A Fable for Yesterday

 

There is a farm in the heart of the Green Mountains that sits by a winding road near a bend in the river, its two-hundred-year-old brick house lording over the valley, a backdrop of forested mountains behind it. It is nestled in the landscape, as a New England farm is supposed to be. A neat patchwork of corn, soy, and cover crop unfolds from either side of the road over a floodplain. A constant clanging of metal comes from the barn, as large as an airplane hangar, and further down the road sits another large barn, and if you peer around the side of the second barn you can see the calf hutches, like creamy white totes set on their sides, and a large mysterious mound behind it covered in black plastic held down by old tires like so many zeros.

The farm is the oldest remaining dairy in this town, and is well regarded by the townspeople, who admire its stately presence, its impeccable tidiness, and its endurance in a state that hangs on to its identity as a dairy state. There are no weedy fences in disrepair, no mucky puddles, no graveyards for the carcasses of old cars and tractors. The rows and rows of corn in their mechanical perfection are a thing of beauty in their eyes. Ask a townsperson what is missing from this scene and they will have to think, for they scarcely noticed that at some point the cows were removed from the picture, and have been locked inside those barns ever since. Also missing are the farmhands, who keep themselves hidden for fear of la polimigra.

It was a gradual change that came over farming, not a sudden blight, so that the transition from pastures dotted with black and white Holsteins, to the large industrial dairy – legally, a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) is not even a farm – was seamless. The same family owns and works the farm, though the farm hands have changed, and the larger and more automated, the more hands are needed. The same lovely brick colonial house, shaded by the marriage maples that were planted generations ago, the same cycles of Christmas lights going up and coming down, of geraniums in the window boxes in summer and decorative pumpkins on the front lawn, when the maple canopies are ablaze with fall color, and before their leaves are shed and raked.

***

When I first moved to the Green Mountain state, I worked for a winter on a dairy farm. I was renting a room in a big old farmhouse owned by a schoolteacher who also lived there with me and one other housemate, also a schoolteacher. She rented the barn adjacent to the house to a dairy farmer, who himself lived with his family two miles away in a trailer. We lived with the smell, and the sounds of the thousand-pound creatures rattling their chains, who were yoked to their stalls for six months of the year. I asked Henry, the farmer, if he needed any help with the morning milking, because I was interested in knowing what it was like to be awake hours before the rest of the world, before dawn, and I was interested in learning about farming. Two years before, I had spent a summer milking and shepherding goats in central France. This, however, was an industrial dairy (though small by industry standards), where all winter the cows were confined to their single stalls; they could lie down on bare concrete and stand up, were milked twice a day and fed, and that was all. Henry used to set up a cot in the barn if a cow was expecting, because if she delivered when no one was around, she would not be able to turn her head in order to clean her newborn, who would die on the floor in a puddle of afterbirth, her nose and mouth still sheathed in its mucus like an unopened package.

I rose at 4:00 in the morning, in the pitch darkness to a cold house, the fire in the furnace by then reduced to ash. I stoked the furnace and stood over it to warm my chilled clothes before I dressed. I walked the few yards from the house to the barn, in Hayden’s blue-black cold, and by the time I was home again, around 8:30, it was daylight, when I would hear my housemates stirring, floors creaking and water running and footsteps. I had already been at work for hours, squatting on a milking stool between bovines, attaching a mechanical pump to an udder, then detaching it and moving on to the next. After the milking, we swept and hosed the gutters, filled the troughs with silage, and fed the barn cats their milk.

Henry told me how glad he was to have my help, mostly just for the company. How dark and lonely it was in there. After the morning chores, he drove into town to meet the other farmers for breakfast in a diner, as they did day after day, year after year, who would talk about their milk checks, and invariably would complain about how difficult it all was without enough help. I went home, taking off my jacket and boots before I entered the house, sheathed in a manure smell so thick I had to peel it away.

By spring I had a new job, working on an organic flower farm, when I stopped helping Henry with his morning chores. Though now and then I helped him get the hay in – he even taught me how to drive a tractor. I often stopped to talk to him, and he was always pleased to see me. It was, once again, dark and lonely in that barn. Henry would hire someone for a time but they never lasted (as I didn’t), and in between those periods when a young man would be seen around the barn, in his rubber boots and Carhart jacket, it was only Henry. Alone in the dark doing his chores.

