Com­ing full circle to quench our thirst

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - ByHo­bieMor­ris

“Today old Fergie, his prim­i­tive farm­ing equip­ment, his sto­ries, his way of liv­ing. our old barn, my Fa­ther andMother are only pleas­ant, won­der­ful mem­o­ries. Sim­pler and peace­ful times be­come in­creas­ingly more im­por­tant in my life as I grow older. The seem­ingly end­less days of sum­mer—and age of in­no­cence and child­like ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the lit­tle things in life all have emerged in my per­sona.” --Au­thor, 2017

This sim­ple coun­try man of­ten imag­ines a bet­ter time. As the im­mor­tal base­ball philoso­pher Yogi once mused, “the fu­ture isn’t what it used to be.” I don’t know ex­actly what knuckle balls were bounc­ing around in Yogi’s head but I think I agree with this philo­soph­i­cal icon. The Greek poet He­siod was not to my knowl­edge a Yan­kee base­ball fan in 700 B.C., but he was even then lament­ing the pass­ing of aGold­enAge. In fact, arche­ol­o­gists re­cently un­cov­ered an 8,500-year-old cult in Cyprus that had ap­par­ently re­jected the Ana­to­lian world.

So I am in good com­pany. My mind is in­creas­ingly fu­eled by nos­tal­gia which comes from the Greek mean­ing ” home com­ing or re­turn” and the “pain or ache” to do so. Be­ing nos­tal­gic like I am was once con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous, some­times fa­tal, med­i­cal ail­ment. Today, how­ever, it is re­garded by most psy­chol­o­gists as a very pos­i­tive emo­tion, im­prov­ing mood, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, etc. Re­turn­ing to an ear­lier time— a sim­pler and more un­der­stand­able pe­riod—is good for your mind and phys­i­cal well be­ing.

One of my flights of nos­tal­gia be­gins re­cently in sleepy ru­ral Brook­field, the still­ness only oc­ca­sion­ally bro­ken by a pass­ing ve­hi­cle, trac­tor, or bark­ing dog from a nearby farm. It’s an early fall Sun­day morn­ing and I’m sit­ting in the empty Bap­tist Church, lis­ten­ing to my lovely and vi­va­cious mu­si­cally-gifted wife prac­tice the hymns she’ll soon be play­ing dur­ing the up­com­ing church ser­vice. The two weath­ered old wooden church front doors are open to bring in fresh air. I sit and re­lax, en­joy­ing the “free con­cert.” Then I hear it com­ing up the street.

“Clip- clop, clip- clop, clip-clop” ... the clip-clop­ping gets louder as is an un­fa­mil­iar low rum­bling sound on the road pave­ment. Then I see it through the open doors. A black Amish ve­hi­cle pulled by a fast trot­ting bay road horse pulling it al­most ef­fort­lessly. My glimpse is brief, as the wagon sped by the church and up the hill out of the vil­lage. I re­turned my at­ten­tion to the beau­ti­ful church mu­sic. Lois turns her equally beau­ti­ful face to­wards me. She is ready to bring joy to the con­gre­ga­tion be­gin­ning to

drift in.

Horse- drawn ve­hi­cles are far more com­mon in Brook­field now that Amish fam­i­lies have moved into the sur­round­ing hills, the rum­bling noise that I heard on that Sun­day morn­ing be­ing the iron rimmed wooden wheels of their horse drawn ve­hi­cles. The Amish of course use large draft horses, usu­ally Bel­gians, for the more de­mand­ing field work and heavy load pulling. At a very early age, Amish boys learn how to harness and drive both the heavy draft horses and the lighter horses for trav­el­ing.

Brook­field­ers are now see­ing what was once com­mon in this community and all across Amer­ica. Our 21st cen­tury “rev­o­lu­tion”—which cov­ers vir­tu­ally ev­ery facet of who and what we are today--re­ally only be­gan in earnest in the sec­ond quar­ter of the 20th cen­tury. Be­fore World War I, horse power—the four legged kind, not the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion one— was still the most widely used means of trans­porta­tion and work in Amer­ica, although closely ri­valed by the ex­plo­sion of rail­roads be­gin­ning af­ter the Civil War.

