Shelter Belt

I spent hours as a child trying to walk noiselessly through the wooded area that constituted the largest wilderness on our property. I imagined myself a big game hunter, tracking unseen and unheard through the underbrush. The sun shone through the tree canopy, above which I glimpsed a hawk soaring on the prairie thermals. He was tracing the movements of gopher in the nearby pasture and his slow steady circles were coming closer and closer to his target. The sweet June grass that surrounded me was thick this year, due to the early rains. It would make excellent bedding for my camp.

It was unseasonably hot this spring, but the cool breeze flowed softly through the trees so slowly that the cottonwood leaves barely move with the wind. It was so quiet, that I could hears the distant thumping of my dad’s John Deere. The tractor strained against the five bottom plow as it cut through the summer fall. The point of summer falling was to turn the earth over, killing the weeds that were trying to take root in the land set aside for a year of rest.

I was too young to be of much use on the farm and if my household chores were finished I could normally wonder the nearby woods. As long as I remained within earshot of my mother’s summons I could wander freely. Luckily her voice had a piercing quality that could easily carry anywhere on our three quarter section farm.

Normally I would be accompanied by my brother who was a year younger than me, but on this occasion he was riding with one of the older brothers delivering grain to the elevator in Cuba. I was not use to being alone, as I had four brothers and one feisty sister, who was determined to rule the roost.

I also had a neighbor who lived just across the tree stand just past the old apple tree. He was about my age and we shared an interest in snaring gophers and a dream of cashing in on the two cent bounty, the county offered for the tails. Unfortunately the reality of lying on the ground with a piece of twine, waiting for a gopher to show his head was too boring to hold our attention. There were too many treasures to dig and too many desperadoes to catch.

One day I came to visit my friend and the house was empty. I asked my parents and they said simply, the family had moved out. I never questioned why my friend had left so suddenly. It did seem strange that the family left in the middle of the night, leaving family pets that had to be dealt with by neighbors with too many animals of their own. I was too young to understand the finances of farming. I was too young to know that North Dakota crops were only profitable in one out of three years – on average. What most people didn’t understand was the average was based over a large number of years. In reality, a farmer could easily go five years without a good harvest.

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