Between The Rows: You and Your Stupid Dreams

Is living the dream really worth it?

Published online: May 29, 2019 Articles, Between the Rows
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This column appears in the June 2019 issue of Potato Grower

Sam was up with the sun. At least, he would have been up with the sun, had the sun bothered to come out. The patch of sky he could see through the bedroom window remained a bluish sort or gray, threatening rain but as yet not following through. It had been nearly 24 hours since the last rain, and Sam hoped everything had dried out enough that things could get moving again.

Just as the farm had gotten up and running for the season—just when everyone had gotten into a groove—this four-day stretch of early-spring cold and wet had ground the place to a standstill. Sam still had 60 acres of seed potatoes to get in the ground, and he simply couldn’t afford to have another day squandered by mud and rain. He rolled over and grabbed his phone from the nightstand, scrolling through every weather report and forecast he could find for the region. They all said pretty much the same thing: Mr. Sun would come out by late morning, and stick around for at least a week. Finally, some good news.

Sam called Jake, his longest-tenured and most trusted employee. After a couple minutes of discussion, it was determined that if the rain was indeed going to hold off, the spud field was probably dry enough to finish the planting.

“All right,” Sam told Jake. “Go ahead and let’s get it done. Give me a holler if you need anything.”

Forty-five minutes later, after a long, hot shower, Sam was enjoying a breakfast of peanut butter toast and orange juice. As he crunched on the slightly too-dark toast, he thought how lucky he was to be working his great-great-granddaddy’s original homestead. A ring on the cell phone interrupted his reverie. It was Jake.

“Boss, you’d better get over here.”

Abandoning his breakfast on the table, Sam donned an old flannel jacket and headed out the door. “Livin’ the dream,” he muttered under his breath as he did his best not to slam the door.

What Sam saw when he pulled up was a genuine wreck. The tractor and planter—full of seed, mind you, precisely cut to Extension-recommended specifications—were both sunk into the beautiful, black mud up to their axles. Another tractor and a couple more hired hands had been deployed to try to pull the planting equipment out of the bog, but so far had only managed to tear up even more perfect potato ground. Trying hard to stay calm, Sam ambled up and called for another come-along and some shovels.

After three hours, the tractor and planter stubbornly remained in their swampy enclave, and Sam was in full denial about the fact that his finger—still bleeding from a vain attempt at unbinding a bound-up come-along—would need stitches. By this time, the sun was smiling brightly down on the exhausted, mud-caked crew, just as the weatherman had promised it would. But Sam’s mood was a far cry from sunny. The storm clouds that had filled the sky that morning had migrated to his face, and another day had been completely wasted. “Me and my stupid, stupid dreams,” he growled.

Through a steady trickle of blood, sweat and very thinly veiled profanities, a plan was ultimately settled on involving some old cedar posts, several big rocks that had been removed from this exact spot the previous spring, lots of baling twine, and some serious jerry-rigging. Miraculously, it worked. With absolutely no fanfare, the equipment was parked at the edge of the field, and everyone went home.  

Two days of friendly sunshine later, the potatoes were finally planted.

Every farmer—heck, everybody who’s wanted to make something out of his life—has, like Sam, found occasion to cuss out the very aspirations that have brought so much good to him. It’s easy to doubt the merits of your stupid, stupid dreams on days when it’s a miserable slog to keep those dreams afloat.

When your 16-year-old fills the new pickup’s diesel tank up with regular unleaded, or your kindergartener decides to help you out by giving your greasy, dirty cell phone a bath, you might be tempted to wonder why you ever had kids.

When the new pivot breaks down for the third time in two weeks, you might long for the days of furrow irrigation, before some crook sold you on the promise of technology and efficiency.

When it snows 8 inches Memorial Day weekend, you may wish you had taken that desk job in Phoenix out of college instead of coming back to help Mom and Dad on the old place.

I know that farmers by nature lean—at least outwardly—more toward realism than to romanticism. But what is a farm, after all, if not a dream turned into reality—of desert or swamp or prairie turned into acres of lush, world-feeding paradise? Your dreams are your dreams for a reason, and if they’re grounded in reality, they’re always worth holding onto.

No matter how stupid they may be.