Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Working On My Forehand

Last winter, while in New York City, I heard that the Museum of Modern Art was showing a Van Gogh exhibition which highlighted Van Gogh's night skies. Of course, "Starry Night" was the centerpiece around which all other paintings orbited. It fame is certainly justified, and the turbulent skies over the village seemed even more celestial when I saw them in person. But what caught my eye and held me transfixed was a smaller painting entitled "The Sower."

The image of a peasant sowing wheat or oats or barley was a fairly stock one in art--Van Gogh himself did several different studies on the theme. Nevertheless the painting captivated me, drawing me out of the crowded gallery and away from the chilly city streets. The colors of "The sower" are more muted than the brilliant blues and shocking oranges of some of his other works. And yet the sun, hanging large and low on the horizon, glows with a hazy late afternoon light that is familiar and beloved by me. The tree in the foreground could be just putting on the new growth of spring, or sliding into autumnal fire.

The sower returned to me today, as we seeded our open fields with our winter cover crops. Normally, we use a "spinner" slung over one shoulder to distribute the seed evenly. Walking steadily in a straight line, we turn a crank at the base of the seedbag and fling seed out over the soil in a fertile arc. But our spinner is broken, and the covers need to be sown, so we grabbed a few buckets and did it by hand. Truth be told, there is satisfaction and a simple pleasure in playing the role of the sower. Don showed me how to find my rhythm--step, reach in, pull out, release--and he fine-tuned my technique until with a flick of my wrist and and open hand I could broadcast the rye in a wide, even spray. At first, the bucket of seed hung heavy and clunked awkwardly against my knees. My right arm and shoulder ached from the snapping throw. I worried that I might oversow here, or undersow there. A poorly seeded cover crop would leave out fields vulnerable to erosion or provide opportunities for our overeager weed populations to take off come spring. I got the hang of it, gradually. All the while, I thought of Van Gogh's sower: his inward look and his empty fields. The haystacks and the vegetables will come again, but first we must rest.

1 comment:

Xandy said...

I always enjoy reading your blog so much. Your writing is just as vivid as any Van Gogh painting!