Strange things happen when new equipment arrives on a farm. Feuding neighbors call a truce to hostilities. Bedridden old men suddenly find the strength to put on pants and comb their hair. Even cows gather along the fence to watch the arrival of a new piece of scenery. By new, I should specify “new to the farm.” In fact, rusty pieces of farm equipment draw the biggest crowds. Sometimes the crowds grow unruly as onlookers jockey for position to ogle the equipment, declare make and model, enumerate defects, and place odds on the piece ever running again. Illegal betting may occur, which is why a police escort of the equipment onto the premises is advisable. If a spontaneous parade forms behind the escort, no prouder moment occurs in a farmer’s life.
Two farmers. Two paradigms. One questions everything. The other values tradition. Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall,” the poem that captures the interchange between two very different, but neighboring farmers, in 1914. He could easily have written it in 2014. The fact is two types of farmers and farming still struggle to coexist.
The war between my two farming mentors, Lowry and Tightwood, had escalated since the Canadian Thistle Crisis. Now the men were inspecting Lowry’s just-planted pea patch and arguing over the origins of mere pigweed. Lowry thought our local pigweed variety originated on Tightwood’s farm. Tightwood asserted biblical origins: “It’s in the Good Book. When the Good Lord cast the demons into the pig herd, some got confused and thought he said pigweed. That’s why pigweed is so devilish.”