Valentines Wheat

Farmers grow wheat to feed the world, or at least that’s the way I hear it.  So it must be frustrating when they see bushels of the stuff dumped at highway verges where the roads lead up into the mountains, or spilled along the railway tracks where bears, deer and pigeons gather daily to glean the squandered wealth.  There’s something wrong with a farm-to-markets transportation system that tolerates so much wastage.  If farmers had to wait until the grain reached tidewater before being paid for what arrives, one can’t help suspecting the system would get fixed in a hurry.

I can only assume that those truckers dump grain in order to lighten their loads before they head up over the mountain passes. Apparently they get paid regardless of ultimately arriving with less in the hoppers than when they set out.  It doesn’t make much sense, but the ravens and rosy finches are okay with it.

And, to some extent, so am I.

At Gail’s request, a couple years ago, I threw a shovel and an empty cardboard box into the back of our vehicle and started watching for grain piles. Coming home from the cabin one evening I saw the telltale golden mounds at a pullout on Scott’s Lake Hill.  The wheat was fresh and dry, so I got out the shovel, loaded a few kilograms into the box and took my harvest home.

In our home, we live with the heat turned down to reduce our fuel consumption.  We spend a lot of time sitting under blankets, nostalgic for the warmth we enjoyed in our more profligate and less responsible youth.  So we cheat a little. Gail sewed some bags, filled them with the wheat I’d salvaged, sewed them shut, and they became magic bags — throw one in the microwave for a couple minutes and it warms you for an hour, wrapped around feet or under a blanket.  The grain inside may not be feeding the world, but at least it helps keep the chill at bay.

We’re an old couple now; no getting around that. Gail has gotten brittle; I’ve gotten stiff. We make strange, often-embarrassing, sounds and mutter a lot about aches and pains. Things we did and took for granted when we first met just aren’t on the menu any more. But the relationship, like the years, goes on.  This winter has been especially challenging, isolated yet again by a virus that seems likely never to go away, further isolated by one of Gail’s brittle bones having snapped when she fell in front of the mail box, and by the icy sidewalks that seem to be more a feature of winter than ever before.  Maybe it’s climate change. Maybe it’s just that we notice things differently when we age.  Whatever: we seem to be trapped indoors more often than we used to be.

The other day Gail was working on her weaving and it occurred to me that she must be kind of cold up there.  Her weaving room heats up nicely on sunny days but cools off way too fast on cloudy ones, and this was a cloudy one.  I popped one of her magic bags into the microwave and when it was done I took it up to her.  She gave me a grateful smile as I handed it to her: something she hadn’t expected. 

Later that evening, as I quietly cursed my cold feet — another feature of the aging process —after having gone to bed, Gail came in and tucked a magic bag under the covers for me.  Equally unexpected, and no less appreciated.

And that’s what it’s come to. Love evolves over time from the tireless passion of those early years, to the shared worries and joys of raising kids together, to the rekindled adventures of late middle age when the nest has emptied and the world beckons… to now, when a bag full of wheat can be enough to put that glowing ache back into the deep centre of one’s chest that reminds you of why, all those years ago when you said “I do,” it was actually the most brilliant thing you ever said.  Winter is cold and claustrophobic and there really isn’t much to talk about from one day to the next, but that magic bag says everything that matters because it was brought to you in kindness by the one person who thinks about you, and cares enough, to have made that effort. A small effort, but quietly huge.

I’d prefer more wild prairie and fewer grain fields.  If we have to have grain fields, I’d prefer to see that grain go to feed people who need it.  But even what’s wasted on the roadside can still have value.  Sometimes it can become part of the way old couples say, “I love you.” 

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Home is the southwestern foothills and mountains of Alberta. Born and raised here into a fishing and hunting heritage which morphed into a fascination with nature, a commitment to conservation, a home place on the Oldman River, and a career in landscape ecology. Still in love after forty years of marriage, and proud of the good people our three offspring have grown up to be. No less proud of, and grateful for, the friends and neighbours whose community spirit, stewardship ethics and good humour make this such a good place, and a good life. Worried about their future, which is why I can't stop working to keep my home place good. I write books and things too.

2 thoughts on “Valentines Wheat”

  1. Thank you for this, Kevin. You do use your sleepless nights to best advantage! Elaine

    On Tue., Feb. 1, 2022, 12:52 a.m. Kevin Van Tighem, wrote:

    > kevinvantighem posted: ” Farmers grow wheat to feed the world, or at least > that’s the way I hear it. So it must be frustrating when they see bushels > of the stuff dumped at highway verges where the roads lead up into the > mountains, or spilled along the railway tracks where bears” >


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