I grew up south of Indianapolis on the glacier-smoothed plains of central Indiana. My grandparents owned a small farm, whittled down over the years to about 40 acres of bottomland, in some of the most productive agricultural land in America. Like many of their neighbors they mostly grew field corn (and later soybeans), raised a few cows and bred a few horses.
Even then farming for them was a hobby, an avocation, a link to a way of life that was slipping away. My grandfather, who was born on that farm in 1906, graduated from Purdue University and became a master electrician, who helped design RCA’s first color TV. My grandmother, the only child of an unwed mother, came to the US at the age of 13 from the industrial city of Sheffield, England. When she married my grandfather she’d never seen a cow, a few days after the honeymoon she was milking one. She ran the local drugstore for nearly 50 years. In their so-called spare time, they farmed.
My parent’s house was in a sterile and treeless subdivision about five miles away, but I largely grew up on that farm: feeding the cattle and horses, baling hay, bushhogging pastures, weeding the garden, gleaning corn from the harvested field, fishing for catfish in the creek that divided the fields and pastures from the small copse of woods, learning to identify the songs of birds, a lifelong obsession.