The Jacksons – for Jul. 21, 2011

Gravel crunched rhythmically underfoot as Andrew and Rose Jackson walked slowly down the road that bordered the east side of their farm. Overhead, a few clouds floated equally slowly across the sky, while the sun shone down on the endless prairie around them. Hawks soared high overhead while a gang, or more accurately a murder, of crows squabbled in a distant tree and a meadowlark pealed its bright, happy song from a fence post farther up the road. Andrew and Rose walked in silence, hand in hand, enjoying the peace and tranquility of this nearly perfect Sunday afternoon. Rose chuckled suddenly. Andrew gave her a sideways glance.

“What’s funny?” he asked.

“I was just remembering my mother,” said Rose. “That time we took her for a drive to the lake. You remember?”

Andrew nodded. “I remember the drive,” he said, “but the humour eludes me.”

“It was a day exactly like this,” said Rose. “Spectacular, sunny and gorgeous. And I said to her, isn’t it just the most beautiful day, and do you remember what she said?”

It was Andrew’s turn to chuckle. “I remember,” he said. “She said yes, but I think there’s a few too many clouds.”

“That’s right,” said Rose. “It still makes me laugh. She was so sweet but she could always find the imperfection in everything, couldn’t she? I almost asked her that day if she had counted, and if so, how many clouds would have been the actual right number.”

“It’s a little like saying a Mozart symphony has too many notes,” said Andrew, still smiling. “You might think it’s true but you wouldn’t want to be the person who had to decide which ones to take out.”

“Exactly,” said Rose. “Mom just couldn’t help herself. Thank God she was so sweet or it might have actually been a burden sometimes.” She stopped suddenly and swivelled her head around, surveying the scene around them. “Speaking of God,” she said, “I don’t suppose anyone but He could have come up with so many different shades of green.”

Andrew followed her gaze. “I expect that’s true,” he said. His own gaze lingered for a while on the field across the road. “I would have preferred a more uniform green on that field,” he said. Rose looked over at the tufts of quack grass, volunteer canola and occasional thistle that dotted the field in and around the puddles of standing water that were finally, if somewhat slowly, drying up.

“I’m all for zero tillage,” she said, “but I don’t think this is what zero tillage means.”

Andrew shook his head. “Looks pretty sad,” he said. He lifted his head and gazed up at the sky for a long moment. “Such perfect growing weather,” he said, “if only we could have gotten the crops in.”

Rose sighed. “It’s going to be a tough year,” she said. “But at least we have a decent chance for a better one next year. Not like all those people up around the lakes.” She took another look at the soggy field. “According toNational Geographic,” she said, “people in Bangladesh have figured out a way to use hyacinth plants to create floating gardens where they can grow their vegetables, and they’ve turned their rice fields into shrimp and crab farms because their rice wouldn’t grow with all the salt water from the ocean flooding in all the time.”

“Crazy human beings,” said Andrew. “We just don’t know when to give up do we?” He paused. “Maybe if the Bangladeshis have switched from rice to crabs and shrimp, we’ll have to switch from canola and corn to rice.”

Rose laughed at that. “You think rice farming could work in a country that’s frozen solid eight months of the year?” she said. “I thought rice was more of a tropical crop.”

“There’s all kinds of wild rice growing in Manitoba lakes,” said Andrew. “We’d just have to domesticate it. And anyway, in a few years the way things are going, this country will be tropical.”

Rose shook her head. “Two years ago we were cattle ranchers. Last year we brought in sheep. Next year we’ll make rice paddies. I guess it’s back to mixed farming for us.”

Andrew pulled his boot back and with a well-aimed kick sent a large pebble splashing into the little stream of water that flowed at the bottom of the ditch. “Whatever it takes,” he said. “These are unsettled times. Everywhere you look it’s unprecedented this and unprecedented that. I guess we have to come up with unprecedented responses.”

“We could move to Alberta,” said Rose. Andrew laughed. “I said unprecedented,” he replied. “Not unimaginable.”

Don’t miss Rollin Penner and the Traveling Medicine Show performing at the

Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Saturday, August 6 at 1:30.

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