Dear Asa

I wish you were here to see
Those beautiful, black, angry clouds that rolled in
Taking over the morning sky today in mere minutes and
The sight of Daddy, running to the big truck
Holding onto his white hat, yellow rain pants bright and
Blurring in the eerie, dark light.

I wish you could hear
The sound of crashing rain and clanging
Tomato buckets as Val and I piled them up
In the back of the big truck and sat there, in pitch black
Hoping tents would not fall on us as
Daddy drove back on the road.

I wish you could see
The rain through the hole in the truck floor as
It caught the light of the back lights and
Sparked, like firecrackers…

I wish you could look
Across the potato field, as I did, and see
Kazami wrap a potato in wet, black mud and
Toss it happily between his hands
A little boy, once again.

And as I caught wet watermelon from Daddy
Diving for some, squatting low for the heavy ones –
I remembered you protectively blocking my face as
Daddy’s quick tosses led to a terrifying showering of melons
Last Friday – your last harvest of the summer – and
I wished you were still here,
Smiling down at me from the bed of the truck,
Hands up, waiting for the throw.

Cackling Chickens

The wind was picking up for a second time on the farm Thursday, blowing cold against my skin and lighting the flame of hope inside of me. Matt called over the rippling sound of the air to let me know that rain was coming, and sure enough, when I looked up at the hazy, grey sky, I saw a line of pouring rain across the field barreling straight towards where we were picking bunches of chard.

I had forgotten my raincoat, so I shivered as the rain soaked me to the core, drenching my back in a matter of seconds. My knife slipped in my wet hands as I tried to cut the leafy green stalks of chard, but I was smiling in pure glee, the feeling of contentment growing inside of me. There was something completely freeing about getting drenched from head to toe in fresh, freezing rainwater on the farm.

Later, I asked Daddy as he made a sample of Hopi Red Amaranth for Kazami and I to pick, if he was happy with all of the rain showers that had happened this week. Daddy just shook his head in wonder and said, “I checked the rain gage and it said nine-tenths of an inch from just today’s rain. I just can’t believe it!”

When it had rained on Saturday afternoon, when he was coming home from the market, Daddy had said that we did not have to irrigate that night. But more rain came on Wednesday, and now, we would make it through a whole week without moving drip tape lines. We had been irrigating nonstop ever since I came home for the summer, so not having to worry about finding header lines or dragging out hoses seems strange.

Kazami had sustained the soaking from the storm, as well, but like me, had enjoyed it immensely. He was in such a good mood while bunching amaranth with me that he was singing to himself and giggling at his own puns. I could not help but think about how both of my sweet, handsome, dependable brothers were leaving the farm soon. Asa was going back to school for his final year of undergrad the following Monday, and Kazami was tagging along to visit the University of Alabama to see if he would like to attend that college. Days before I would leave on a flight to Hawai’i to work as a research assistant to one of my most favorite professors at Northwestern, Kazami would leave the house to go back to boarding school for his final year, as well. Summer on the farm was coming to a close too soon.

But Kazami’s laughter never fails to make me chuckle, as well, so I found myself in a fit of giggles while finishing out the last of the amaranth and all the way home to the shed. When I got out of the red truck, Asa told me, “Your laughter sounds like the cackle of a scared chicken.” Confused, I thought he had said that the sound of my laughter had scared the chickens, which was both upsetting and sort of amazing that it had been that loud. When I explained this to my brothers, they erupted into laughter. I did, too, and wondered if this time, the chickens had heard.

Everlasting

I slam the Prius’ black car door shut,
Fuming and furiously fighting back tears and as I
Stomp out my frustration across the field, I feel
Panic twist itself into my mind, bubbling and bursting,
Screaming that nothing seems to be working out –
Those I love are leaving, breaking away to fly,
To find a place in the world and
Time is slipping out of my grip, again, as I await
My own upcoming island adventure, while my stomach knots in worry,
As bags deepen in color under my exhausted eyes and I
Try in vain to hold on to tranquility.

