The Great Lion, I Will Miss Him, Yes I Will

Dad in AlaskaI have always thought of him as the lion in the jungle.    There’s something about those animals, called King of the jungle.  They roam the jungle and have complete control and complete command of where they go.  Of course we all know that someday even that changes.  The lion grows old and eventually there are new kings to that throne.

My earliest recollections of farm life were being taken out to the flat farm country north of Dresden Ontario.  I remember seeing my father plow those heavy clay soils with an International 560 tractor while snow was falling.  I remember how I thought as a child that looks so cold.  It also looked to me to take such a long time.  Little did I know at the time that my father didn’t like that tractor, not enough power, not enough rear end, and when the crankshaft broke in half it was one of those things.

When he would return home at night he had to feed the pigs.  It is almost bizarre to think about it now but our farm was in the middle of the small southwestern Ontario town of Dresden.  Our pig barn, just so happened to be beside the only school in town.  So, yes, from time to time pigs ran to the schoolyard and you can imagine the glee of lots of young children chasing those pigs.

Of course my father never really liked pigs and I’m sure he didn’t like putting “chop” in their feeders.  He would sell them very quickly, sometimes overnight and sometimes they didn’t even reach the barn.  He simply saw a niche market opportunity, “flipping pigs” and he was taking advantage of it the best he could.  So that day after the crankshaft broke in the International 560, I’m sure he wasn’t very happy dealing with those pigs at night.

It was a different time in southwestern Ontario in 1950s and 1960s.  There was still quite a bit of virgin forest and my father wanted to put it into production.  So over a period of years our young lives were filled with picking up sticks because my father was using a bulldozer to clear hundreds of acres of land.  His plan was to put it into production.  Of course that is what happened and years later I continue to farm some of that land.  I often remember when I roll over those acres what a huge forest stood before my father and I as a young child back in the day.  The task seemed daunting but we kept picking up sticks and pushing with a bulldozer.

Years later I remember an older version of my father putting a chain around a small stump which was the last vestige of a windrow which had been accumulated after the land was cleared.  This surely would’ve been at least 15 to 20 years after the last bulldozer had left.  The windrows had been burned several times and pushed around by tractor and blade.  As he pulled the last stump toward the side of the field I realize that this was the last piece to be cleared, certainly lost on him I was sure as he pulled it toward the side.  In many ways I felt it was an amazing moment, a triumph for him and in many ways a triumph for the crops that arose from what he had faced many years before.

My father lived by one mantra on the farm.  He believed that nothing was ever so good that it couldn’t be improved.  So it was true that he believed soybeans, corn and wheat were better than forest and there was always a better way of doing things.  So whether that meant more horsepower, more acres per hour, more dollars per acre or more technology the one constant was change.  On the farm we always knew that standing still was not an option.

Of course the world continue to change and he changed with it.  Fertilizers, the introduction of chemicals and other agronomic advances completely transformed our agricultural world.  Add the modern guidance systems along with the new agricultural biotechnology to the mix and it represented a potpourri of change for him, as he grew older.  In many ways he was an observer at this point but a keen observer was he.

On a cold icy day this past week the king of the jungle, the great lion who taught me more about agriculture than any professor or scribe slipped through that final clearing in the bush and into the hands of God.  I will miss him, yes I will.