Born to Be Wild?  Wild Turkeys in the Mists




On-the-Fly Farms Update #6 

September 10, 2004 

  It was a late Friday afternoon early in September, the sun was shimmering through the hundred-year old trees around the house and barn, and I was out in the garage roasting coffee in the Bean Boss and the Aerorost roasters. Listening to Springsteen's 1973 album "The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle" blaring from the tinny broken speakers in my little white car backed up to the garage with the hatchback open. I lazed around on the couches in the garage living room setting, brushing the spiders off now and again, listening for the first crackle of the beans. Drinking Wild Turkey 101, I was relaxing from another week of maybe 80 hours of work, a pause before the weekend's work of harvesting produce to deliver to the city and a dozen visitors. 

  Somehow that early Springsteen, like some of the more recent Springsteen (Ghost of Tom Joad, title taken from Steinbeck's saga about the Depression-era Oklahoma dustbowl), is like a salve for tired muscles. Where The Doors at the time sang of surreal collegiate angst a la Nietzsche, Springsteen, who always hated being called "The Boss" for the obvious class associations of that word, brought a working-class perspective alongside an equally surreal vision. And sang of workers' struggles not just as an observer, but as a participant with a vision that included radical dock workers and Black Panthers conspiring "to someday own the rodeo" ("Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.).


  That rodeo reference reminded me of the bonafide cowboys who show up on Saturday mornings at the nearby Schmaltzes' farm, which is where we get the steer shit that will become next month's tomato. On a recent Saturday, the cowboy Johnny walked around with his arms crossed, bleary-eyed at 8 a.m. We loaded my pickup truck with a mountain of manure, a pitchfork full thumping against the rear window now and again, and standing atop that mountain that smelt of fine Turkish tobacco, it looked like a big mechanical camel, with truck as body and steer shit for a hump. I jumped down and asked Johnny, who was not a big talker, how much shit he thought that was. He squinted his eyes, furrowed his brow, the works, and after a while said "I'd say about a ton and a half." 

  Unclear on the math because I was pretty bleary too, I did realize that one and a half tons is more than 3/4 tons, the capacity of the truck, so I said to Johnny, "Do you think that's too much for the truck?"

  Johnny sauntered round to the side of the truck again, thought for a minute, looked, squinted, the works, then said, "So long as the wheel wells ain't touchin' the wheels, you'll be alright."

  Another cowboy got there. He and Johnny stood next to each other, sort of wondering who I was, what I was about, I suppose. Silent for awhile, expressionless, they began to speak in short sentences, very oblique, and only minutes after each utterance did I realize, they were saying these hilarious jokes and puns, just at a real slow pace, almost undetected. 

  In a song called "Lost in the Flood," also from Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen sings of a very particular madness sweeping through the streets of the U.S. in the early '70s, at the height of the Vietnam war and Nixon's domestic War on the Poor. A Black veteran returns to Jersey, starts racing Sundays in a Chevy stock super eight, "while everybody's wrecked on Main Street from drinking unholy blood." Empty, desolate, revered, Jimmy the Saint rides off into the horizon in a race, crashes into that violent tide sweeping this violent land, smashing his car, his body, his life. 

  Faulkner-like, the song jump shifts to the point of view of an onlooker, whose poverty tells him to look for parts of the wreck, "but there's nothin' left that you could sell / just junk all across the horizon, a real highwayman's farewell. And I said 'Hey kid, you think that's oil? Man, that ain't oil that's blood,'" a prognostication of the wars the U.S. government has visited now on an increasing number of countries. 


  So I am thinking about all that as I listen to the roasters turn those Zapatista coffee beans, thinking about the drag racing we did out on the bypass around South Bend, Indiana back in the day, thinking about this 1977 monster 3/4 ton pickup truck sitting in front of me, and notice that the temperature has plummeted inside the Bean Boss; Fuck! gotta get to the gas station two miles away and exchange the propone tank in a hurry, so those beans don't wreck. I jump into the little white car, and race downtown, and just as I am about to turn in to the gas station, the trooper behind me turns on his flashing lights. I think, man, this is really going to slow things down; I breathe heavily to try to get some of the Wild Turkey aroma to dissipate [remember, parts of this are 'fictional']. 

  The trooper asks for my license and registration, and I'm still listening to Bruce and directing the flow of my breath downwards, and now I am also thinking of the song "Mister State Trooper" from the Nebraska album. I sit there facing the glaring sun, glancing in my mirror at the cop, wishing he'd pick up the pace. After five minutes, he brings my license back, says "Do you know your brake light is out?" I say, "I had no idea, I'll fix that first thing in the morning, thanks, bye." Off he goes, off I go to get the propane. Aware that if I'd been Driving While Black, things might not have gone so smoothly, I feel a combination of anger and relief. What is a privilege ought to be a right.


  I zip back home, and hook up the propane and fire up the Bean Boss and the beans are saved from destruction, and my mind turns to Springsteen's late '70s "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album. My thought process is so literal sometimes, maybe my mind turned simply because this farm is on the Edge of Town, and as the sun was setting there was an increasing Darkness. Who can say. 

  Backing the car up to the garage, I opened the trunk to hear the tinny speakers, and the tape flipped to the other side. A fan of bizarre juxtapositions, the other side of the Springsteen tape is Don Cherry, the trumpet player who made his name initially in Ornette Coleman's wild, unprecedented late '50s free jazz experiments, a music that appears intimately linked with the growing consciousness of the need for action against racial oppression, and the need for new voices, new structures of thought and struggle. A prognostication of the civil and human rights uprisings soon to follow.

  The Wild Turkey flew a bit more into my mouth and down through my veins. I'd spent some time that morning communing with this family of wild turkeys, real birds, out in the next field over. For some reason the turkeys didn't realize I was a real person (meaning, A REAL THREAT; there's A LOT of guns out here, including assault weapons [or 'menacing-looking weapons,' as the gun shop owners prefer to call them]), and I crouched low to the ground. The baby turkeys now-turning-adolescent continued to peck at the ground around me, ever closer. They have different personalities. Their bland dishwater gray-brown colorings are changing into the brilliant colors of the mature turkey, with fire-engine red cheeks and ten shades of purple spreading across their rumps and backs. Maybe they thought I was a scarecrow or something, I was moving that slow. I decided to scare them off, for if they get too used to being around Those Who Hold Menacing Weapons, they will likely get shot down this fall.


  The coffee roasting continued into the night, and the Wild Turkey continued to crack off the intensity of the week's work like chaff from a roasting coffee bean, and friends from Stone Soup South pulled up sometime, and we roasted beans and played guitars and trumpets and a melodica named 'pianica,' and a bat came and flew around the garage living room and I didn't even scream. And I think that if I had a religion it would be to gather people together for food, song, and dance. 

  If I had to tie things up in a conclusion to this Update #6, I would say something about innocence, hunger, wildness, and violence. Something about the innocence of youth and the hunger for experience and for life and freedom, the hunger for a world free of torture and abuse, innocence and hunger which if we keep them alive and healthy keep us young even though chronologically aging. Wildness is something I see in nature all round, including human nature if we let it, and that wildness does not have to continue to devolve into the violence that is so much a part of the history of this continent for a bit over 500 years now. Clearly we live in a time where our choices about how to live and what to do and how to abolish the shackles of race, class, gender, orientation, the works, are vitally important. 


  Well I'll fire this off before I turn editor. So long from Bridgman, Michigan, 15 miles from Benton Harbor. 

  Food, song, dance; and action.