But then I see it, in the melon patch –
That striped green ball of sugary goodness
Shooting from Daddy’s callused hands to Val’s, up to a smiling Kazami
In the red truck, and placed carefully into a wooden box –
So I take over for Val, catching Daddy’s tosses,
Even the silly ones – from underneath his legs, to the side,
Accidentally hard into my belly, sometimes
Too silly to catch, even though I lunge in every effort
To save those precious globes from a fatal smashing.

From time to time Daddy stops, slips out his knife and
Cuts open a melon to taste, and in between tosses
Kazami and I, too, gobble up pieces of yellow, red, swirly-orange
Watermelon, juice dripping off of our chins, spitting out
Black seeds in record time, so that we can
Ready ourselves in crouching melon catching position once more.

By the time the truck is filled to the brim with the sweet aroma
Of orange-fleshed muskmelon mixed with sugary watermelon and
Covered, too, with boxes and boxes of fragile fruit,
Soft purple streaks across the sky, over deep blue and
Kazami hums “Party Rock Anthem” as we move drip tape down
Corn, beans, and newly planted lettuce beds, and when
My reckless little brother whizzes by on the tractor at top speed,
Curly brown hair blowing off of his tan forehead, I shake my
Head in disbelief but smile, thinking of his joyful laugh.

When I turn on the road to pick him up with the car at the
Land Connection barn to go home, the radio is playing
“Party Rock Anthem”, so I turn it up loud so that
Kazami giggles, hearing it, and starts to shuffle playfully
Dancing cheerfully before getting in and then
I am laughing, all panic, frustration and sadness
Erased and replaced with the taste of watermelon and
This simple love that envelopes us –
Sweet, sticky, and everlasting.

Rain Dances for Rainbows

Adrenaline is rushing through my veins as
I lift and set the last bucket of blushing red hybrid tomatoes
into the bed of the truck, peering up at dark clouds,
feeling the rushing wind, moving faster and faster, on my skin
I turn – Val’s eyes and smile are wide – she felt a drop!
I dance as I make my way to the truck, whispering for more.

It comes, then, in waves of large drops –
from those smoldering black clouds, we cheer
as water splatters on the windshield, wipers fast to clear it away
and I open the window to let the rain hit my face
wanting to jump out right then to dance barefoot
in the rain, but knowing full well that these tomatoes need
to get to the safety of the shed, I squash that longing inside of me.

But once the tomatoes are safe, and Daddy lets us all go
The rain is still calling for me, pouring hard on the shed roof so
I run gleefully up to the house, take off my shoes and I’m
free – to do turns on the wet cement, lifting my face
to drink some drops, rain pouring into my eyes and I
let my hair down, shaking it as water drenches my curls and
I lay down to listen to the showering of drops as they
soak me through and through.

Later, Kazami, taking a larger-than-necessary tomato sandwich
in his hands to eat, shouts in wonder and points outside the window
and then I see it, too – a perfect, glorious rainbow behind the trees
a lighter rainbow right behind it, glowing brightly in the fading light as
the rain slows to a steady, lazy beat and I’m smiling to the sky –
my hair dripping with water and my heart dripping with gratitude.

DISCLAIMER FROM DADDY:

Though the rain was nice, it only amounted to about 15/100 of an inch, which is not enough to satisfy out thirsty field. So tonight, like many nights before in these dry, summer weeks, Kazami and I will be moving drip tapes in the dark, with our headlights lighting the way… Sigh…all we can do is hope for rain that will make a difference.

Hardships (and Joys) of Drought

“Is this the kind of wind that signals the coming of rain?” Asa asks Daddy in the cool dawn darkness of Thursday morning, ripping off old, shriveled leaves off of deep purple beets and sorting them into piles of different sizes for Daddy to make bunches out of. Sure enough, the air is moving in an eerie way, rippling through my hair as I handle the Golden beets in the same way across from Asa. Daddy, sitting between us, twirling beet bunches with flourish, answers curtly. “No, that’s the kind of wind that signals that the rainclouds are departing.”

