~ Riceland Meadows ~

Spring Plowing
by Ralph Rice

The birds in the trees along the woodline sing and chirp as they flutter about, busily gathering nesting materials. Wildflowers sway gently in the warm spring breeze. The wonderful odor of fresh earth fills my nostrils. I am following the plow behind my team. Furrow after furrow I guide the plow along behind the horses. The dirt yields easily to the shiny steel moldboard. The meadow's new green grass flips over, it's own growth and decay providing food for the soon to be sown seeds of this season's crop.

Each year I plow about nine acres. The horses give me the advantage of being able to start early in the season. In the waning days of winter the ground freezes and thaws. The freshly plowed ground responds by becoming mellow. Harrowing ground plowed in this fashion is an easy job for me and my horses. A a soft, deep seedbed awaits the eager seeds.

Uprooted earthworms wiggle and try to burrow back under. Birds feast on these worms, while barefoot boys gather others for fishing. The cycle of life unfolds before my eyes as yet another spring ritual unveils itself.

The creaking of the harness and the jingle of the trace chains make sweet peaceful music as the horses walk steadily, one horse (like me) in the furrow, the other on the land. They walk almost in step, each knowing the other's pace from sharing many loads. These two are true partners. The teamwork I witness here is like no other.

A drop of honest sweat rolls down this aging farmer's nose. I stop to refresh the horses and myself. The horses rest quietly and watch the birds, the boys, and other sights of spring on the farm. I sit on the plow's beam to wipe my brow and rest. The sun warms my back; the sounds of happy children warm my heart.

After we have rested, I speak to the horses and we start off again. The lines tighten around my neck and shoulder as the plow starts to move. The lines telegraph messages to my horses. Correctly adjusted lines and a soft gentle voice are all that guide my team. The peacefulness we share stirs my soul.

At the field's headland the horses know just when to turn. I guide them around and set the plow for the next furrow. The fluid motion of these turns is not unlike a dance. The three of us, each with his own role, flawlessly execute the turn. This skill, once mastered, makes an effortless task of plowing. The headlands remain neat and even, making the job of seedbed preparation much easier.

The plow's handles, worn smooth from time and work, fit my hand like a warm handshake. Holding the plow and taking in the beauty surrounding me, I feel the blood of generations course through my veins. In the tradition of my ancestors I till and toil, and stir memories along with the soil.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the The Evener 2004 issue. He has more to say on plowing in his how-to essay on How to Plow.

22 January 2005