Cloud formation over the prairie in Clinton County, Indiana
A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the Clinton Prairie FFA Banquet. This was my home chapter and I had not attended or spoken at the event since I was an Indiana State FFA Officer in 1980. It set the stage for working on our farm, in the center of the 12-Mile Prairie the very next day. Much like Garrison Keillor and his News from Lake Wobegon told weekly on his radio show A Prairie Home Companion, I truly love this place and the people there.
When Gordon Logan, long-time FFA advisor, retired several years, I spoke at the ceremony that honored him. But a chapter banquet is different and special. It includes the opening ceremonies where we find each chapter officer 'at their station.' I especially love the part when the president asks, "FFA Members, why are we here?" and all rise and tell of our commitment to agriculture and community. It's about recalling the community service activities, leadership events, and skill development of the members over the past year. It's also about the relationship between the chapter advisor, the members, and the community (My brother Stan was honored for his service to the chapter). It can be so important as my two ag teachers were mentors who became dear friends in my adulthood. When you return 44 years after gradating from high school, you identify young people by their grandparents! (which I did) and my great niece who is now an FFA member there. I had a chance to share with them some of my experiences and lessons learned. That night I wanted them to learn that The Journey is More Than the Destination. That framed my three areas of focus - Seek, Share, and Serve. It seemed to resonate with young and old alike. I enjoyed reconnecting and giving a little back to the school and organization that contributed deeply to my life's work and pleasure.
After staying overnight up home, I joined my two brothers at our family farm the following morning. We were simply trying to plant 12 rows of sweet corn for family use and to sell at the Anderson Flower Farm this summer. As farm equipment often does, there was a problem. When my brothers began to troubleshoot the planter I knew that my contribution would be very limited. I likened it to them helping me facilitate a strategic planning session. I was at the end of the field next to the ditch which runs for a few miles and then connects at the source of Little Potato Creek. As watersheds connect and connect and connect - Little Potato Creek becomes Lye Creek, then Sugar Creek, Wabash River, Ohio River, Mississippi River, and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
I sat on the grassy bank of the ditch filled with water from tile drains collecting water from nearby farm fields. It is springtime so the water is steady, while in August it may dry up completely. The water courses through stands of grass which grow in the waterway. Interspersed among the grasses on the bank were hollowed weed stems. I broke them off and threw them into the water to see if they would catch the current and float downstream or get hung up in the grasses ands drift into the stream bank and stick right there. (For young children, this is the equivalent of playing Pooh-sticks from Winnie the Pooh. Two people throw sticks into the water on one side of the bridge and run to the other side to see whose stick emerges first.) I barely got one out five in the water due to the breeze, but I was quite pleased when one got into the water and finally made it downstream beyond my view.
The breeze on the prairie is constant, sometimes stronger, sometimes hotter or colder, but rarely is there dead calm. The clouds were blowing over with their changing shapes, sizes, and colors. Then a Red-Winged Blackbird fluttered down from the sky and landed on a small tree branch nearby. I have always loved these birds' color. Because they are quite territorial and require space, I don't ever see them in town, so their appearance reminds me of corn, soybeans, farmsteads, and the fenceposts on which they would perch. As I laid back in the grass, I took another closeup shot of the green blades that surrounded me. I stared up at the skies and took pictures of the clouds above the prairie's horizon. Eventually, I nodded off briefly with the sun, clouds, wind, water and soil. To me, this is home.
I woke a little while later, the technicians from John Deere were fixing the planter problem. Stan began to finally plant the sweet corn. I got up and picked up a little trash that gathered along the creek bank over the winter months. Surprised a rabbit hidden on the ditch bank and then he surprised me! I took the trash to the barns to discard it. They finished planting and we moved on the the next task - mowing a rental property farmstead and my childhood church - Manson Congregational Christian Church just 2.5 miles from home - which share the same prairie and the same stream.
There is an inner peace that I find most easily on the prairie. My childhood playing in the barns, woods, and the creek. Times with my wife Beth visiting the back barn which no longer stands on the knoll beyond the creek or sitting on the bridge watching and playing and watching some more. Seeing a storm roll across the farmland. Catching the glow of lights from Clinton Prairie's football field during fall harvest. The dark, loamy soil that gives back richly when we are responsible stewards. It is an outward place but it stirs my inner space. My brothers farm the land, of which I own a piece. Don, Stan and his wife Lois, toil, till, and care for the corn, beans, flowers. They tend to the barns and maintain the storehouse of my memories on the farm. They articulate a similar belonging through their works while I use words. We are 12-Mile Prairie Companions and this is home.