My farm story started when I was two years old. That’s when my parents moved us to a house in the country abutting the most broken down, junk filled, 30 head, hillside hardscrabble dairy farm you could ever imagine. There’s a picture I still have, an old black and white of me soon after we moved in, 1972, being held by the farmer who would become a part of my childhood my present, and my future. I am balling my eyes out in the picture, wearing a metal army helmet he had given me as s gift. A precious, coddled two year old, crying like the world might end, being held by a toothless and ruddy man of 60 or so who showered with under a hose and whose house became so filled with junk 10 years later that he and his wife had to move into the milk room sleeping on adjacent reclining lawn chairs. It’s clear from the picture, and consistent with his character that he seemed to think my tantrum just about as funny as I found him scary, strange, stinky… who knows what a two year old thinks the first time he is held by a calloused old farmer while wearing a metal army helmet. In the picture he is pretending to cry with me and I’m sure, knowing him, that he was mimicking my wails as well.
By the time I was a young teen I had thrown countless bails of hay from his wagons onto the conveyer belt. Often they were laced with poison ivy which I never knew until the next day. But I don’t remember anything ever tasting as good as a dipper full of cold raw milk he’d bring out for each of us bail-throwers every hour or so. He taught me how to swear, how to spit, how to pluck a goose, how to drive a team of oxen (sort of) and just about every dirty joke I still know.
But it’s the haying I remember best, and those dippers full of cold, cold milk. He died haying appropriately enough, or at least in a hay field, I was off at college and never got the precise details. Massive heart attack in his late 70’s.
So anyway this ‘video’ which is simply a still image with perhaps my favorite poet, Gary Snyder, reading his poem ‘Hay for the Horses’ is dedicated to Mervin Clark, who gave me a steel army helmet when I was two years old, and was rewarded with shrieks while either my mom or dad (neither of them remembers the day) stood and took that black and white picture back in 1972.