The Ox Shoe
This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.
I had my field tilled up this spring, its idle soil turned through and through. Nothing much has grown there for years and years, just daisies and hawkweed and some goldenrod. And grasses too, like timothy and orchard grass, and purple vetch and buttercups – the usual stuff of idle fields, along with worms and grasshoppers, mice and voles, garters and grass snakes. Rather a lot of things when I sum them up, but still it’s been quite a while since that ground saw much activity besides its annual mowing with attendant swallows swooping low for stirred-up insects and a handful of crows and the fox looking for bigger and better morsels.
After tilling, a dozer pushed the topsoil into long, high mounds. All the goodness of one sleepy acre arranged for trucking-off, the field took on a new look, like something was going on. Passersby noticed, and I was quizzed daily about my intentions. Suddenly the old field was a place of interest. Most thought I was building condominiums or something equally drastic. “No,” I told them, “Nothing that serious. Just selling a little loam. A year from now, you won’t be able to tell.”
But I felt some guilt, knowing I’d be able to tell for some time to come that that old field had work to do before it could go back to sleep. And it will be several years perhaps before it will settle down into the routine of watching the seasons again. Meanwhile, a new sod must develop, a new rich layer of decaying and building organic stuff for the worms to work with and for the mice to tunnel through.
I spread 3 tons of lime and 500 pounds of fertilizer and seeded that acre with a “field mix” of seed that had a guaranteed germination rate of 98%. And I prayed for rain and got it. Now only time will tell if an old field will forgive and forget such treatment.
Maybe. Maybe not. Walking around one day, checking on my emerging clover seedlings, I found a rusted ox shoe. Who’s to say when and how that shoe came to be there or what the ox’s name might have been – Red? Or Bill? Or Henry? Maybe the ox was pulling a plow or a stone boat. Or maybe it was simply grazing on a fine summer’s day. In any event, I feel sure that ox must have been in a far less rapacious frame of mind than I on that long-ago day he dropped his shoe. Doing only as he was bid, his plodding pace must have left soothing marks upon the land – no more.
When his shoe fell off, the ground took it, quietly, held it for all these years – a reminder of times when only hooves and muscle worked the soil – a reminder to me, perhaps, that there are kinder ways to treat the land.
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. In October 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.
Ox shoe courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.