Into the Soil

"We need rain."

The father shook his head. The son looked out the open window of the truck. They drove slow on the dirt road, rocks popping under the tires.

"We need it bad."

There was water in the ditch and the silver aluminum siphon tubes sucked it out to run down the rows of corn. But the leaves on the corn were curled and the water did not travel to the end of the field. It was too hot and dry for anything to grow.

"I hope that's rain."

The father pointed to the edge of the sky where tall, grey and white clouds floated. They had grown closer as the day went on. The son looked at his father's finger then at his face. He had a mustache and wore a hat with a tractor stitched on the front, glasses, and a shirt with buttons. The boy wore no shirt and was tan--it was late in the summer. They came to the end of the cornfield then turned the truck around and drove back across the field to the house.

"We need to hook up the baler then we'll go feed."

The father had gone out in the early hours before dawn with the swather. The hay would be ready to bale before the sun came up again. They turned into the driveway. There was a white house with dark red trim around the windows. A black dog lay with his head on his paws under the shade of a picnic table on the wooden deck. The boy's white baseball and glove were on the lawn out in the sun.

"Why don't you put your glove in the house? Do you want it to get ruined?"

The father stopped the truck by the green tractor and turned it off.

"I'll drive over and you put the pin in."

"Where is it?"

"Behind the shed."

The boy put his shirt on and made to get out.

"Roll up your window."

The boy rolled it up and the father got out and went up the steps into the tractor. It started and the son walked toward the silver, domed quonset in the back of the yard. A pigeon flew up on the light on the front of the shed. The boy picked up a rock and threw it at the pigeon. It didn't make it more than halfway up the shed but it struck metal and the bird flew away. The boy walked to the end of the shed and to the baler.

He found the pin on the ground next to the jack and he stood with it as his father drove the tractor up then backed towards the baler. The wind picked up. The boy motioned his father to move over to the right as he backed up and when the hole of the tractor's hitch lined up with the baler he slid the pin in. The tractor turned off and his father came down to the hitch.

"Did you get it?"


"Put the clip in."

The sunlight dimmed as the cloud came between them and the sun. The wind picked up and the father cranked up the jack on the hitch and folded it up.

"I'm going to drive this over by the house. You give the sheep a half-bale."

He plugged the hydraulic hoses from the baler into the sockets on the tractor. The boy stood watching.

"Go do it."

The son turned around and ran toward the pens. He ran between the feed bunk and the barn. The black steers were running in a circle from one end to the other of the corral. A cloud of dust rose high above them and they snorted and kicked as they ran. Their hooves sounded like thunder.

He ran toward the sheep pen and the wind blew hard. The sky grew dark. The boy could feel the clouds coming and he ran to the stack of hay at the center of the metal fence. He took a bale from the top and drug it to the spot on the fence across from the metal trough. The sheep were grouped in a corner of the pen like a cloud.

He found the knife on the ground next to the stack and cut the twine in two strokes then stuck it into the side of the stack. Then he took the pitchfork from the stack and stuck it into the bale and threw over half of it. Dust rose up when it landed in the trough. He stabbed the fork into the stack. It thundered above him and he looked to find it.

The wind blew thick dust from the yard at the boy and into his eyes. He put his head down and ran over to the cattle pen. He vaulted over the fence and, running, went to the back of the corral to open the gate so the cattle could get under the lean-to. The father was at the end of the feed bunk by the cattle with the feed truck. It spilled out silage into the concrete bunk but the cattle did not come up to eat. They ran from one end of the pen to the other.

The son got out of the pen as the father reached the end of the bunk. The boy ran over and lifted up the spout on the truck then cranked down the wheel to close the auger.

"Run over to the shed and open the doors so I can put this in. Hurry."

A gust made him stumble once but the boy made it to the shed where he pushed at the metal door and slid it open so the truck could fit in. It started to hail as the truck entered the shed. The father turned off the truck and ran to the open door. The hail was loud on the metal of the shed.

"C'mon. Get it closed."

The boy pushed and the father pulled as the hail and rain came down at an angle. It stung when it hit. They closed it then turned and ran for the house. The father pulled down his hat as he ran. He was faster even though the boy ran with all his speed. They made it into the house where they took off their shoes in the porch. They went into the bathroom and could hear the hail against the windows.

"Son of a bitch."

The boy looked at his father--he was looking at the water on his hands and shaking his head. The father dried off with a towel and the boy washed his hands but forgot to use soap. After he dried his hands, the boy walked out to the kitchen. The table had been set for supper. There was ice in the glasses, a plate of hamburgers, a bowl of corn, a bowl of mashed potatoes and a bowl of cherries. The mother stood in front of the sink, looking out the window. She squeezed a rag as she stared.

The boy went to the living room. The father stood at the window looking out across the lawn and across the road to the corn field. White hail bounced on the lawn like popcorn. The son watched the father watch the corn shredded and beaten back into the soil. The same soil where two months ago he had planted the seeds.

About the author:

Bart Schaneman grew up in Nebraska then moved to California. The weather's better.