As soon as the grass came up in spring Henry let his cows out to pasture, and it was a wonderful thing to see: how they seemed to jump with joy, kicking their hind legs in the air as they bounded across the spring grass. Twice a day, he had to round them up and get them back into the barn to be milked. They were all Holsteins, black and white, but Henry named them all, and he could distinguish every single cow by some distinct feature that was invisible to me. “They are happier indoors,” he said to me about keeping them chained up all winter long. There was nothing incompatible between his love for his animals, and his confinement of them, or the practice of taking newborns from their mothers from the moment they were born, and I believed that he embraced this contradiction in all honestly. Though I was glad to have done this for a winter (10 dollars a day added up to pay my rent) I could not have milked cows for eight or twelve or sixteen hours day, six days a week, month after month, year after year, in the dim artificial light, crouched between creatures whose faces I could not see, who never moved, except to swish their manure-laced tails or to sway their heavy heads in their yokes.  Doing this work for more than a couple of hours a day for a season would have been a different story.

The migrant workers began to arrive on Vermont dairies not long after I worked for Henry. It is not a coincidence that this was soon after NAFTA went into effect, as the Zapatistas so famously marked the day, on Jan 1, 1994. The destruction of the campesino farm economy in Mexico was not an unforeseen or unintended consequence of the agreement: it was in fact, from Mexico’s point of view, the main point. For the United States, NAFTA was expected to have very little impact economically or politically, but for Mexico it was designed to do nothing less than completely restructure the Mexican economy and way of life.  Bill Clinton was transparent about the aims for the United States: “We cannot stop global change,” he said. (It is just the way it is.) “We can only harness the energy to our benefit. Now we must recognize that the only way for a wealthy nation to grow richer is to export, to simply find new customers for the products and service is makes.” Opposition to NAFTA at the time foresaw the job losses and depressed farm prices, on the U.S. side, and weakened labor and environmental standards on the Mexican side, and it foresaw a blow to Mexico’s farm economy. “But even the most ardent opponents of NAFTA,” writes Alyshia Galvez, in her study of the effects of NAFTA on the health and culture of Mexico, “did not articulate a concern about the possibilities for radical transformation of almost every aspect of life, including the physical well-being of the Mexican people.” Government officials expected half a million people would be displaced by “depeasantization” in Mexico, but “what they did not expect was half a million people per year would emigrate for the next decade and a half …leading to ten percent of the Mexican population living in the United States by 2006.”

The idea that farming is backward did not begin with the neoliberal engineers of NAFTA, trained in the Chicago School, but it would be NAFTA that would accelerate the greatest movement of people from the farm to the cities and the maquiadoras. Small scale farming and traditional food systems would lose government supports (in neoliberal-speak, “trade barriers”), and would be up against a flood of cheap U.S. corn, in the form of processed food and corn syrup, and animal feed for a U.S.- style feedlot meat industry. Food security (the ability to buy food) would come at the expense of food sovereignty (the ability to fulfill your own food needs). Changes in diet for the average Mexican would be rapid and pronounced, with consequences not only for health but for the fabric of family and community. Rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity would explode. Post NAFTA, Mexicans would eat fewer tortillas, fewer beans, more meat, more processed food, and more sugar. A flood of chemical exports would flow south, turning Mexico into one of the most pesticide polluted places on earth.

The separation of families is not only a weapon of cruel U.S. immigration policy, but is a consequence of migration itself. The multigenerational household is a casualty, and the subsistence activities those many hands could once support are a further casualty. The patterns of life are organized now by precarious employment, rather than seasonal patterns that have endured for centuries. The gift economics, subsistence strategies, and systems of barter and mutual aid have been replaced by a money economy, further enhanced by cash-based poverty programs and remittances from the United States. The result of a disruption of food traditions is a rupturing of the relation of food to place, people to the land, and the ties that bind family and community.

More people consuming more meat, more stuff, are caught in the ineluctable spiral of consumerism, in which there can never be enough. The consequence is a dismantling of a food system that should be a model for a sustainable agriculture and a healthful diet, at precisely the time when biotechnicians are at work designing miracle seeds they can only hope will accomplish what hundreds of years of campensino farmers had achieved, sustained, and perfected – plant varieties that thrive without irrigation, and resist plaga, grown in systems of intercropping and animal husbandry that allow corn, beans, and squash to be grown on the same parcel of land, without exhausting the soil.

