I went to the farm on the second warm day of spring, the first day that the bees were out, to check the soil moisture. I went for another reason also, to gather up the dream again and blow on it as if to waken a torpid beetle. Vagabond Farm is still mostly a dream, my oldest and most consistent dream, a simple one, well rooted in childhood. The long winter and changeable fortunes had eroded its vitality and carried it almost to the edge of abandonment, but old dreams refuse to die quietly, returning to haunt and nag if left to wither for lack of attention.
The ground had not yet dried to workability, so I walked the land, inspected the dormancy about to break, considered past and future struggles as I poked through the brown remnants of flowers, vegetables and weeds. I went over to my favorite shade maple to steal a drink. A neighbor had tapped it for syrup. I thought he would not mind were I to lift a toast to the new season. The sap was cold and only faintly sweet, but a heady drink, calling forth visions of the field in some unapproachable riot of leaves, fruit and bloom. I quaffed the tree blood like a Masai, transplanted, pastoral, pale, a warrior of the garden, with weeds as my lions, trees as my cattle and a hoe for a spear.
Until I began farming seriously - meaning, until I started to spend uncomfortable amounts of my time to pursue a passion - I always thought of the future as necessary, inevitable, occasionally burdensome, but far too ambiguous a place in which to live. Suddenly, I had to plot my course months and years in advance. The farmer accepts with a shrug the utter uncertainty of the future and must plan in spite of it, ever mindful of the endless host of calamities which lie waiting but willing to dance around them. I suspect the origin of faith lives with those first farmers in prehistory as their ancient minds contemplated the proposition while examining their first crop failure.
The proposition first assailed me in a suburban backyard when I was eleven. A small patch of vines yielded six pumpkins, two of which I sold for fifty cents. In a rare moment of revelation I discovered commercial agriculture. It was my best season. The memory never escapes me at the start of each spring, though often it becomes lost in the heat and dust as the season proceeds to find some of the possible and not always desirable futures. Then, as insects chomp and rains decline to fall, a bright thought comes as consolation: there is always next year. If the produce is abundant, the future rolls up too quickly, and suddenly the season is finished.
Today, I see my field in autumn and imagine it filled with pumpkins. I do not know exactly what it is that makes me happy at the thought, undoubtedly the influence of my original venture. Pumpkins strike a chord of elemental joy, lying in the field as if they had just fallen from the sky, great, benign orange orbs sunning themselves, waiting to become pie or lantern. The child in me favors the latter, the autumnal pumpkin gutting and sculpting, flickering shadows of pumpkin faces in the dark, punctuated by the odor of burned gourd to confirm that the candle was indeed too tall. Pumpkins rekindle some valuable, uncluttered memory for me.
Should I ever decide to grow pumpkins in earnest, I will carve a hundred or more and set them alight to astonish and delight the dwindling numbers of neighborhood children, my small contribution to the folklore of childhood. Sadly , that glorious evening will not arrive this season or even the next. I survey as yet an empty field, thinking of pumpkins and fall and all the days and years between them.