Where I grew up in those rolling hills of upstate New York, most of my childhood friends lived on dairy farms. When it wasn’t chore time, a dairy farm can be a place of great adventure for kids to play! But, when chores need to be done, all play would stop and everyone had a job to do. I learned at a very young age that a dairy farm was a lot of work, seven days a week and every day of the year!
Mr. Symonds had a dairy farm and I can picture some of his unique crop fields in my mind to this day. Why? Because he had very little level ground to grow the crops that would feed his dairy cows. The hills may work okay as summer pastures for grazing the cows, but the challenges of growing crops on those hillsides especially with at best 1960’s equipment, is why the hills usually didn’t grow crops…..for most farmers.
But, Mr. Symonds came up with a plan of strip farming (or contour planting), alternating rows of crops up the entire side of that big and rather steep hill! The corn, hay, oats or other grain that might have been grown in those strips were probably only about 150 feet wide each, but stretched across the entire width of the hill. Yet each year every single strip (section) always looked perfectly straight!
I suppose many people never even noticed that sculpted hillside, but to me as a small country boy it was a sight to behold, a work of art and a monument to a man’s skill! The placement of the crops showed that he understood erosion, because if he wasn’t careful he would lose the precious topsoil….. that’s where the strips of hay made the perfect “buffer” between the corn or other grains.
But the part that still amazes me to this day is how he and his family could farm that way for so many years without a major mishap. But no, when I think a little deeper I shouldn’t be amazed at all….. rather I should look at that hillside as a monument to God’s answered prayer for a farm family. You see, I spent a few nights there as a boy and I remember in the morning their awesome farmers breakfast! WOW!
But I also remember Mr. Symonds didn’t just give a quick prayer for the food, he seriously and earnestly prayed for others and for the safety of his family for that day- sometimes being moved to tears….. I believe God heard and answered his prayers.
He was also my Sunday School teacher when I was in 5th and 6th grade. I remember an illustration he used one time in relation to farming and I listened closely because I knew he was a good farmer! He said, “whether you’re plowing the soil or mowing hay, if you want to go in a perfectly straight line, fix your eyes on a tree or something big at the other end of the field and drive straight to it. Never trust your instincts or look beside you or behind you, then when you get to the other side you’ll see that you made a straight path.”
He explained that no matter how hard you tried or whatever other method you use, looking ahead and fixing your eyes was the only way to make a straight path….. He of course then went on to explain that if we want to make a straight path in life, we have to “fix our eyes on Jesus”.
Many years later when I had my own little farm and became comfortable with my own tractor, I was curious about what Mr. Symonds had said, so in a practical way I had to try it for myself. I got my tractor lined up at the far end – in the middle end of a hay field, all set to mow a path straight across without fixing my eyes on anything ahead, just holding the wheel steady and watching closely beside me. I made it to the other end, confident that I had done a good job ….. until I turned and looked back! It looked like I had followed a snake! How was that even possible?
I was driving the tractor and I know my tractor….that path should have been straight! So, I mowed another path through the hayfield, only this time after getting myself lined up and ready to go, “I fixed my eyes on a tree” on the opposite end of the field and headed towards it, never taking my eyes off “my tree”. This time when I reached the other side I looked back and saw a perfectly straight path!
As I think about making a straight path in life, I think of Hebrews 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” I also think of Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Till Next Time…..