In the fertile valleys of Montana, harvest is almost complete. Malt barley is headed for the breweries, hard winter wheat is destined for the flourmills, soggy steer calves are trucked from the Red Lodge mountains to feedlots on the plains, sugar beets provide a poignant aroma to the air of Billings as they are processed into sweets for treats, and ear corn waits on the stalk to be picked.
The secrets to life can be found in the sixty miles from Red Lodge to Billings, Montana. This is a story of two farmers, Tom and Fred.
Their farms sit side-by-side, with a fence between them. Fred is a man of few words, while Tom likes to talk. Early morning, finds Fred at the kitchen table with a cup of dark, rich, coffee, as he plans his day. As dawn gives way to the first light, Fred is preparing his tractors for the circles they will make. Here comes Tom, with a little hair of the dog that bit him from the night before, to lean on the fence and begin his stories of high adventure.
Fred understands the benefit of crop rotation. If he wants to grow corn in one of his fields, he plants corn seed. For the sugar beet fields, he plants those little sugar beet seeds. In his wheat fields, he plants kernels of wheat.
As the spring rains stop, Fred is ready to start his irrigation to provide water for the crops. In early summer, the weeds are in competition with his crops; so, he cultivates. When the calves sneak through a hole in the pasture fence, he cowboys them back home and fixes the fence.
Tom watches Fred work. While continuing to lean on the fence day after day, Tom has all kinds of advice for how Fred should do his work. Fred just nods. In fact, Fred nods and waves as he puts his grain in the bin, steers on the truck, beets in the pile, and corn in the crib.
Then, one fall day while surveying his barren fields, Tom is in, especially, fine form. He walks up to his favorite leaning post and waves Fred over to the edge of the field. As Fred idles his new tractor down to a gentle purr and steps from the cab to learn what is on his neighbor’s mind, Tom says, “You’re sure lucky!” Fred just nods and says, “Yep.”
We harvest what we plant.
The shorter version of the story is the proverb: “Some sow their wild oats and then hope for a crop failure.” Those are the lucky ones. Lucky in the sense that less bad seed is blowing in the wind to cause harm for the neighbors. Un-lucky, since the real joys of life are discovered by doing, learning, and growing.
In this era of fantasy, when: work is spelled l-u-c-k; wrong is thought to be right; and, black and white are old-fashioned; how can we know good people from the bad ones?
Again, from agrarian principles, comes the answer.
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.
… He taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers…
In returning to the story of our two neighbors, Tom is a Talker and Fred is the Farmer. Talk is easy. Work is hard. Or, is it?
Maybe, the moral of the story is: Easy is hard — and, Hard is easy.
As for me, I enjoy full bins!