Be­gin­ning af­ter World War I, the automobile rev­o­lu­tion -- ac­com­pa­nied by the devel­op­ment of pow­er­ful farm trac­tors and the de­mand in the bur­geon­ing Amer­i­can cities for more rapid, clean and more re­li­able trans­porta­tion by the im­mi­grant in­flux and in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial un­prece­dented ex­plo­sion -- marked the end of the horses as count­less mil­lions of faith­ful dob­bins were per­ma­nently “put out to pas­ture.” The days of ur­ban con­ges­tion, traf­fic jams and an­gry and im­pa­tient driv­ers were upon us and re­main so today.

In ru­ral Amer­ica the pace of life also changed. Horses could no longer meet the in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing de­mands as small farms be­came big­ger and the ma­chine rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ues today. The old ways of farm­ing be­came as ar­chaic as the horse and buggy. The sounds of working horses in sleepy Brook­field slowly died out and have died out for many gen­er­a­tions, un­til the Amish came to live and work largely in the old ways.

The last Brookf ield farmer to use only horses was a long time fam­ily friend who was for many years the un­of­fi­cial care taker of land my Utica born at­tor­ney fa­ther pur­chased west of Brook­field in the early 1930s. We called him “Fergie.” (Clay­ton Ferguson) He was an old man when we knew him best as rough and tum­ble, very frisky, tow headed sib­lings. Fergie took care of our prop­erty when we weren’t there, in­clud­ing a f lock of sheep that he fed in the win­ter. He also hayed our open fields with loose hay in those days that he fed the sheep when the weather got bad. Fergie was a unique person. He would pull his own teeth with a pair of pli­ers if the ache got too bad. He and his wife lived in a semi-liv­able chicken coop. He had a cou­ple of cows and two draft horses named Molly and Ma­jor. I learned so much from him and the type of life that he lived and gen­er­a­tions be­fore him.

My rec­ol­lec­tions of hot, sum­mer days help­ing Fergie hay our small acreage the old way bring back won­der­ful nos­tal­gic re­mem­brances. A few snip­pets fol­low as a coda to these hap­pier times...

... Soon the hay rack looked like a large ris­ing loaf of home­made bread on four wheels. It was time to head back to the barn and un­load. Af­ter stick­ing our pitch forks into the side of the mov­ing load, we scam­pered as fast as we could cross lots and soon were dip­ping out cups of ice cold wa­ter from our faith­ful old spring. How won­der­ful the pure wa­ter tasted on a hot July day... The two wooden slid­ing doors of the an­cient barn’s hay mows were wide open. Fergie care­fully guided his team and wagon onto the plank floor. It’s a tight squeeze He pulls the team to­gether into a tight cor­ner, al­low­ing the hay rack to be com­pletely in­side the barn next to the mow to be filled. The horses pa­tiently stand un­til the hay is un­loaded.

Our thirst quenched we join Fergie in the barn. We climb up a home­made wooden lad­der built into a ver­ti­cal hand hewn sup­port beam. I won­der now how many sim­i­lar hands and feet made the same as­cent. The barn’s roof was sag­ging and un­even now. Its hem­lock boards full of holes and cracks, al­low­ing the barn swal­lows easy ac­cess. Fergie tosses up our pitch forks and soon he is fork­ing up the loose hay. Fergie knows how to make a load and also how to un­load it. We kids in turn carry the hay to all parts of the mow, stamp­ing it down as we do. The sum­mer days are hot. The closer we get to the roof line, we be­come in­creas­ingly hot, sweaty and hay­seed itchy. As Fergie tosses up fork­fuls of hay, he usu­ally tells us sto­ries from his long life. Be­fore you know it the boards on his hay rack are empty. We had been so en­grossed in his story we had for­got­ten the time, our aching mus­cles and oc­ca­sional hand blis­ters. Un­load­ing two loads of loose hay were a day’s work. Soon it’s time for Fergie to re­turn to his small farm sev­eral miles down the val­ley. He has milk­ing and other chores to do, but he is never too rushed to come up to the camp and join all of us in one of my mother’s de­li­cious sup­pers. Soon it was time to go. He hitched up a light wagon and down the dirt road he went. Good weather was pre­dicted for to­mor­row and we would see him again in the forenoon...

In so many ways com­ing full circle is an end­less theme in all our lives. All we have to do is take time to think back about the good times. It gives me great strength and com­fort. Only the ice cold wa­ter and shal­low well re­main from those won­der­ful times, hav­ing flowed sparkling pure, clean wa­ter from the earth ev­ery sec­ond of my en­tire life. In fact, my amaz­ing wife Lois and I still drink it ev­ery day. A con­stant re­minder of the pitch fork and loose hay days.

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