Plow Day: Celebrating the Draft Horse and Mule
A Walk into the Past
With much anticipation, I attended the 2010 Plow Day, a festival of sorts, that takes place annually in Rocky Mount, NC. It got its start only a few years ago when a handful of friends gathered to help Jimmy Dozier plow his fields. On-lookers stopped by to watch, and thus, Plow Day was born. Each year, the crowd gets bigger and bigger as more horses, mules, tractors and even oxen show up. Vendors provide food and beverages, and there is even entertainment. This year, Rocky, the trained mule did tricks, and a blue grass band sang. On display were antique farm machines, all once drawn behind horses or mules. Someone was demonstrating the corn shelling and grinding processes and a power driven pump. A line of vintage cars and trucks attracted passersby and prompted a few to turn in and join the crowd.
The feature of the day, however, was the actual plowing. Men on horse or mule drawn plows (only one man walked behind his horse) competed to see who could make the most rounds in a specific amount of time. People stood on the sidelines watching as if they longed for the days of yore when plowing behind a mule/horse was their way of life. This intrigued me. Not for reasons of nostalgia, but as a life lesson in living in the moment.
My Days Behind The Plow
Having grown up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, and longing to be any place except there on that farm, I did not immerse myself in agrarian life. My uncle, who had five children, and my father, who had four, owned 250 acres together, a rare accomplishment for black families in the 50’s. Despite their achievement, they dreamed of lives different than they lived. The work was hard and not very profitable, and because these two brothers had known poverty and discrimination, both having had to drop out of school to farm and help their parents provide for their nine younger siblings, both encouraged their children to do more, to be more than farmers. We knew from the time we started learning to read that college and professions away from the farm would be our destiny.
I did not embrace my life on the farm back then. Every day took me closer and closer to “away.” I longed for ideas that I mistakenly thought were not entangled with the weeds I pulled, the tobacco suckles I broke, or the corn I shelled by hand. I did not absorb the love of tradition such as hog-killing time or quilting bees, though they were yearly occurrences on our farm. I was merely marking time, waiting for my day to escape the drudgery of farm-life.
Lessons Away From the Plow
I am not sorry that I left. But I am sorry that back then, I did not know the joy of living in the moment, of embracing the “now.” That is a behavior that I’ve had to learn since becoming an adult. Embracing the present moment means not fighting against your present reality by wishing it were different. It gives you the opportunity to bask in and connect to the world that sustains you. It keeps you from being miserable in your own skin—like the teenager I was. Perhaps had I planted flowers, learning their names and their habits, I would have felt more connected to my birth place and could have appreciated its beauty much sooner than I have come to. Maybe if I’d watched and learned the names of the birds that populated the gourds in the trees around the farm, I would have also learned their trials and not longed to fly away with them and from what truly was a fruitful young life.
On the other hand, being detached from that life gave me the freedom to leave it behind. I don’t long for the “good old days” of back breaking physical labor in the hot summer sun, nor do I grieve the loss of small town charm. I’ve grown to love our family’s farm- land and see God manifested in nature on a daily basis. That I missed that during my farm days was brought home to me at Plow Day; that I didn’t miss it all together is a major blessing.