Except for a few strange, sudden five minute showers that, as Daddy says, “mean nothing”, Henry’s Farm has not received a single drop of rain again this week. I had heard on the radio earlier in the week that Illinois is suffering from the worst drought since 1988 this year. Corn and soybean production is expected to be severely limited, so farmers have been petitioning for help from the government. Similarly, we have been suffering as well, and to be true, if we do not irrigate on a daily basis, our farm would be quite barren. Some crops, such as summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes, are not doing so well even with irrigation. The summer squash plants are covered with squash beetle eggs, and most are already getting eaten alive by the stink bug look-a-likes. Grandpa informed us that this may be due to the fact that the bacteria that work to eat the squash beetle larvae die off in the intense heat, so more eggs survive. My heart also drops whenever we harvest tomatoes, since most have a mysterious “butt disease”, as I like to call it, which causes the tomato ends to rot. We hypothesize that this illness is due to a lack of calcium in the soil. I am hoping that the first fruits will be the only ones that have this odd rot, since the heirloom tomatoes we picked on Tuesday in the greenhouse did not have much butt disease, but hoping, I have come to conclude this year, does not change anything.

But I am glad that our farm has a great variety of vegetable kinds and varieties, since while summer crops seem to be less productive this year, other crops are doing better than last year. The carrots that Matt, Lucas and I are pulling from the ground and bunching, for example, are beautiful – the roots large and tops sturdy. When Daddy was showing us the bunch size, he commented that regular irrigation leads to gorgeous root vegetables. “In regular years, they either get too much rain or too little,” he explained. “I understand now why most of our vegetables are grown in the California and Arizona desert.”

“But they’re also draining the river there, right?” Matt had interjected then. How true, I think to myself as I remember this, burrowing my hands down into the damp, black, just-irrigated soil. The regular irrigation we have been doing all summer has been slowly draining our own supply of our reservoir of glacier water, a precious resource.

It is also very taxing to our physical and mental stamina, I think later, as we attempt to set up new lines on another section of the farm after making hundreds of onion bunches and digging potatoes. This time, we had enough lines to drag over from another section, which was great. However, now Sydney is spearheading an expedition to find another header line (the bigger hose that connects to the even larger, fire hose, in which all of the drip tape lines are to be connected) to stretch out until the end of the rows we want to water this time. Mass confusion ensues as Sydney wants to use a line that is now being used to irrigate another set of rows, and we are all yelling out different ideas as to what we should do. I set out to try and find another header line somewhere in this expansive field, as Sydney suggests. Finally, we just decide to snap off the section of the header line that is not being used, and we all line up – me in front, then Kazami, Janaki, Sydney and Lucas – lift it over our heads, and start the procession across the field. When we finally figure out how to connect the header line to the other one, and then cap the end so that the water does not flow out, Val and Matt are still attempting to figure out how to connect the red fire hoses. By the time we are in the truck, heading back to the wash area, we are all drained from running out the lines in the heat and from thinking about what goes where, and how to go about doing it.

There is something about this never-ending heat and dry spell that causes every Brockman family member to pass out almost instantly after coming home after eight hours of work in the field, after eating Mommy’s delicious homemade basil, tomato and mozzarella cheese pizza, and after taking a cool, refreshing shower. We sleep like the dead for hours, until Daddy has to wake up to wash all of the root vegetables, and I convince myself to lift my heavy body out of bed. As I head back to the house after putting the washed veggies in the cooler, I spot Koko in the shade underneath the Market truck, eyes closed, her legs splayed out in ultimate relaxation, breathing slowly, deep in slumber, and I bet she is dreaming of cooler days.

Dust Song

Dust is everywhere, hovering.

A menacing cloud behind the tractor
as Otousan plants the beds.
It billows up from under our feet
as we follow the seeder.

Dust in our hair, smudged on our faces,
stained on Otousan’s once-white shirt.
Kazami coughs, covers his nose and mouth.

I look up at the darkening sky,
my eyes pleading for drops of rain
to fall from above.

Rain, rain, rain, please, rain, rain.
I am chanting in my head as I switch the seed.
please give Otousan a break
from late night drip tape running,
please erase our collective, hopeless sigh
when Otousan announces it is time
to switch the water, again,
Rain, will you not come? Please, please, rain…

Val and Sydney yell across the field.
Pull on the other side.
I put it on the wrong row!

