Between the Rows: Thankful for Nothing

Published online: Nov 26, 2020 Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the November 2020 issue of Potato Grower.

Early on a Friday evening in September, I was driving down Highway 27 headed from Burley to Oakley. There should have still been an hour or so of daylight left, but the wildfire that eventually burned more than 90,000 acres in the nearby South Hills had blocked out the sun darn near completely. The air outside smelled like a burning barrel of trash. The occasional bit of ash floated down and landed on my windshield like a prelude to some apocalyptic blizzard. And though I knew I was safe, it felt pretty eerie.

As I reflected on how the dismal view out my windshield sort of epitomized what has happened across the country and around the world throughout 2020, something caught my eye. A hundred yards west of the highway, the headlights of three ten-wheelers and a big ol’ tractor pulling a spud harvester shone through the haze. No sight could have been more normal for mid-September in southern Idaho.

When phrases like “across the country” and “around the world” are used, we’re conditioned to think whatever is being reported on is happening everywhere. If you stop and think about it, though, that’s simply not true.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m convinced that what the news shows are the exceptions. The vast, vast majority of people—and the vast, vast majority of things they do—are good. That makes the bad stuff novel and therefore newsworthy. But it certainly doesn’t make it universal.

This isn’t to suggest that a lot of the issues we see on the news aren’t real and deserving of our attention. There is real injustice and pain in the world. A lot of people live in honest-to-goodness fear and hunger and depression. None of that should ever be brushed aside or swept under a rug. We all know, at least to some extent, what that feels like. As human beings, each of us at some point has to face the realities of heartache, fear, loss and, ultimately, our own mortality. Maybe this, more than anything, holds us together: the knowledge that we’re all a little bit sad.

But it has become en vogue to paint our world as a hopeless place, one that is irreversibly sliding into some Orwellian dystopia. Despite all the noise, I just can’t make myself believe that’s where we are.

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something”
-A.A. Milne

It’s comforting to think that even in the darkest of times—when our TVs show nothing but riots and anger, wildfires and hurricanes, fear and sickness and political mud-flinging—even on those days, in most places in the world, absolutely nothing is happening.

By “nothing,” I don’t actually mean nothing, of course; just nothing that will make any headlines. “Nothing” is made up of a third-grader struggling to memorize his 7 times-tables while his big sister sits across the kitchen balancing ostensibly unbalanceable chemical equations. Nothing is the cry of triumph as the last lug nut is tightened at the end of an entire day spent adjusting tractor wheels to accommodate the new row spacing. It’s spud harvest at 7,600 feet in the San Luis Valley, and at sea level with a view of Pamlico Sound.

Nothing is the peal of laughter from a toddler flying through the air on the rope swing in the backyard as the red maple leaves swirl around him. It’s the sigh of relief from a way-behind-schedule mom when she confirms that there’s one more packet of potato flakes and just enough chicken nuggets to pass off as a dinner. It’s a puppy joyfully slobbering all over 4-year-old cheeks, and silent tears streaking 16-year-old cheeks with mascara as that stupid mutt closes his eyes for the last time.  

Nothing is George Strait coming on the radio exactly when you need him. It's a new bride dancing with her crybaby of a dad. It’s jumping off the end of the dock on a blistering July afternoon. It’s a basketball game where instead of hearing the squeak of sneakers on hardwood, a spectator would be treated to the sounds of muddy work boots on concrete.

Nothing is work-worn hands and baby blankets and the sound of bacon sizzling in the pan. It’s the smell of sagebrush and diesel and good, clean dirt. It’s plaid and denim and steel and starch.

Nothing is a Thanksgiving table adorned with a smoked turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce still in the shape of the can because that’s the way Grandpa likes it. Nothing is everyone bowing their heads and realizing, even for just a half-second, that God really has been good to them.

Nothing is everything, and I’m thankful for it.