***

When news about the presence of migrant workers on Vermont dairies first came to me in the late nineties, images of the Grapes of Wrath, Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott came to mind– large corporate farms worked by exploited migrant workers – that seemed incongruous for a place where families still owned and worked their farms. The precarious status of farmworkers in the United States is the legacy of structural racism built into New Deal programs that excluded agricultural and domestic workers – FDR’s bone thrown to southern lawmakers who controlled key congressional committees – who were predominately people of color. Neither do dairy workers qualify for temporary H2A guestworker visas issued for seasonal agricultural work. More than half of the 2.5 million seasonal workers on US farms are undocumented, with fear of deportation acting to depress wages and suppress any movement to challenge abuses or demand better working conditions.

Within a decade, Vermont dairies would become almost entirely dependent upon undocumented migrant workers. As Vermont governor Peter Shumlin would say in 2011, “Vermont farms can’t survive without workers from outside America. It is just the way it is.” Following Trump’s election, Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture developed a plan to deploy prison labor to Vermont dairies should the undocumented workers be deported, putting to rest any doubts that these workers were stealing good jobs from Americans willing to do this work.

I joined a group of volunteers who began to travel to these farms to offer English classes to Spanish speaking migrant workers. I drove out to a remote farm beside Lake Champlain to give English lessons a few times, but after my car broke down one Sunday afternoon, and I had to get it towed and somehow find way home, I stopped pretending this was something I could continue doing. It became clear that English lessons were not a priority for the workers, who would benefit more from an extra hour of sleep between shifts, and it seemed to me, were more interested in the cilantro I brought them from my garden than in learning English. They expressed surprise that we had come. No one came to us in Florida, they said, where we picked strawberries. Later the desire to support migrant workers was channeled more usefully into Migrant Justice, a worker-led rights organization that would be one of the most effective in the country. Over the next two decades, it would secure undocumented workers the right to obtain drivers licenses; advocate for migrants detained by ICE; campaign for fair and impartial policing policies; secure stimulus payments for migrants during COVID; and launch an ambitious long-term campaign for dignified working conditions and fair pay.

Allies of farmworkers can also volunteer with the Huerta project, which assists migrants in creating kitchen gardens that can restore some personal food sovereignty to workers who have little choice but to sustain themselves by foods with little nutritional or cultural value. It is a fact that farmworkers, Vermont dairy workers among them– who work long hours, have little time off, and poor access to healthful or culturally appropriate foods– are among the most food insecure in the country. With the assistance of interns, seeds, and plant starts provided by Heurta, farm workers grow beans, squash, tomatoes, cilantro, calabaza and herbs in small gardens. “Huerta allows the possibility for farmworkers to cultivate food with deep cultural meaning, and to exercise agency and choice over what foods they consume,” writes Teresa Mares in Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont. “This is particularly significant as it is the denial of food sovereignty, specifically the dispossession of rural lands and livelihoods in Latin America, that has motivated so many farmworkers to more north.”

Farmworkers grow food to restore their bodies and spirits from the soul-crushing effects of producing food for others.

***

Our integration with the people and land south of the border is everywhere written on the American landscape. I do wonder if the Mexican farm worker sees in the rows and rows of industrial corn that surround him some recognition of home, although the small maize plots with their tall raggedy stalks that are all over Mexico, delineated by stone walls, are about as removed from the industrial corn grown for animal feed, as Mexican criolla corn is from its wild progenitor. Maize, as we know, was originally domesticated in Mexico, came to North American through the southwest, and then to the eastern woodlands a thousand years before the pilgrims learned from the Indigenous farmers how to grow it. Adaptable to any climate, soils, or rain patterns, producing more food per seed kernel than any other grain—it was the grain that could support a growing population of colonists and their slaves, feed its militias and armies, and provide the fuel for endless colonial expansion. The maize that once supported complex civilizations of Mesoamerica, is still dominant, still is used as a “weapon” in U.S. foreign policy, and is the basis of feedlot beef, pork, and chicken, and thus the outsized economic domination of Cargill and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). By a strange twist of history, in a world turned upside down, it is by reason of grain imperialism, and the world’s most consequential act of biopiracy, that the migrant laborer who hails from the birthplace of maize, would in a once and future world find himself on a Vermont dairy farm, far from the milpas of home, working for too little, and for too long, living on a diet that will make him sick, saving for the day when he can at last go home.