Asa wraps twine taut around tomato poles
in the greenhouse, securing the tall vines
as the sun begins to dive into the trees
setting the tips on fire,
the rest a silhouette
against orange-red sky.

It almost rained this morning.
Did you see those clouds?

Kazami pipes up beside me.
Otousan answers quietly as he flips through seed,
deciding what to plant next:
It almost rained…
But what can you do?
His voice drips hopelessness.

We finish our planting
when most sunlight has faded.
It is impossible now to read
the numbers on the seed plates.
The drip tape lines are set up,
beds upon beds planted,
tomatoes trellised, sun set.
The dust remains,
one drop of water
not yet fallen from the sky.

My chants continue as Otousan drives,
headlights bright against the dark, dry field of dust.
Rain, rain, rain, please, rain, rain…
Please.

Laughing at Lamb’s Quarters

The Lamb’s Quarters that were invading the green kale rows seemed to be laughing at me as I slashed at their tenacious roots on Independence Day. Even as I put every ounce of remaining energy into raising my scuffle hoe high in the air and coming down where root met ground with great force, the metal of my hoe just bounced back, not even making a dent in its thick roots. I heard it giggle through the unbearably humid air, making fun of me – I was too weak for it. Sweat dropped like beads from my forehead to the ground as I slashed and slashed. But with every clang of my hoe I felt my energy drain, my thirst for water increase, and hopelessness slowly take over my heart.

Finally, it looked like the root was cut enough that I could pull it out. Yet as I gathered the magnificent plant in my hands and started to tug, I could hear its laughter increase. Of course it would not budge, holding fast to the earth with determination. I clenched my teeth and pronounced war, trying in vain to yank it out of the ground. Just when it seemed as if it were going to give, the top part of the plant pulled off, leaving the rest of its multitude of roots still firmly in the ground.

I gave a shriek of anger and felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was too pathetic to even get a dreadful Lamb’s Quarters plant out of the field and too drained to move on hacking at the remaining forest of looming Lamb’s Quarters in front of me.

The exhaustion had originated from mulching the peppers, tomatillos, and some of the tomatoes all morning in 100 degree heat and heavy humidity. I had wrapped a handkerchief over my nose and mouth so that I would not breathe in the dust. Like the rest of the crew – Janaki in particular, since she had multiple handkerchiefs wrapped around her face – I looked like a bandit. Still, when mulching with a bale of moldy hay, I started to cough and everything began to taste like mulch. As I carried the hay bales down the long rows of peppers, I would count my steps in order to forget how my arm muscles ached, weighted down by the hefty bale. Then I would find my hand hoe, the metal part sizzling hot to the touch, and cut the string. Sitting down on my hands and knees, I would then distribute the mulch, making sure to push it forcefully against the pepper plants, leaving no room for weeds to grow. Mulching is my least favorite job on the farm since it takes so much energy to lug the bales and to distribute the hay while feeling as if you cannot breathe the whole time. But mulching in 100 degree, humid conditions was my worst nightmare, since the sun’s fiery rays stole away most of my energy.

Back in the jungle of Lamb’s Quarters, I was halfheartedly hitting the roots of another plant, which were refusing to budge. My head was starting to pound, a sure sign of dehydration, so I decided to trek across the field to the red truck and get a drink of water. I drank in desperate gulps and then fully refreshed, made my way back to the kale, eating a banana. I realized then that somewhere along my adventure of chopping evil Lamb’s Quarters, I had lost my hand hoe. My fatigued, emotional state combined with this insight made me want to weep once more. Thankfully, after searching frantically – the special hand hoes were shipped in from Japan and thus could not be lost – Janaki helped me locate my precious object underneath a heap of dreaded, murdered Lamb’s Quarters.

