The idea that Ohio’s memory is long is an illusion. The Midwest carries the same truncated histories as everywhere else. But the illusion is strong here, reinforced by its repeating cycles: work the land, plant the seed, tend the crop, harvest the bounty. And after the work, the descent into a grey decay, the deep freeze, the cold stillness that eventually gives away to a blessed thaw: green shoots poking through snow, spikes of last year’s cornstalks worn smooth and colorless.
If you live in Ohio, your life is defined by cycles, even if you’re unaware of it. There’s no way around that. Ohio’s agriculture industry, which largely depends on Ohio’s weather, climate, and ability to experience all four seasons in a day, represent $124 billion of the state’s economic output, ranking it alongside manufacturing and healthcare. I didn’t know the name for a gravity wagon until I was an adult, but intuitively, I knew what its purpose was when it appeared in the fields next to our house. Just like the urge to leave when it becomes too much – too cold, too grey, too barren, too boring – it also draws us back in, those green shoots enticing us, encouraging a connection to the land as sustenance, the land as joy.
But the land is challenging, too. It comes with its own rules, rules which vary greatly from the north of the state to the southern tip, and across its wide, swath of a middle. If you are a farmer, or even if you are vaguely familiar with what it takes to work the land, you know a thing or two about soil: the many different types, which regions have hard clay deposits, where the loamiest layers are, which soils are most conducive to growing Ohio corn and soybeans.
To grow something is a paradox: knowing and loving the land, while at the same time wrestling it into submission. A study in contradiction: the hedge row that lines the farmer’s planted field. One unruly, brambles springing forth from the earth. A gnarled mess of vine and branch. The other tamed, treated, coaxed into giving a very specific kind of life. Rows reminiscent of raked sand in a Zen garden, sprouts lined up neat, fenced in by geometry. A history to excavate, and one to repeat. That seems like an essay to me.
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