Sunday, June 8, 2008


When my mind wanders to my childhood, it invariably settles in the summer memories. Those are the memories that come back not only in my mind’s eye, but in the other four senses as well.

Even today I can sometimes imagine that I hear the sound of hundreds of sheep mothering up at dusk, a sound that was both raucous and comforting. It is a sound I memorized during the countless summer nights my brother, sister, and I spent in sleeping bags in our front yard.

Our beds were usually empty in the hottest summer months; we opted for the cooler comfort of the outdoors, where we would try to stay awake long enough to see the last falling star. As the night grew colder, the animals would move in, and my parents would frequently find us covered by dogs and cats by early morning when the meadowlarks awakened us with their trills.

Summer was a time of isolation from the world. Since my parents were so busy with ranch work, we rarely left the place. My friends from school were forgotten until fall, which strengthened the bonds between my siblings and me. After all, you cannot afford to alienate your only playmates.

There was an occasional road trip to visit family or friends, which I recall by the feel of my sweaty bare legs stuck to the hot maroon vinyl in our station wagon and the sound of my brother’s whistling, which was maddeningly horrible.

As I grew, summertime developed into more than just a seemingly endless vacation from school. My responsibilities grew from simple chores like feeding bum lambs and helping with housework. My talents were utilized in the hayfields, where I walked all afternoon turning over bales with the dogs at my side, waiting eagerly to dive onto the mice that occasionally hid beneath the bales. I scoured the same hayfields searching for gopher holes. Sometimes I would pour poisoned oats next to the holes, but often I would set traps, as the reward was a buck a tail for every success.

The sweet smell of alfalfa elicits memories of my first solo trip on the swather. The corners looming in the distance inspired a feeling of terror as I tried desperately to remember the maneuvers required to turn the machine before it crashed through the fence. Within a half an hour, that cold feeling of terror was replaced by the squelching hot reality of the sun beating down on my back, bugs attacking my face, and the acres of uncut crop.

My summers also found me along the fence lines, where I learned that even an 80-pound girl can pound a steel post and stretch a wire taut. I learned to appreciate good fences after trying to remove wayward livestock from grain fields in July.

Noxious weeds became my enemies, and the fields of shooting stars became a source of joy.

I’m not sure when it happened. Maybe it was while I gazed across the flowering meadow, or perhaps while I read Zane Grey novels in the grain truck, chewing kernels of wheat into gum and waiting for the combine to come back around. But at some point during my summertime experiences, I realized my good fortune to live on a ranch, and knew I would not raise my children elsewhere.

Times are different now. It seems that kids are so overscheduled in the summer that they can hardly call summertime a vacation. My children are ages ten, seven, five, and two, and still we spend nine weeks of the summer in organized activities of some sort. I realize now that I will have to be cautious to ensure that my children do not perpetuate the problem of young people becoming disengaged from agriculture. After all, they won’t learn to love it unless they experience it, and summer is a perfect time to do just that.


Frazzled Farm Wife said...

I loved this post....brought back lots of good memories from when I was a kid doing the same things you described. We however, did not sleep outdoors at night as the darn mosquitoes would have eaten us alive.

I think our kids still appreciate the farm even tho they are very involved in summer activites. My son did all the same things and and he is off to college this fall but his goal is to return back here to farm and raise cattle.

threecollie said...

Such a beautiful post! I didn't grow up on a farm, but I am growing old on one. The brothers and I loved to sleep outside in the summer. I had my tractor terrors after the age of thirty, but I sure know what you mean about turning those dreaded corners!
Thanks also for the link. That is very, very kind of you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you just sent me on a trip down memory lane. I could have written every word of that, and I laughed out loud at the "terror" of running a piece of machinery into a fence before you figure it out -- I have so done that a million times. And chewing grain into gum? Boy, who else besides a farm/ranch kid even *knows about that? I loved that life, too, and I wish like crazy that my kids could have that. We do live out, and I make every effort to ensure that they live a rural life, but here it's more about riding the horses, camping, our garden, etc. They'll never get the experience I had. You are right -- it's a wonderful way to grow up. (And now, excuse me, I feel a little bit bawlified. ::grin::)


Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing -- loved the pic. My girls have spent the last two nights in the horse trailer camping. (it's not an actual "living quarters" but it's a gooseneck with the tack room thing and they sleep up on the area where the hitch goes -- you know what I mean?) and they are accompanied by two dogs and a cat, lol. Oh, and every blanket they own, since they're terrified of getting cold. lol.

Great post today -- I obviously loved it!


Jessica said...

A perfect testament to country livin'.

I hope my kiddlets can experience that very thing. 3 yo already wants to spend the night outside (but I am not sure I want to ;-))

Jenny said...

Sounds like a wonderful childhood!

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