At 4:30 on a Sunday morning the farmer was taking a hot bath. He had
wrenched his back and couldn’t sleep from all the stress and pain the endless summer season had thrown at him, made worse by the six stitches in his right thumb.
Here in the rustic bathroom of their makeshift barn was not the place he expected to find inspiration. Yet there it stood just a few feet away; a simple wicker basket — for holding toilet paper no less — had finally found its intended place after 12 years of sitting unused on a shelf.
This was no ordinary toilet paper container. The farmer had bought it from an Amish family setting up their wares on the edge of Kenyon College. Back then the farmer was still a writer, and farming was still a dream. Writing about farming for Rodale’s New Farm magazine was getting him closer to making that dream a reality. Going to conferences, like this first national meeting for farm-to-school pioneers, was the peak of his farm dating phase.
The main attraction of these sustainable farming conference were the farm tours. These farms were carefully chosen, like models for a fashion shoot, and he fell in love with each and every one of them, photographing and writing about them in rose-colored light.
There in Ohio, amid the Amish buggies and rolling hills so reminiscent of the Pennsylvania farmlands of his youth, he became love-struck. The wicker basket, its strips of ash woven and decorated by hands that loved their work, seemed an odd yet perfect metaphor for sustainable farming. He brought it home and was delighted that his wife placed it on the kitchen shelf; she also found it too beautiful to sit next to a toilet.
That’s why this morning it took him by surprise. After 10 years of farming everything had lost its luster and appeal, including this basket. Amid the chaos of moving to this second farm, his wife had put it there, unnoticed until now. Finally, this totem to simplicity, this garland from the farmer’s romantic period, was filled up with three rolls of toilet paper.
The farmer’s thumb still throbbed.The bathwater was losing heat. His back felt welded to the tub. Was it possible, he wondered, to experience that infatuation again, that over-the-rainbow anticipation of the dream so close to becoming real? Could the farmer, six months short of 60, fall in love again with the farm he had married 10 long years ago?
By now the roosters had begun to crow. He listened to them, differently from the previous morning. Really listened. Their crowing never waivered with age nor lost its fresh annunciation of a new morning. And so too had his commitment to the dream, his marriage to the farm and the ideals it inspired.
Everything he had done on this farm he had done with his hands. From this claw-foot tub he hauled halfway across Texas to the roof over their heads he hammered together in the heat of the Texas summer. This farm was his art, and he was still creating, even now, on his back, in the tub, next to this basket of surprises.
That was something to crow about.