I hope this note finds you well.
On some future day, I will see my last cycle of the seasons. I think I will miss spring most of all—when the winter wind, the ice and snow have come and gone, the temperature starts to rise, and it is time to put away the heavy coat. It is wonderful to watch as life emerges from its dormant state. It’s a cliché to say that early spring is a time of renewal, but the reason it is a cliché is because it is true. There is no better place to learn that than on a working rice farm.
As a small child on the farm, I watched my father spend his winters working in new ground: virgin ground that had been cleared of timber over the winter. Or, when the weather was too bad, he worked in the shop repairing the heavy equipment needed to deal with the mud of a rice farm.
As spring approached, he became visibly more animated. We would take rides in the truck to check the fields. On these rides he would make an inventory of work to do: which fields to rotate to soybeans for the year and which to let lie fallow. He never failed to take notice of the fence-rows and ditch banks we passed as we went from field to field. The bright yellow blooms of forsythia and the red blossoms of quince were sure signs of spring.
Late March and the last killing frost signaled the time for business. From then until early December, work on a rice and soybean farm began at sunrise and wouldn’t let up until there was no longer enough light to see.
As with gardening but on a grand scale, one of the most important tasks of the spring was the preparation of the seedbed, which for the planting of rice and soybeans required several stages. On a rice farm, the plows never furrow too deeply; the hardpan, about a foot under the surface, must toughen to hold water better during growing season. It is more accurate to describe what those plows did as disking. After repeated trips over the field with the disk, a harrow was dragged across it to break up the smaller dirt clods. Next, a survey team would plot out the levees and begin the process of building the temporary dikes, which would hold a level of water to drown out the grasses and allow the rice to grow without competition. Massive pumps would then begin to fill the fields.
When I was small, a crop duster airplane broadcast most of the rice. Within a few days, the rice would germinate and quickly begin to push its new sprouting leaves up through the water. Spring came upon us on an industrial scale.
Have a nice journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/ writer/ marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 35 years. He recently published The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His two other books, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at Amazon.com.