We had moved on to another bed, where the Lamb’s Quarters were still young and thus still slash-able. I felt my energy surge and when Val came over to tell us that Daddy said we could either take a break at noon, which was in fifteen minutes, or work until one, I was feeling so invigorated that I wished to stick it out one more hour. Val gave us clippers to cut out the Lamb’s Quarters, which was a much easier way to quickly get rid of the weeds. I felt gleeful as I snipped at the plants, watching them fall to the ground. I giggled – what weak weeds!

Fifteen minutes later, Kazami came over, his face red and eyes tired. “Daddy says we have to go home now,” he told me, so I replied that I was going to stay. He shook his head and told me it was Daddy’s order.

Later, as I waited for Matt to drive the red truck over to where Kazami and I were standing next to the road back to the house, I watched as Daddy bent over the weeds at the lettuce patch, cutting them out with swipes of his slicer hoe. I knew he, with his aching back and tired muscles, would work on for at least another hour in the hot, humid air.

I knew that the Lamb’s Quarters were wrong – I was not weak. I could work through anything if I had water and food. I knew that I was Daddy’s daughter and I was tough.

Simmering Sun; Glorious Naps

I was walking back to the white truck after dropping off a roll of irrigation t-tape at the Land Connection barn at around 5:15 Thursday morning when I caught Kazami staring into space behind the wheel. This is a regular occurrence with my always-in-his-own-little-world little brother, but I noticed with concern that his eyes did not blink even after I plopped myself down next to him in the cab of the truck.

I knew the reason – we were both exhausted and our minds were not quite awake yet. The night before, we had watched the simmering sunset out of the corner of our eyes as we moved drip tape, taking care to tuck the tape close behind the beautiful broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower heads as we moved steadily down the rows. When we had first arrived in the truck, the darkening purplish-blue sky had turned the wisps of almost translucent clouds a lighter shade of blue. It was as if someone had taken bits of blue cotton candy and spread them randomly, the pieces almost touching each other, all over the darkening sky. An hour later, when we finally finished moving all of the black tapes one row over to the left, the bright slice of orange moon was playing peekaboo with us behind the clouds and the stars were glowing against the black sky.

Now, the next morning, as we drove down the road from the Land Connection barn to the field, Kazami (hopefully) wide awake, we listened to the radio announcer say that the heat index for today was going to be 106 degrees. I sighed internally, worrying that since I woke up too late and missed breakfast, my energy would plummet as the sun rose.

Luckily, I had packed a water bottle and some chocolate chips to snack on, and I ate hungrily in between catching the large, glossy lettuce heads that Daddy and Kazami were picking, cleaning and tossing at me. I pressed a button on the number clicker to keep track of how many we had picked and placed the lettuce neatly into one of the six boxes that were set up on the flat wheelbarrow. “325…326…327…” The pink sun was blazing into view at the corner of the sky, surrounding itself with a bright hue of red.

“Hai (here),” Daddy called out, tossing me a Green Boston. I looked up and was readying myself for the one-handed catch when Kazami also said, “Hai!” and without waiting for a response, tossed his lettuce at me as well. I caught Daddy’s successfully, while Kazami’s hit me hard in the stomach. “Kaami, really,” I glared, thinking that he was definitely out of it. I noticed then that Kazami was wearing one of my work shirts, which was obviously too tight on him. The long-sleeve button-up had a deep neckline for him and the collar had popped up, making him look like he had deliberately styled a preppy look – a wannabe farm model. The thought made me laugh and the fatigue overload made it difficult to stop giggling like a maniac, causing Daddy and Kazami to peer at me with curiosity.

Though we usually picked the lettuces early on Friday morning, Daddy had decided to do it Thursday morning because he feared that the heat would cause the lettuces to wilt beyond recovery by the time Friday rolled around. As we gathered more than 600 heads, moving the wheelbarrow from time to time and carrying the boxes on either side of the beds to the shade of the big and little trucks, I looked out across the field to where garlic stalks were waving.

