Today on the way back from a work meeting in Northwest Ohio, we drove through farmland patterned with rows of corn and fallow fields. As we drove, I watched along the road a flock of common birds lift up and land and lift again in a wave, moving together as if performing some long choreographed dance.
I love to watch the way birds move, such harmony, such unity. I’ve become a watcher of birds, a bird spotter. Their music in the morning or afternoon or evening gives me pause as I listen for their returned call. But this dance is a different kind of language, the language of hundreds of bodies responding to each other’s every move, ever aware of the other, ever adjusting to make room and lift and land.
According to my colleague, only about 40% of the usual corn crop and 60% of the soybeans made it in the ground in Ohio this year. It’s one of the worst, and yet the farmers are still at it, dependent on the weather and the soil and the sun, the machinery, the seeds, the turn of the earth.
I listen from time to time to the morning Ohio AgNet Report and think about the ancestry record of farmers in my family tree—generations of men who made their way, for richer or poorer, off the land. This year, there’s far less corn than normal on the family farm but it’s still there, it’s still growing in the ground that has caught the sweat of my family for well over a century, at least five generations worth working the soil. Even in the midst of dearth, there’s hope for the next crop. It’s what they do, aunts and uncles, cousins and sisters and brothers, in a long-practiced and choreographed dance. It must be written into our DNA, the same way flocks fly together.