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Farm To Farm

Sunday afternoon I contemplated doing something productive, but decided against. Carrot sprouts are slowly emerging in the sand that is still moist after recent rains. My teenaged son wanted to try fishing in one of the drainage ditches that slice through the bottoms near our farmstead, as the river is rising, so I loaded beer in the truck and chauffered him down the gravel road, parking next to an ancient, concrete bridge.

Recently he'd had luck with chicken liver in the river currents, and hoped the channel catfish would be foraging in the swelling ditches that will probably soon flood the bottoms. With no fishing license, I sat on the bridge, dangling my legs over the brown, rising water, watching debris flow, contemplating women, life, and money.

A seventies model Chevy truck lumbered past, the cab and bed overflowing with rowdy, lawless Kincaids from the nearby Holler who shouted, “Worst time to fish for cats!” or something.

“Think they said, 'Worst time to fish for cats,'“ said my son.

“Yeah, the channels are probably spawning. The Kincaids would know.”

“That was Jack Kincaid, driving.”

Jack Kincaid is my son's hero. He's the resident catfish guru, the only Kincaid who communicates relatively cordially with us, and actually lives in a house on the Lutheran side of the river. The other Kincaids do not conceal their animosity towards us farmers. “You can smell the chemicals after a spring rain,” they've told us, more than once. “Y'all poison the fish.”

I don't try to explain that actually I'm farming organically, these days. Honestly, I don't feel all that self-righteous about any kind of human enterprise involving the cash economy with regard to tilling the soil. When the Kincaids had motored on up the gravel road on their way to Verona, presumably to raise Cain, I decided to try my luck finding morel mushrooms on the steep, forested banks that separate the flat river bottoms from the sand dunes where us farmers plant watermelons, corn, and soybeans. Thanks to global warming, or whatever you want to call it, the glaciers melted 10,000 years ago, and this year the morels and everything else, including the catfish, are spawning, blooming, and sporing a month ahead of schedule.

While my son switched over to bass lures, I scoured the steep, north-sloped banks that had once been the shores of a durned big lake, millenia in the past, slopes that even the greedy settlers two centuries ago had not endeavored to clear. I didn't find any morels, but had to reach my fingers under the leaves, into the roots and black loam, digging down more than a foot and finding nothing but black, sandy, humous-rich matter worthy of bagging and marketing as potting soil. This confirmed my suspicion that Verona's famous sands had once been black, not white. You see these square, fenced graveyards with limestone markers that date back to 1800, and most of them rise a good two to four feet above the current farmland, indicating how much topsoil has eroded since the white man showed up, drove out the natives, cleared the forests, and drained the swamps. Verona once must have boasted some of the most fertile land on Planet Earth, one reason the French originally settled the place and named it after the famous Italian city.

As my son gave up on fishing for the day, and we drove the mile up the road, back to our farmstead, I had to conclude that doing almost nothing productive might have been more productive, soil-wise, than getting out there and busting our asses. “You wouldn't believe the soil in those woods.”

“Wonder what the Kincaids are up to,” he said. “Maybe robbing the bank.”

Back when I was still in high school, about 1990, possibly when crank first hit the Holler, the Kincaids actually had driven their trucks and jeeps into Verona and blasted into the locally-owned bank, making off with black plastic leaf bags stuffed with crisp bills like grass clippings. They'd gotten away that day, but the authorities had caught wind, later, leading to the discovery of multiple meth labs, which was one reason Jack Kincaid now resides in a house on our side of the river, distancing himself somewhat from the clan.

“No,” I said. “It's Sunday. The bank ain't open.”

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