Less than half of the beds of garlic remain standing, since on Monday morning, with the help of twenty or so students from a class at Illinois State University, and two friends from Chicago, Mary and Bea, we had pulled all of the soft-necks and some beds of the hard neck garlic from the field in record-breaking time. It was strange to see so many people in Daddy’s field at once, but we were all grateful for the help. It took all of Monday afternoon and until 8 at night to sort the soft-neck garlic into four categories, tie them and hang them up in the barn, as well as sort and cut the hard-neck garlic. Viki and Hannah, two good friends of mine from Northwestern who were visiting me for the weekend, helped gather 50-head bunches of small and 20-head bunches of extra-large garlic, lining up the tops for Daddy to wrap with twine. They went home covered with garlic incense and full of memories of watching the fireflies dance in the dark treetops of the Bottomfield on a midnight walk, playing hide-and-go-seek with a red moon, and weaving wildflower crowns and frolicking as the sun set.

The exhaustion that all of us were feeling by Thursday–even Daddy had forgotten to put on his belt before leaving the house before dawn – made sense, for Wednesday was also a strenuous day of scuffle-hoeing all of the remaining rows of summer squash, melons and cucumbers, as well as catch-up hand-weeding the sweet potatoes and okra. The sun seemed to rise ever so slowly that day, as my lower back muscles began to shoot up in pain from bending over to rip out the weeds with powerful strokes of my scuffle hoe.

As I remembered this, Kazami and I harvested the last of the lettuce out of the old lettuce patch, now overgrown in weeds, and I could feel the temperature of the dirt below my feet start to rise. Sweat began to form on my forehead and I drank all of the water left in my bottle.

Later, when I sat down in the beet patch to pull out only the largest beets, the ground burned through the seat of my pants. Thankfully, though, the intense rays of sunlight were defrayed by the almost constant wind, which made the heat manageable.

After the last golden beet bunch was made, it was already time for our three-hour lunch break. We all sat down in the large cab of the gigantic red truck and Kazami drove us back to the barn. Koko greeted us, wagging her tail with more energy than usual – probably because Aunt Beth and I had recently shaved her belly, a summer cut that was effective in cooling her down and giving her more energy.

Koko promptly rolled over to show me her bare belly when I neared her, so I gave her a belly rub, a hug and a kiss, then bid her goodbye to make my way up to the house. I knew it was time for all of us to rid ourselves of the ever-increasing fatigue – a direct result of the Garlic Harvest, scuffle-hoeing, the heat wave, and nightly water-moving – by taking glorious naps.

When We are One

This week I want to capture and share with you some of the memorable moments of the Brockman Barn Dance that took place on the occasion of the 100th birthday of our family’s barn, built by my great-great-grandfather in 1912. But before getting into that, here’s a brief update about the happenings on Henry’s Farm this week: We’ve had a series of sweltering 90 degree days, when time ticks by more slowly than ever. Wednesday night we planted beds and beds of lettuce, basil, summer spinaches, etc., and are hoping for more rain soon. And we are gearing up for our annual Garlic Harvest that will occur next week!

Our farmhand Val’s goal for the Brockman Barn Dance, held last Saturday at my Aunt Jill and Uncle Will’s farm in Danforth, Illinois (the Brockman Centennial Farm where my grandfather and great-grandfather were born), was to see “Dancing Brockmans,” and to get every single Brockman to dance. I did not see how this could be possible, since I had never seen my brothers, let alone Mommy, ever dance in public before.

Yet I felt my hope steadily rise as, after hundreds of Brockman family and friends alike ate, mingled, listened to Grandpa’s rousing speech on the Barn origins, toured the barn and listened to snippets of bluegrass bands, we all made our way up the steep ladder-stairs and into the hay loft. Then, as I started to feel the music of the band, Ten Feet Tall, enticing my bones to dance, out of the corner of my eye I saw Grandma begin to move. Soon she was on fire–basking in the orange sunlight streaming in from the windows and smiling, eyes closed, as she waved her arms and stepped to the quick music. Aunt Terra, Daddy, and I all looked at each other in wonder, then fixed our gaze on this joyful 77-year-old woman in all her dancing glory once more. When the song ended, Grandma laughed and said, “It’s just so fun to dance!”

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you do that,” Aunt Terra told Grandma, with awe in her voice. I looked at Grandma, now shimmying to the next tune, and grinning, filled my heart with music. It was time to dance.

