Living in the Country

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: the original Getty Images caption says this farmer is “plowing alternating fields.” Those are called “contour strips,” and that’s a corn planter. Once a farm boy, always a farm boy.)

Here’s another edition of Life on Lockdown, a regular Tuesday thing we will do until A) we aren’t on lockdown anymore or B) we run out of things to say.

—Saturday morning I went out for a drive in the country, not far outside of our suburb. The local farmers were at work, a lot of them cleaning manure out of their barns: scooping it, putting it on a wagon, and spreading it on nearby fields as fertilizer. It’s a regular Saturday job. It is also a fragrant one, but farm people are used to the smell. Even though I haven’t lived on a farm for 40 years, it doesn’t bother me all that much. It’s just another of the rural smells—like turned earth, new-mown hay, and dust kicked up by machinery in the field or vehicles racing down a gravel road—that remind me of where I came from.

There are fancy subdivisions on the edge of my suburb, with near-million-dollar houses on near-two-acre lots, and on this day, one farmer was spreading cow manure (you can tell by the smell which animal it comes from) in an open field right next to one of them. Homeowners’ associations in these places like to complain about the smell sometimes, but it’s a credit to local county and town boards when they shrug their shoulders and say, “You’re the ones who wanted to live in the country.”

Those of us who live in town (or in those rural subdivisions) are experiencing a lot of disruption in our daily lives and work routines. Farmers are experiencing far less. The Saturday barn-cleaning is but one of the regular farm chores that has to be done, plague or no plague. Cows still have to be milked and other animals cared for. Crops must be planted and tended on the same schedule as always. Fences need mending, tractors need fixing. The normalcy of farm chores is a gift in a time such as this, although many of the practical, no-nonsense farmers of my acquaintance probably don’t think of it as such.

—As the son of a dairy farmer, I find it heartbreaking to read stories of farmers dumping milk and destroying eggs, commodities that have no market with the closure of restaurants and school lunch programs, at the same time local food banks are struggling to meet the needs in their communities. I have been a longtime supporter of Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest, as it’s still known here in southern Wisconsin), and I encourage you to help your local food bank to the extent that you are able. And it wouldn’t hurt to buy extra milk and eggs too.

—Back in March, when the virus crisis was just beginning, there was a lot of talk on the Internet about hand-washing songs. The recommendation is that you soap up for 20 seconds, and singing a familiar song to yourself is a good way to measure the time. Kids are told to sing the alphabet song or “Happy Birthday” twice through, for example. I use the refrain of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

“Jolene” did a week at #1 on the Billboard country chart in February 1974, and got up to #60 on the Hot 100. And although it’s tough to pick Dolly Parton’s single greatest hit, I’m on Team Jolene. (She hit #1 twice with different versions of “I Will Always Love You,” which makes it hard to argue against, but still.) Last fall, it was widely reported that she’d written the two songs on the same day. The inestimable Snopes looked into the story and said . . . it’s true.

After a month, honesty compels me to report that am getting a little tired of “Jolene,” though.

—Fifty years ago last night, the explosion occurred aboard Apollo 13. For the next several days, you can follow the crew’s adventure trying to get home thanks to the amazing Apollo 13 in Real Time, cousin to last summer’s Apollo 11 in Real Time. You can listen it just as it unfolded, 50 years ago to the minute, as I’ve been doing, or pick it up at any point in the mission. It’s an incredible historical resource, and we are fabulously lucky to have it.

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