In the fields in my area of northern North Carolina, the plows are raking the fields and turning over the cold earth to the springtime sun, readying the dirt for planting. Some farmers use a simple north-to-south technique in plowing, while others go side-to-side/east-to-west, but the ones that are the most geometric start with a very short corner row and go perpendicular from there.
To me, plowing is a metaphor for new beginnings. Plows open the ground to new opportunities, new possibilities, and fresh hope. Just like humans who start new relationships or begin new careers or start taking classes with the goal of creating a new opportunity for themselves, the ground also has a future for which to prepare. With that fresh start also comes preparation for the possible disappointments: not enough rain, bad seeds, too much rain, deer/rabbits/other varmints who eat bright and green leaves/shoots, disease.
I think of my rose bushes and what they look like right now: dark green leaves etched in deep purple or maroon, buds on almost every branch, ready to pop into blossom within the week. I want to enjoy them, to see the tight pink tea roses and the bright (and humorously-named) miniature bushes, and the antique wine-colored rose that has the deepest and most sensual scent. But under those leaves hide a few yellow ones covered in the dreaded black spot. I know that the possibility of that disease spreading is something I can bank on, and that unless I get out into the garden every four or five days and clean it up, treat for the disease, and keep a vigilant eye, I will not be able to enjoy the beauties that the roses should produce. Same for the farmers currently plowing their fields.
As much as I am against smoking and wish that the rest of the world would be, as well, I have to admit that the tobacco fields currently being plowed are using the earth that would normally lie fallow, and those squat, wide-leafed plants will give me an additional green growth to watch sprout and spread throughout the summer months.
This poem, by poet Orval Lund, a retired English professor who lives in Minnesota, was originally published in a collection called Casting Lines: Poems, published by New River Press. It expresses that act of plowing in a way I think the tobacco farmers of this area of the country would understand.
"Plowing" by Orval Lund
Crawling steady at a slight slant,
smooth waves of sliced and shiny earth spiraling
behind, the engine droning, the floor-hum tickling
your feet, the big yellow Moline fenders
defining your cabin, you're much alone
on flat fields, not a tree in sight, seagulls,
a punctuation in the sky, hovering
for worms sliced and tossed atop.
At field's end, you jerk the frayed rope to raise
the plow. The shiny, scoured blades climb
out, the tractor takes its little step
up to sod, sighing from its upright pipe, and you turn
and steer your right wheel toward
the clean square trough, then jerk the cord to drop
the plow; the tractor grunts, hunkers
down, squares its shoulders, snorts and starts again.
Again, the engine's drone, the scrape
of stone on steel. You can feel
your back relax, the tingle in your feet, can smell
dark earth and remember a day
you prepared the field for growth,
the rolling sod streaming back and scouring
shares to a shine, the poetry
of straight black lines across a flat field.