Below the Surface: The Sound of Silence

Published online: Aug 04, 2019 Feature, Below the Surface Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This article appears in the August/September 2019 issue of Sugar Producer

It’s 6:28 on a Tuesday morning, and as you stride out the front door, pulling on a Kenworth ballcap over a receding (though you’ll never admit it) hairline, your mind races to formulate the day’s checklist: Replace three sprinklers on Pivot No. 4. Meet the guy from the soil lab to show him which fields to sample. Call the insurance guy about that thing you’d rather not talk about. Call your sister to make sure everyone doesn’t bring potato salad to the family reunion next weekend.

You step up into the pickup, stick the key in the ignition, and turn the key halfway, waiting for the glow plug light to go off so the truck and your day can really get started. In that two-second span, the thought occurs to you: Right now, in this moment, the morning is quiet. And it’s nice.

So you roll down the windows, pull the key out of the ignition, lean back and close your eyes. This is the last silence you’ll get until sundown, at least; Pivot No. 4 can wait another 30 seconds. Of course, the silence isn’t really all that silent. This is the songbirds’ favorite time of day, and they’re welcoming it with gusto. The creek isn’t the roaring, flooding-its-banks maelstrom it was in mid-April, but it still supplies the morning with a healthy, burbling kind of laugh. And it sounds like Jim, a half-mile up the road, has gotten a good start on baling his third-crop hay.   

For those few seconds, the only sounds in the world are close, yet distant. Unobtrusive. Peaceful, even. And you savor it, charging that internal battery a little bit more. Finally, you sigh, turn the key, and feel as much as hear the familiar, friendly rumble of the pickup.

Everyone likes to call living on a farm “the quiet life.” And, yeah, in a lot of ways, it is. But there’s a whole lot of noise too, isn’t there? Tractors are straight-up loud, even before you even add in the rhythmic banging and crashing of whatever implement it happens to be pulling that day. All day long, you can hear the pivot motor kicking on and off as it creeps around the field. Even where there is no pivot, the steady tch-tch-tch of brass birds is readily heard. Your cell phone, handy as it is, is constantly buzzing, begging you to pick it up and talk to the banker, the co-op, the high-schooler you hired a week ago and just wrecked the four-wheeler, your daughter who ran out of gas three miles from home and Daddy, can you come rescue me?

Then there’s all the B.S. you have to listen to on the news: Farms are nothing but greedy, sleazy corporations. Sugar will kill you. America’s grasslands have been destroyed by modern agriculture. Climate change could be reversed if Big Bad Big Ag could be stopped from running amok. America’s falling apart. Some actress made fun of some botched Botox injection endured by some Instagram model (whatever the heck that is). It’s exhausting.

Thankfully, with the home and occupation you’ve chosen, there are some reprieves. The beets may not be getting their full ration of water today, but there’s something therapeutic about those few minutes spend standing in the bed of the pickup between Pivot No. 4’s second and third towers and changing out that sprinkler—with no pumps or diesel engines or any other man-made power source running. Traipsing down the rows back to the pickup after checking in with soil guy, inadvertently admiring the rich, dark color of that soil as you walk on it, is a nice way to work on your neck-and-forearm tan. And after hanging up with both the insurance guy and your sister, there is a sense of relief, even accomplishment; the farm will not be foreclosed on, and the family reunion menu will include a plethora of salad varieties (potato, of course, but also macaroni, garden, Jell-O and some hippie-sounding one with quinoa and blueberries).

It’s now 9:17 on a Tuesday evening, and as you turn off the pickup for what you hope is at least seven or eight hours, you take another moment so savor the “silence.” The creek is still running nicely. In the twilight, crickets have replaced the birds as nature’s live entertainment. And as the evening dew starts to settle beneath the first few stars, Jim’s baler fires up off in the distance.