My grandfather (ca. 1884-1956) was the youngest of eight sons born to a general in the German Reich’s army. He had fled Germany alone just before World War I. In his early 40’s he married my grandmother who was 18 and in 1933 my father, was born. In 1938 they purchased the farm I grew up on in northwest Oregon. My father lived on that farm all his life. When he was a child he would ride the draft horses that pulled a plow while his father walked behind.
My father did not like horses. When he was a teenager he bought a used Ford 9N tractor that we still have today. I grew up driving that tractor from before I was ten years old. My dad bought a single-bottom plow and some other implements for preparing the yearly gardens and my mother taught us how to plant seeds.
Our soil was a hard, lumpy and predominantly clay. Dad’s plow was a shiny curved steel blade that could lift the top 12 inches of soil and turn it upside down. This left massive chunks of shiny brown sheets of dirt that had to be broken up with a small walk-behind gasoline-powered rototiller. I hated tilling the garden with that rototiller. It was hard to control while it bucked and tipped from side to side. It always tried to climb up out of the furrow and run across the top of the ground without chewing anything up.
On the other side of town my mother’s cousin had a Troy-Bilt rototiller with rear tines. It was vastly more cooperative. His soil was a fine predominantly silty soil. He had a greenhouse and a green thumb. Everything he touched grew and flourished. Our chunky clay dirt clods managed to grow squash, carrots, corn, radishes, beans and other vegetables, but not like the gardens on the other side of town. I wanted dirt like they had. I was vaguely aware of descriptive soil vocabulary such as clay, silt and sand but mainly there was “good dirt” and “bad dirt.”
Each year we spread animal manure on the ground before tilling. We had sheep, goats, cows, rabbits and horses. My daily chores included feeding all the animals and milking the goats. Periodically I had to remove the manure from the various barns. It stank and I didn’t like work. The only animal I appreciated was my horse. He was mostly American Quarter Horse with some Morgan mix. Morgans are draft horses so he was a huge 1400 pounds, had a strong thick neck and stood 17 hands tall. He loved to buck me off but riding was all pleasure and my time in the 4-H Horse Club generated some of my best memories. More than 40 years later, in Tokyo, I am becoming keenly aware of how little I ever knew about the living “dirt” that supports our lives, and I hope readers here will join me on my journey of discovery.