Sunday, October 12, 2008


You wake up one morning. You walk outside. You take a breath and you know. There is a peanut field somewhere that has been turned over, the peanuts thrown onto their backs and left to dry as they wait for the harvest.

You know this because of the scent – damp earth and nitrogen. It is the perfume of a south Georgia October. It hovers over the yards and roads, seeps into the houses and alerts those who sleep in those houses to be aware of slow-moving vehicles grunting their way toward town hauling jewels weighed by the ton, not the carat. The languor of late summer has shifted into the urgency of harvest.

And while there is no canonized text or organized presbytery, this work, this repetition, this ritual is as much liturgy as is holy communion. Those who plant and plow and pray for rain are the priests who tend the temple of the earth year after year, who keep the fires lit and offer the sacrifices of hard labor and harder faith on behalf of the rest of us.

I was not born with dirt under my fingernails. I came late to the life of farming, a recalcitrant teen-aged companion to my father's following his bliss. I resented the dust and the isolation of the dirt road. I came as close as I ever have to cursing as I ran barefoot across a field in blistering heat helping chase a blind cow. I couldn't wait to be gone.

I left for college before the first harvest. It was seven years before I returned. By that time I had, mercifully, learned a few things and that fall, standing on the front porch as my father and my brother, covered in dust and bone-weary, climbed into the cabs of their trucks and jerked their way up that dirt road pulling trailers into the quickly waning light, I bowed my head and prayed.

Prayed for the daylight to last so that the trailers could be seen by other vehicles, prayed that the tires would hold up, prayed for all the traffic lights going through town to be green. Prayed for every farmer in every truck pulling every trailer in every town. That was 27 years ago.

The highway into town is four-laned all the way now so the people with tags from Gwinnett and Cobb and Fulton don't get to blow their horns and shake their fists quite as much anymore, but not much else has changed. There's still a chance that the rain won't come soon enough to loosen the ground and the peanuts will fall off the vine as they are plowed up. Or that, once they're plowed up and drying, the rain will come and produce mold. It's quite likely that a fully-loaded trailer will blow a tire at some point.

But what's certain is that the hum of the plows and the pickers will begin with daylight and continue long after sunset. That the men driving them will pause only long enough to disengage a knot of vines from the plow and swig down a Coke or a jar of iced tea. That the last load will be the subject of great rejoicing. That the earth will yield its increase and be gladly put to bed.

You wake up one morning. You walk outside. You take a breath and you know. There is a peanut field somewhere that has been turned over and the call to worship has been sung. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Amen.

Copyright 2008

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