling a bush hog or harrow. There is something about seeing the immediate fruits of your labor as you do atop a tractor. There is a lot more to learning the lay of the land than just knowing where all the holes are though a tractor or mower will reinforce that message for you through low back pain. I know from which tree the various fox squirrels will appear. All are different in appearance and have unique personalities. Some watch the tractor diligently while others look on in indifference. One solid black one may scamper alongside for awhile. I know from which hollows the raccoons emerge to eat sweet corn in the garden and popcorn in the dove field. I know where I am most likely to see that big black rat snake I have learned to tolerate. Fire ants have taught me which parts of the place they are most likely to be lying in wait. I know where the wet weather springs are that will get mushy in rain and I know where the rock is real close to the topsoil. I know exactly where the dreaded Johnson grass first took hold and began to reproduce. I wish I had dug it up at the time. Now it is a nuisance. An old timer once told me, ‘The only way to get rid of Johnson grass is to move off and leave it.’ He was right. Similarly, I know that herbicides will not kill pigweed. Pigweed drinks straight Roundup on the rocks with breakfast but always bounces back. I know not to trust fuel gauges. I know fire makes its own wind and I am fully aware that equipment will tear up right when you need it the most. I know that on my second lap around the field with a bush hog, the hawks and kites will appear. They glide along on extended wings only to crash quickly in on field mice and other tasty morsels as they dart out from the tall grass. I know where to look for the coyote’s eyes late in the day as he watches those same morsels on the run. I could go on and on. These are just a sampling of the joys working the land brings. We are fortunate to live in a relatively rural area. Wide open spaces surround you. Get out and enjoy them. Learn the lay of the land. It gets in your blood.

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