by Mary Lewis
Chapter 1 Out of the Valley
On the township road that pitched forward like a rollercoaster that must go over the hills instead of around them, her little Ford rose and fell while the gravel yielded, leaving tracks where the earth underneath had not shed the moisture from the winter’s ice. The farms began to look familiar. The square Nielson house at the crest of a ridge, fat rolls of silage that crawled like giant worms in their plastic skins over the hill behind the Ryerson barn. What happened to the pasture at Trygsgard’s? Plowed under for corn probably, even on that steep hill. Everyone wanted grow corn for ethanol. A tractor with a boom 80 feet across rocked over a field lumpy black dirt, the Miller place, just uphill from Earth works. Triangles of mist sprayed over the ground, with some preemergent, probably Atrazine. Kills weeds right after they poke out of the ground. Who cares if it might be toxic to other things, that it’s showing up in drinking water, that runoff could carry it straight down into the fields at Earth Works.
She opened her eyes wide to smooth away the frown that she felt pinching her brow. No sense starting out this way.
Now she saw the arched sign that spanned the entrance, with a name anyone in sustainable ag knew, “Earth Works.” She’d only been here in summer, and now, devoid of green except in those bold letters overhead, the farmyard was stripped to the architecture of trees and buildings. Like friends she’d forgotten, they gathered around the circle drive. The red barn needing paint, the greenhouse, and the big square house built in the days when farmers needed lots of kids to work the place.
She threw on her jacket and walked to the barn, but it was dark inside, so she followed the drive to a new building, a white, metal pole shed that still had some sawdust at the base of the north wall where ice imprisoned it. The big end door was wide open to the eastern sun, and deep inside she caught the green of the old John Deere.
She was about to say something when an arm clothed in blue denim holding a long metal rod flung itself over the fender. The torso appeared, followed by head, legs, all focused on the tractor. She didn’t want to disturb him, but she had to let him know she was there.
“Hello, is that Gunnar?”
“Nope,” he said. Some clank of metal on metal. Then “Damn, why do they screw these lugs on so tight?”
She still couldn’t see his face, but she said, “Those air drills don’t take any effort I guess.”
He uncoiled and looked at her, as though she was some kind of new bug.
“They don’t think of the guy with just a tire iron.” She adjusted the barrette at the nape of her neck for no reason, and smoothed out her long hair.
He was all vertical lines now, blue-jeaned legs, his long arm even longer with the tire iron in one hand, his seed cap dangling in the other. That white band below his hairline where his visor kept the sun off.