But criollo corn, grown in small plots in Mexico, is not yellow, not uniform, not long and tapered like a candle. Kernels are crowded like a mouthful of crooked teeth, forming a mosaic of color and sizes. The cobs are short but the plants are tall. They grow, like their wild ancestors, without much care, and thrive on scant rainfall. Maize can be grown on the same plot of land year after year. Yellow corn, whereas, is prone to diseases and pests. Yellow corn requires irrigation and chemical fertilizers, and will quickly exhaust the soil. Criolla is, of course, mas sabroso. It is harvested by hand, dried in the sun, soaked, boiled, and mixed with mineral lime, then ground, either by hand, in an electric grinder, or at the local molina. It is pressed into tortillas, and served with chiles, squash blossoms, tomatoes, queso, frijoles, cilantro. Maybe a bit of chorizo or pollo. It is made into atole, tlacoyos, tamales, memelas, sopas. This is the milpa-based diet that has sustained Mexico for centuries, and it checks all the boxes both for a healthful diet and for agricultural sustainability. But it is becoming, post-NAFTA – in inverse proportion to its growing status as a gourmet cuisine– increasing inaccessible to the average Mexican.

Meanwhile, xoconostle (prickly pear), escamoles (larvae), huitlacoche (corn fungus) and mescal cocktails will turn up on the menus in elite restaurants offering “authentic” Mexican cuisine.

***

Vermonters have a hard time accepting that the friendly family farmer down the road, who may be the seventh generation on the family farm, might be mistreating or exploiting a vulnerable workforce. And no doubt many of them are not cruel overlords, but are doing the best under the circumstances to squeeze a living within the slim margin between high production costs and low milk prices. Eighteen dollars per hundred weight of milk was the price in 2020, which has fluctuated since the 1980s, but only fluctuating between losing more money or less money. The only way for a farm to maybe widen that margin, according to the logic of U.S. farm policies, is to produce more milk, further depressing prices, by getting bigger; that is, to take on more debt by building yet another 2,000-cow barn or purchasing the newest million dollar combine. (Thus, the “treadmill”.) He is already farming fencerow to fencerow, and has many more cows than his so many acres could support on pasture. But then, there has not been a pasture since the last millennium, a long ago history.

One unforeseen consequence of getting big would be that a 2,000 cow dairy operation would require round the clock labor – dirty, monotonous, repetitive work, involving ten to twelve or more hour days bent over a cow’s rump. Almost half of Vermont migrant dairy workers report they don’t get a rest day, nor do they get paid a minimum wage. Their housing is substandard and overcrowded, many have their first paycheck withheld, and are often not paid on time. They get no health care, no childcare, no sick or family leave. Worst of all, they are encerrado – confined to the farms for fear of being seen and reported to immigration, as they often are.

The townspeople are not the only ones who misunderstand the logic of treadmill economics, who saw the disappearance of the family farm in terms of an evolutionary narrative, as unstoppable as the melting of polar ice caps. “Small farms can’t compete,” they say, as if farmers are in competition with one another, may the strongest one win. (“It is just the way it is.”) The solution to falling milk prices is, of course, to put a floor on milk prices so that the farmer is guaranteed at least to make up for his costs. This is the system farmers had under the New Deal – which was not, contrary to the common misrepresentation, a system of subsidies but one of supply management. New England dairies had such a system, briefly, in the 1990s, called the Dairy Compact. (The Dairy Compact, that took years of political wrangling to accomplish, was allowed to expire when it came up for renewal in the days after 9/11. “How dare you bring up such a divisive issue as this one at this time,” one lawmaker charged. And so the Compact defenders – Bernie Sanders chief among them – were silenced.) Just across the border in Quebec dairy farmers enjoy such a system. A floor on prices would stabilize prices  – a benefit all around – and would eliminate the need for subsidies just to keep the farms afloat. New Deal programs were dismantled chip by chip since the 1970s in favor of free market policies that allowed farm gate prices to go into a free fall, while the agribusiness middlemen enjoyed a widening spread between the price they paid the producer, and the price they charged for a gallon of milk. In an upside down world, propping up farms with subsidies, and consolidating them into Soviet-style mega farms, is less “socialistic” than putting rules in place to insure farmers are paid a fair price. The explicit goal was fewer farmers, as it would later be in Mexico under NAFTA. “American agriculture’s like a big pie,” said USDA Secretary under Nixon, Earl Butz. “Right now we’ve got lots of farmers, and each one is getting a small slice of the pie. We need to eliminate a bunch of them, so that those that are left will get a lot bigger slice.” Consolidation, greater inequities – that was always the plan.

