Call of the Meadowlark

On the farm, a baby bird had an important lesson to teach about long days and hard work. 

By Wanda Rosseland, Circle, Montana

As appeared in

Once the work season starts on the farm, it never lets up. And on our 1,000-acre wheat farm, every season is work season. This late afternoon it was toolbarring—turning the stubble of the wheat field to prepare it for planting next spring.

I finished the last of the field and brought my tractor to a halt. I raised a hand to my eyes and searched the far field. 

My husband, Milton, hadn't yet finished toolbarring that one. A cloud of dust rose behind him into the clear September sky. Once Milton was done toolbarring the far field we could both finally drive home. We'd have dinner and fall into bed exhausted—only to wake up with the sun the next morning.

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I sank down into the brown grass. It felt like the first break I'd had for days—maybe even longer.

My mind drifted back to all that we'd done since spring: calved and branded the cattle, seeded and sprayed the field, harvested in August, now the toolbarring—and that's not even counting taking the cows to pasture, haying and hauling bales.

Milton and I sometimes barely had a chance to bolt down lunch. When one job was done there was always another waiting. 

An ant tickled my thumb, crawling across my hand. Above me a gray pigeon swooped off the top of the granary to join his friends at a pit full of water for a drink. How lucky they are, I thought, to be able to enjoy this beautiful day.

As if in agreement a meadowlark sang out from behind me. "Tra-la-la-la-la!" he chirped. He looked very pleased with himself with his gray feathers and yellow breast—like a brightly colored vest. 

I was exhausted, but when would I get another chance to go for a walk? I rolled over on one knee, grabbed the thick lugs of my tractor tire and pulled myself up. I brushed off my pants and checked for Milton's cloud of dust—it was a long way off. Plenty of time for a walk.

I could enjoy the day like the meadowlark for a few precious moments.

I turned my feet to the country road nearby, laid with brick-red scoria gravel. I picked up a piece and tossed it just for fun, and followed where it went. My heart got lighter with each step I took.

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I walked west past the schoolhouse where Milton had attended grade school, then down the hill to the culvert where the water ran in the spring. 

I sat down at the edge of the road, pulled a green stem from a clump of grass and chewed its soft end while I watched the sun drop toward the horizon. I pulled my knees up and dropped my chin on my arms. The bright blue sky that had made me squint on my tractor softened to pink, lavender and orange.

Lord, I wish I could just sit here and enjoy the beauty of your world all day

"Tra!"

Another meadowlark song floated out on the air. Looks like I'm not the only one enjoying the sunset.

I cocked my ear and waited for the rest of the familiar song. Tra-la-la-la-la, like a trill of happy water cascading over rocks in a stream.

Only that happy trill never came. Something stopped the bird after the first note. The bird started again. "Tra!" sounded sharp and clear, but nothing followed. 

I've never heard a meadowlark break up his song. Was he sick? Injured?

I heard a second note, "Tra-a-a." Weak and hesitant, it came from somewhere else. It was chopped off by the stronger note. "Tra!" If I didn't know better, I'd have thought that bird sounded impatient.

Slowly, so as not to frighten anything away, I twisted my head and scanned the fence that ran along the road. I checked the posts, the wire, the tops of the sagebrush. I looked up and down the road for gray feathers or a bright-yellow vest.