The next song was a slow, sweet ballad so the dance floor began to clear. Some couples braved the attention of the crowd of onlookers sitting on hay bales that had been set up all around the large loft and began to sway lovingly. My feet pulled my body to be centered in front of the band and I started to do turns, feeling the music ripple up through my toes and up through my legs and arms, and up to the top of my head. I moved slowly, letting my body follow my heart. This was a private dance, a raw form of self-expression that I usually performed to an imaginary audience at home. Yet I knew that this time, eyes were fixed on my movements – and my whole family was watching. There was a moment of embarrassment and losing my focus, my dance turned choppy. But I could not stop, and as I kept improvising, I finally lost myself in the music, wrenching out my emotions. Later, I watched my Aunt Beth move in the same way, eyes closed, movements graceful. I had never seen her dance before, yet our movements were so much alike – connected by the Brockman bond.

When the Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band came on and the singer began to croon, “I’m going to Jackson…” Daddy finally joined me on the floor. I watched as he crouched low and started to pound the hundred-year-old boards of the Brockman Barn loft with such powerful stomps that I became fearful that he would break through, crashing down to land in one of the goat pens. Aunt Terra and I joined him, stamping our feet to the beat of the music, laughing. Soon the dance floor was filled with moving bodies, all energetically banging their feet in unison. Aunt Odette danced with my baby cousin Chenoa, Aunt Jill and Aunt Teresa danced together, and my cousins joined us, as well.

The Golden Horse Ranch Band’s main vocalist and square dance caller–a dark-haired young woman in a polka-dotted blue dress named Annie Coleman – began to teach us some square dances. She arranged us first into couples and told us to make two circles, one within the other. Couples in each circle faced each other. Next, Coleman showed us how to do a series of high-fives – right, left, and both hands – then clap our thighs, swing elbows, and finally move on to the next partner. I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I clapped hands with people I had never met before, making my way around the circle. I was burning up from all of the dancing and the high temperature of the loft, but as sweat rolled down my face, I kept on dancing with my adorable partner, my little cousin Celeste who is half my size, learning how to promenade, make a right-hand-star, and jive to the sound of the fiddle.

By the time it was Peter Adriel’s turn to take the stage, I had to lay down to rest. The rain was starting to pour down outside, making a rush of noise on the barn roof. I felt the cool wood beneath my sweaty back and closed my eyes, drinking in the sound of Peter’s deep, soothing voice, coupled with the Bob Dylan-esque pitch of the harmonica, strong strumming of the guitar and the tapping of his feet on the wood. When the rain began to dump down halfway through his set, adding another dimension of musicality, I lost myself in the simple splendor of his words.

“That was beautiful,” Coleman commented, as the room of people, once so filled with laughter and noise, was silent, pensive. To get us back into dancing mode, her band played a polka tune, and we all stomped once more. Then she taught us a series of square dances, including one where the girls were twirled around the circle, one that partners sashayed through the entirety of the barn, the Virginia Reel, and one in which we grabbed hands of people, spelling out BINGO, and then hugged the O person.

I decided to force my younger brother Kazami, who had been reading a book on his Kindle most of the night, to get up and dance with me. Once on the floor, he was a dancing machine – and I was filled with joy, remembering dancing to Bob Marley together in the living room when we were little. I knew he could dance. My older brother Asa, though, was more difficult to force to dance. However, Val succeeded in pulling him to the dance floor and Henry’s apprentice Janaki and I also made an attempt to stop him from fingering his phone and enjoy the night with us.

At one point, we were in dire need of another partner set for a group to have enough people, so the caller kept begging for a duo to stand up from the hay bales. No one would volunteer, though, so Daddy grabbed Mommy’s hand and pulled her to the floor. I could see the words “But I’m too tired…” on Mommy’s lips. I looked at Val, excited. Mommy was going to dance! Later, after the dance was over, I looked over at her. She was smiling, clearly having fun. I was filled with a feeling of family, and of gratitude to the art of dance, which has the power to bring us all together.