Since that winter when I helped Henry with his morning chores, when most cows in Vermont still spent at least half their lives on pasture, the bucolic image of the Vermont landscape, dotted with cows grazing on hillside pastures, the red barns and silver silos, has given way to the surreal landscape of multi-million dollar barns the size of airplane hangars, plastic-wrapped hay bales that look like giant marshmallows, and landscapes not only without cows but without people, where undocumented workers hide in the shadows. Of almost two thousand dairy farms in 1997, only 700 dairy farms remain today (even with the quarter billion dollars the state spent to prop up the industry), with most of those concentrated in two watersheds. The pastures with their cows, once upon a time, was the landscape, now folded up and hidden like a dirty secret. We have moved from, in Aldo Leopold’s words, the farm as a “place to live” to the farm as “food factory.” The logic of the industrial and its partitioning – producer from consumer, nature from culture, mind from body, home from workplace –would continue to shape and disfigure our world, to reduce the world into smaller and smaller parts.

***

It was an unseasonably hot June day in 2017 when a group of migrant workers and their allies marched thirteen miles from the state capitol to the Ben & Jerry Ice cream factory in Waterbury. Here were the workers who usually keep themselves hidden, now out in the daylight, megaphone in hand, leading the crowd in chanting “The people united…..” Wearing their Migrant Justice t-shirts, with bicycle escorts and allies pushing strollers, carrying water and food, and holding signs that read Derechos humanos and comida justa, they walked, taking shelter when they could at bus stops or under trees. Once they arrived at the Ben & Jerry’s factory, in a scene of Orwellian theater, Ben & Jerry’s executive came out to make a speech on behalf of the rights of migrant workers and applauded the crowd, as if his company was not the target of the protest. It had been two years since the company had consented in principle to a Milk with Dignity agreement that would require farmers adhere to an enforceable code of conduct. Low hanging fruit, I thought. And what if they cannot reach even this, the company that has spoken out against Trump’s immigration policies, that brands itself as the socially responsible company? The executive stood beside an enlarged copy of the agreement the activists had unfurled. The crowd shouted, “Sign it. Sign it now!” He squirmed, evidently feeling the discomfort of his hypocrisy. “No more delays!”

That evening, two of the worker-organizers were arrested by ICE when they returned to their farms, Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios.

Migrant Justice organized another protest.

By October, Ben & Jerry’s had finalized the agreement, which was reported in newspapers all over the world. Farmers who sell milk to Ben & Jerry’s, which pays them a premium, have to adhere to a code of conduct which ensure workers are paid a minimum wage, get eight hours rest between shifts, and a week’s vacation every year. Minimum housing standards require a bed, running water, and electricity. “We love to be part of innovation,” said Jostein Solheim, the company’s chief executive. “We believe in worker-led movements, and in bringing in dairy and doing it in Vermont.” Though for almost two decades, these workers labored without any protections, with no respect for basic human rights. No other milk processor has stepped up and volunteered to enter the Milk with Dignity program, each of them, in turn, will be the target of a sustained Migrant Justice campaign.

“I’ve been on this farm for eight years and I had never had a vacation,” one worker testified on how his life has changed under the new standards.  “This is the first year that I can take one. It feels good to get a breather.  We feel more secure, safer now that we have the right to speak up, and to not be fired.”

And another: “I feel more secure knowing my rights and having all these benefits.  Before nobody cared if we got sick.  We had to work and if we couldn’t, that day was taken out of our paycheck.  Now that we have Milk with Dignity, we’re paid that day.  And that’s important for me, for all of us.”

