Between the Rows: Star of Wonder

Published online: Dec 17, 2021 Articles, Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appeared in the December 2017  issue of Potato Grower.

There’s nothing quite like wintertime in the country. Potato fields are no longer lush and green, cornstalks have been razed to the ground, and amber waves of grain have become windswept waves of drifting snow. Pivots that all summer sprinkled life-sustaining water now sit idly along the edge of fields, skeletal reminders of warmer, more fertile times not so long ago. 

But it’s not all bleak. In many of our potato-growing climes, it may hurt one’s face to step out of the house in December, but one breath of that frigid air is more invigorating than even the blackest cup of coffee. The county snowplow may never make it out to your road, but the neighbor kids are driving slower. Then there’s the fact that Christmas lights in the hinterlands seem much, much brighter than they do in the city.

Don’t get me wrong; Christmas lights in town are wonderful. They convey the universal, communal peace and joy the season brings. But there’s something special about seeing the Cranneys’ tractor, a hundred or so yards off the highway, on the icy tundra their spud field has become, all lit up to offer a point of reference against the endlessly white expanse. It brings a sense of peace to look out the kitchen window at night and see against the frosty blackness the Wadsworths’ barn two miles away, a beacon to guide Santa and his team.

Speaking of Santa, don’t you think the big guy enjoys flying the skies above the middle of nowhere more than over New York or L.A., or even Bozeman or Bend? After 364 days spent in a busy workshop teeming with talented but overeager elves, I bet old Saint Nick likes have a few moments of quiet on Christmas Eve. I imagine him propping his feet up on the dashboard of the sleigh as he finishes up his work on the Eastern Seaboard and turns west toward the heartland. Leaving behind the luminosity of the cities, he lets a contented sigh escape his lips, drinking in the silent solitude of the Yuletide sky, which grows increasingly bright as the ground below gradually darkens. And then I suspect he begins to muse, as he has every Christmas Eve for hundreds of years, as to which one of the innumerable multitude signaled the birth of the holiday’s namesake two millennia ago. 

… and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

—Matthew 2:9-10

When choirs sing about how “the stars in the heavens looked down where He lay,” they’re singing about a dazzling sky absolutely jam-packed with sparkling celestial bodies, a sight that in our modern world is growing increasingly rare. It was that sort of sky, as yet unpolluted by humanity’s halogen- and LED-driven night life, that perhaps the most famous star in human history made its debut. 

I don’t know where the Wise Men came from, nor do I know what cosmic event propelled them toward Bethlehem to seek the Christ Child. But I’m willing to venture they didn’t claim some big city as their home. These guys were star-watchers, and even in those pre-electric days, the lights of Babylon and Merv were likely more than they wanted to contend with. My guess is that the home of the Magi was some remote outpost, 50 miles or so from a tiny, unnamed fishing settlement on a tiny, unnamed lake. I suspect their only neighbors were a goatherd or two and maybe a career lion hunter and his bushy, unkempt beard.        

What prepared the Wise Men for their journey to seek the newborn King were their studious vigilance and what I believe was at least a semi-isolated existence, traits they share with just about any modern-day potato grower. Those of us lucky enough to be involved in production agriculture understand the importance of looking to the sky. Most live in a place where the sky is not only visible, but can really be seen.

As Christmas draws ever nearer, take a step out onto the porch one of these nights, breathe in a couple lungfuls of that crisp, dry air, and look up at the stars that at this time of year are indeed brightly shining. Do that, and my guess is, like the Wise Men of antiquity, you’ll realize you’ve been led to exactly where you’re meant to be.

Merry Christmas.