Excerpts From Turn Here Sweet Corn


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Page 118: We hear bulldozers start up, back where the school will be built. Martin and I meet eyes, but we don’t say anything. He glances sideways at Eliza, then back to me. I tip my head toward the wire, and we keep planting. The idling engine changes to the crushing and falling of trees and the beep-beep of backup warning. Eliza drops her basket and runs to her tree. Maize dumps the beetles and squishes them under his bare heel. He sends the jar flying into the woods and then takes off running toward the bulldozers . . . more  –An Excerpt from Atina Diffley’s New Book, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works | Heavy Table | April 2, 2012


Cold, Hard Water

An explosion of light rips me out of deep sleep. Behind the flash is a deafening boom. The sky sparks again, a fused web of tearing lines. Wind jumps in, straight on from the west, driving hard rain against the house. I crank the window closed but not quickly enough—the bed and I are drenched. I hear tiny pings against the glass.

Damn. I look at the date on the clock, June 8, 2005. Not now.

Maybe if I go back to sleep, I’ll find I’m just having a nightmare. I curl into a ball at the foot of the bed and squeeze my eyes tight. If I can’t see it, maybe it isn’t true. I pinch my ears closed between my forefingers and thumbs. Maybe if I don’t hear it. But it just grows louder, harder, and faster.

I sit up and peer out the window trying to see how big it is, but it’s completely black outside, then blinding light. The sound is huge now, thumping, bouncing, and rolling off the steel roofs of the outbuildings and echoing between them. Loose metal on equipment is banging and slapping. Small branches are pelting the glass of the window and the wall of the house. I slide out of bed and find Martin standing at the open kitchen door.

Light spills out onto the deck and illuminates the hail. He takes my hand. We would have to shout to talk. The hailstones are hitting the deck and ricocheting, flat three-inch saucers with rough, serrated edges and opaque white centers. I feel a sharp burning on my leg, look down at my calf, and see a long scratch. Blood wells up along the line.

The sound changes from a wide thumping to a hammerhead pounding, and the hail becomes perfectly clear, smooth balls, as big as a B-size potato. They hit and bounce upward, fall and bounce again. The pounding beats in the thought of everyone and everything exposed to the storm. Laura and Adam in their first year starting out, did they ever think about hail when they were dreaming about farming? The pounding says think: think about the baby birds in their nests with only leaves for a roof. Think about the Hmong family down the road; sometimes they sleep overnight in plywood shacks alongside their vegetable plots. What about the twin fawns that bed down in the bush willows? Are they crying?

A hailstone is just hard, cold water. I love water. I need water. I imagine water flowing and plants drinking. More than half of my body is water. What happens when I am cold and hard? I think about winter and snow and trees sleeping. But this is June and everything is growing. I don’t know what purpose hail has.

The deck is completely white now. No wood is showing. I can see Meagan’s and Sarah’s lights on. Their cabins have metal roofs; the sound inside must be terrifying. I wish they were up here in the safety of the brick house. It is impossible to travel between the homes. I can only wait until it is over.

Martin makes a nest of blankets on the floor, and we crawl into it. His arms are calm strength. I imagine the parent birds with their sheltering wings wrapped around their babies. If only we could together be a shield around our fields. I remind myself that we’ve survived storms before. I say, “Remember the one-hundred-mile-an- hour, straight-line wind that blew out of Saint Peter?”

We had been doing routine spring work—I was in the greenhouse, Martin was fixing tractors—when it raced in. In just a few short minutes it knocked over four of the biggest bur oaks on the farm, three-hundred-year-old trees that had previously survived prairie fires and lightning strikes. And then it left, just blew out and on east as abruptly as it came.

“Remember July 23, 1987, when it rained eleven inches?” Martin says.

I will never forget that image. The clouds were dense and black and boiling in deep cups shaped like the bottom of an egg carton. We had our heads bent to the ground planting broccoli so we didn’t notice it coming until the light changed and Bobby Mueller Junior said, “We’re going to get floored.” We tried to finish the row, but the rain came down in one solid sheet instead of drops. We had to just leave the equipment in the middle of the field. Everywhere was instantly running mud. We couldn’t drive or even see the ground. All we could do was trudge with tiny, careful steps through the muck toward the house, holding hands in a line. We put the kids in the middle. The lightning and thunder were right there, we didn’t dare stop, and we were fools to be in it.

That was the storm where I gained a true understanding of the word saturated, when soil has absorbed water to its full capacity, and what happens when it simply can’t take any more. I wonder what happens when people can’t take any more?  . . .  download first chapter of Turn Here Sweet Corn