But can work on a factory farm can ever be dignified? And what about the human right to stay home – not to have to migrate four thousand miles for work? Standards should not be different for a non-American worker than an American worker, who fought his battle for a bed to sleep on and a five-day work week over a century ago. A slave, as distinct from a serf of a peon, is a person who is denied a community, who can establish no social bonds with others except his singular obligation to his master. This is meaning of the separation of families, the state sponsored violence of U.S. border policies. A character in one Amitav Ghosh’s novels says that our world presents “all the symptoms of demonic possession” – the way we live our lives, according to habit, confronted with daily horrors as if we have no power or agency– the calves in their hutches, unable to move their limbs, the ordiñador who after eight years, at last celebrates his right to a night’s sleep, a slave with benefits. Millions of people who must leave everything behind. The townspeople will drive by the farm with its calf hutches and its large barns that they have seen so many times before and won’t even wonder what goes on inside of them or why there is no one to be seen. From time to time we do break through the spell of possession, as we did on that day when we marched in the oppressive heat, when we acted with the belief that we have some agency. Si se peude. And then the wave will settle down again into the hollows. The spell returns. It is the way it is.

Truth is, it is the way it is because people made it so, policy by policy built on FDR’s racist exemption to a worker’s right to organize, to a safe workplace and fair pay. As an alternative to treadmill economics, state or federal governments can subsidize the transition to organic or regenerative agriculture – a convergent solution to the many problems – water pollution, pesticide pollution, biodiversity loss, economic pain, animal cruelty, greenhouse gas emissions – created by industrial dairy farming. Many more farmers and farmworkers will be employed in dignified work, with room for migrants. A single policy change would do more to preserve Vermont’s cultural identity as an agricultural state, than would subsidies to keep the industrial dairy farm on life support. Conventional dairy continues to produce milk – 320 million gallons a year in Vermont  ­– but it cannot survive without taxpayer subsidies and a subsidized labor of immigrants (that’s just the way it is) who have no rights. It is not producing a new generation of farmers who are willing take on their parent’s debt for a precarious future reliant on nonrenewable fossil fuels, worsening farm prices, an unstable climate, and a labor force that could so easily one day be taken away in handcuffs.

***

Eventually, decades after I tried my hand at milking cows for Henry, I settled down on a small homestead where, my husband and I raise a small flock of sheep, some chickens, and cultivate a large vegetable garden. We grow apples, pears, plums, berries, and we harvest mushrooms, wild grapes and greens – dandelion, lamb’s quarters and purslane. We tap our sugar maples and boil the sap to syrup on our woodstove. And for a while, we kept bees, until a bear, then mites, then a mystery, killed off our hives, Rachel Carson’s evil spell. I do not pretend to self-sufficiency; we may store enough onions, garlic, pears, and apples, tomatoes, potatoes and some lamb, to last most of the winter, but we still buy our coffee, tea, pasta, bread, flour, sugar, yogurt, butter, olive oil and much else.  The anthropologist David Graeber calls this “play farming” which is by his account what humans practiced for three thousand years before they took up “serious” farming. That is, they complemented farming with other subsistence activities. Farming was not an existential imperative. The flexibility and diversity of subsistence activities (in Mexico, campesinos are often poquiteras, those who engage in a poquito de todo, a little of this, a little of that), was a form of freedom; to farm or not to farm was a choice. Our own “play farming,” like the Heurta project for the farm workers, is equally meaningful as an exercise of freedom, significant because it reaffirms the presentness, the willfulness, that is lost with too much mechanization, too much dependence, and it restores the wholeness of the human act. If not for these activities, the industrial machine would threaten to swallow us whole.

***

I was flattered that Henry asked me to drive the tractor but then I discovered, there is no skill involved in driving a tractor at five miles per hour in the middle of an empty field.  It was hot that day, as it must be when the hay is raked or baled. The old tractor clanged and bumped along as it dragged a heavy rake behind it, turning over ribbons of cut grass, twisting them like loose ropes. The engine droned on, my body thrummed with the machine– it was the machine – and the mind emptied. The gulls swooped overhead to break the monotony. There was no breeze at all that day, but still, a gust of air came up before me and lifted a column of cut grass from the ground and twisted it around, shaped it into something resembling a human form; it spun before me like a whirling dervish, held up by some invisible wire in the suspension of time, all grass and sunlight and the invisible air. Maybe it rose up out of one of those Thomas Hardy novels, or out of a long ago incantation, or maybe out of my idle dreaming. It all feels now like a time of innocence. The spring is mostly silent, though Carson had warned us. Henry lost the farm, the nation got richer, and the townspeople were not among those who got the bigger slice of the pie. Those who did are the ones in the shadows, the invisible ones behind the shadows.

 

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