being present in the future

"a farmer's mantra," winner of ascent's 4th annual writing contest!

carey rudisill

a farmerís mantra

Eight dollars a bushel. Thatís what my Uncle Lorne received for this yearís wheat. He says thatís a good price. He lives his life like his land will be there forever, like the bank might not one day own it. Every time we visit, my mother photographs the cows by the barn, as if she fears that the next time she drives up the gravel road she might find nothing. No cows, no farm equipment grumbling. But Lorne and his cows remain, and I think that farmers must be the most meditative of people. Their actions repeat each year, a mantra of change and continuity. Durum is planted. Mustard seeded. One section is left fallow. Crops are rotated.

Lorne wakes at two in the morning to start combining. Perhaps this is what is meant by sun salutation ó getting up before the sun, and cutting a path through a field for its rays. He raised two sons, and has lost his wife to another province, another lifestyle. Being a farmerís wife isnít for everyone. Still he wakes each morning, and is present in the future. Next year, he might not even get eight dollars for a bushel of wheat. But the feel of the space ó that open space only the prairies have ó is what keeps him. I hear it in his voice when he talks about the land, the cows, the new dog. He lives in a world unknown to most of us. He works the same fields that he played in as a child. During a visit, he tells me that a grain shed has his name on the wall. Your momís too, he adds.

My uncleís days are like the soham mantra
ó an inhalation, an exhalation. Itís part of his nature, part of his life.

Michael McColly comments:

What struck me in reading these meditations on sustainability was their tone of reverence. These voices speak of respect for the rituals and relationships that teach us of our place and role in this world. They remind us that reverence is a kind of wisdom that arises from keen observation and the careful use of language. Reverence is not some learned achievement or mastery of mood or thought ó it comes from our relationship with the living, decaying and evolving world that sustains us.

In ďA Farmerís MantraĒ we meet the writerís uncle, a wheat farmer, who understands with his body and very being that his land not only provides him with meaningful work and food but with lessons to understand lifeís impermanence and eternal abundance. We often say that humans are stewards of the land, but all sacred traditions teach that itís the opposite. Our future depends on the cultivation of the land not as a source of our sustenance and wealth but as the source of our wisdom.

Michael McColly teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and Columbia College in Chicago. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Sun, ascent and In These Times. He is the author of The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism (Soft Skull Press). McColly is an activist in his Chicago community, organizing peace events, teaching yoga and specializing in workshops for writers.

Carey Rudisill lives in Victoria, BC, with her partner, young daughter and dog. She strives to find joy in each day. She is working on a Masterís degree in creative writing through UBCís Optional-Residency Program.

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