As the night came to a close, Coleman kept repeating, “Can we join your family? You guys are awesome!” My cousin Halley’s boyfriend stomped so hard that one of the floor planks broke, but we covered it with wood and kept on dancing the night away. Every dance, there seemed to be fewer people sitting on the hay bales in the back, and by the time the last song came around, every single person was dancing, including Grandpa. We sang along as the band played “May the circle be unbroken…” and held hands, walking in one big and one small circle around the center of the barn loft. Aunt Beth broke off of her circle, grabbed my hand, and we formed a conga line, producing cheers from our dancing friends and family. We were one.

Making my way down the ladder from the loft, I went outside, drenching myself with the rain. It washed the sweat from my face and cooled me down, an instant, natural shower. Every Brockman had danced that night. It was an amazing feat that filled me with so much joy.

The next day, I learned that the rain that fell in Danforth also drenched our farm, reviving our seeds and wilted plants. It was the perfect Father’s Day present for Daddy.

Pain and Beauty

Dragging my heavy body into the house Monday evening after my first full day of farm work since coming home from college, it took all of my remaining strength to form the phrase “back massage please” and voice it in a barely audible whisper. Every part of my body seemed to be inflamed with pain – from my neck all the way down to the soles of my feet.

Thankfully, Mommy is an expert shiatsu masseuse, a talent desperately needed on a family farm. She placed the palms of her hands on either side of my spine and pressed her weight onto me, gradually flattening out my tight and aching muscles.

I closed my eyes, and as I focused on breathing deeply, in and out, I remembered the smell of mulch and rain mingling as I shoved hay up against Jerusalem artichoke plants in the dark morning. The sky was a blackish blue, the color of a bruise, threatening to pour down at any moment. But except for a few teasing drops, it never did. Yet I kept sending pleas up to the rainclouds as they passed, saying “please rain, please!” over and over in my head, knowing that no rain would mean irrigating would be necessary for the entire week to follow.

Daddy never stopped hoping for rain as well, so Val, Janaki, Sydney and I hurriedly dropped summer squash, okra, edamame and dry bean seeds into trenches, covering and tamping. We all pretended that we were racing against the rain, trying to plant as many seeds as possible before water rushed down from the sky, making planting impossible. But by two in the afternoon, the sight of the sky clearing and sunlight sheepishly peeking out from under the clouds made our hearts drop, and fatigue hit me like a wall.

The rest of the day was spent setting up drip tape lines, running to drag them out over bed after bed, fixing leaks, connecting the black drip tapes to the main hose, and sprinting to put the lines over the rows, back bent and hand close to the ground. This we did every three hours, in between jobs of weeding.

After a particularly difficult episode of drip tape running that had us all panting, out of breath and energy, Daddy had told the interns to go scuffle hoe the melons to eliminate the weeds that threatened to strangle them. My brothers looked at Daddy with an expression that clearly said, “Do we have to do that, too?” Daddy looked down, his expression sympathetic, knowing that Asa needed to study for his medical school examination, to be taken in August. Then he looked up and playfully said, “Who wants to eat watermelon?” I instantly brightened and raised my hand excitedly while my brothers, not easily tricked, looked on with suspicion. “Then go scuffle hoe!” Daddy answered with a smile. Asa, Kazami and I erupted into laughter, and continued to chuckle as we walked, long scuffle hoes in hand, to rip away weeds from melon plants.

Remembering this, I laughed, and Mommy asked me if my back felt better. I rolled over, and amazingly, her shiatsu magic had worked – the ache was rapidly disappearing. I ate a quick dinner, showered, and rested until it was time to get into the truck with Daddy to head back to the field.

The sun was setting as we ran down those beds once more before sleep. I took the last drip tape that needed to be moved in my hand and took off into a sprint, running and running, faster and faster, until I reached the end. I collapsed onto the ground and lay on my back, out of breath. When I opened my eyes, I saw that deep royal purple had been brushed across the sky. The beds and beds of vegetables were a dark silhouette against the bright, fiery sky. I drank it all in with my eyes and watched sparks of lightning bugs from my place in the grass. I smiled, realizing that this beautiful place, this gorgeous sunset – this was my home. And summer was just beginning.