For some folks, the hour of dawn is defining. If you miss it, you'll go through the whole day without ever really getting started; you'll be forever living the ending, and miss out on the hopeful beginning for whatever comes next.
I stood on the edge of my land, breathing in the dawn and letting it fill me with energy for the rest of the day. Roy seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. He stood beside me watching the cows and waiting for the sun to reach the valley.
The eastern facing side of the trees began to glow with an orange fire, then the sun reached the valley grasses, lighting up the thin layer of dew like a blanket of silver and gold. Dew drops hung on the fence wire like diamonds on a chain. Unlike diamonds, the gems of water only lasted a few minutes, evaporating into a haze that settled in the valley. I sighed with satisfaction and reached for Roy's reins.
“It never gets old,” I said aloud, and Roy's ears turned my direction briefly, checking my phrase for any familiar words. I grinned and added a sentence he would know, “Let's get back to the barn.”
Immediately Roy stepped toward me and dipped his head, knowing I was about to mount him and ride home. He was right.
We were back before groggy-eyed and clumsy Jake stumbled out to do the milking.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” I greeted him. As he came through the barn door I captured him in a headlock and gave him a knuckle rub to the scalp. In two seconds, I was the one in the headlock, getting a premature bald spot. Jake was suddenly wide awake.
“Take that, Wilfred,” Jake chuckled gleefully. “Your days of ambushing me are over.”
“Nah, just more interactive,” I said, hooking my boot behind his right ankle and pulling his foot out from under him. He staggered backward and we grinned at each other.
“Let's don't wrestle in here,” Jake advised. “I haven't mucked yet.”
Ramona and Susanna joined us and we had the milking and calf feeding done in half an hour. The girls were both still sleepy from staying up late talking to Molly.
“We're just going to have granola22 for breakfast because Mom wants to get started on the bread,” Ramona told me, as we walked back to the house, carrying the stainless steel buckets of frothy white milk. “She said to ask you guys to get the wood and start the fire in the horno23.”
“Okay, can you carry the milk?” I asked, as we paused at the porch and she took the heavy buckets out of my hands. “They're heavy. . .”
“Not too heavy,” Mona assured me and climbed the porch steps. “See you in a minute.”
Once the fire in the mud oven was blazing, Jake and I went back inside through the kitchen door. Most of the family and Jeremy were serving themselves bowls of granola and milk, but Dad and Molly were at the end of the table with a small science lab laid out in front of them.
“Check this out, Will,” Dad said, moving over to make room for me on the other side of Molly. “Molly's testing our grain for genetically modified proteins with this kit.”
“These are antibody-based test strips24,” Molly explained, glancing up at me. “One of our grants included field kits for the lab, but we never do field work here in New Mexico—there just isn't much agriculture. So the kits went out of date.”
“But it still works?” I asked, leaning down to look at a clear glass of water, into which Molly had sprinkled some corn flour.
“Oh, yes, it works fine. You can buy these test strips yourself, online,” Molly added, taking some small test strips from a package. “I think they're a couple of dollars each.”
She paused for a moment to show us an unused test strip, and then continued, “You mix the crushed grain into water as well as you can. . . and then you dip the end of the strip into the water. The liquid will wick upward, saturating the test strip. See these two lines?”
Molly glanced up at me, and her face was so close, I could see a wedge of pale green in the iris of one of her blue eyes. Her eyebrows dipped questioningly, and I nodded, looking down at the test strip.
“You want the moisture to wick all the way past the top line—the control line. If only the top line becomes colored, then your grain is non-gmo. The first line is your modified protein test. You don't want it to show up at all.”
Molly pulled the strip out and Dad and I bent closer to look at it. Molly's hair smelled like lavender.
“It shows positive for genetic modification of the proteins,” Molly announced.
“What?” I asked in surprise.
“This is corn from that chicken scratch I bought the other day,” Dad explained quickly. “Not our corn.”
“Wasn't that bag labeled organic?” Mom asked as she came out of the kitchen with bowls for Jake and I.
“Yes, it was,” Dad answered, scratching his head. He sat down and I suddenly felt awkward standing so near Molly, so I sat down as well.
“Did it say 100% Organic?” Jeremy asked. His head was bent toward Anna, who was standing on the chair next to him, trying to secure a paper hat to his head.
“No,” Dad admitted, pouring himself a bowl of granola.
“If it only says organic it can still have up to 30% GM ingredients in it,” Jeremy said, finally turning his head to look at us. The paper hat sat rakishly to one side of his head, where it had been taped to his hair.
“I remember that now,” Dad agreed with a chagrinned frown. “I was just so surprised and pleased to see organic grain available at the feed store.”
I offered the jar of granola to Molly and then the pitcher of milk. She smiled as she poured it and I wondered what she was thinking.
“Thanks,” she said, glancing up at me, her hand touching mine as I took the pitcher to pour myself some milk.
“I tested your homegrown corn at the lab, using a DNA-based PCR analysis,” she told me. “It was perfect: no glyphosate, no modified proteins, no Bt toxins. And the soil was amazing, so alive and healthy!”
“Did the chicken scratch have glyphosate in it?” Dad asked, picking up the glass of water with corn flour drifting around in it.
“Probably,” Molly answered, turning toward him. “but the field kit strips don't check for glyphosate levels. If the corn is genetically modified, it will have glyphosate in it as well. That's the whole point of buying and planting GM corn—so you can spray it with pesticides.”
I was searching for something to say, wanting to join the conversation. But I remembered yesterday's awkward performance and decided to stick with listening until something brilliant came to mind.
“I was reading a report recently that said glyphosate induces cancer cell growth and damages DNA,” Dad said, putting the glass of murky water back down on the table.
“That's true,” Molly answered, pausing with her spoon halfway to her mouth. “The problem is actually coming up with a human case of cancer that can be directly linked to glyphosate. There is plenty of evidence, but for this industry it needs to be in-your-face-obvious for anyone to listen.”
“Molly, how does your university stand on this issue?” Mom asked, removing Anna from the chair next to Jeremy so he could eat in peace. “Sit in my lap,” she said in Anna's ear.
“Other than Doctor Meir, they're the same as any other institution that receives donations from big pharma-chem companies. They say, ‘Shhh... the money behind us doesn't agree with you.'” Molly's tone was bitter.
“I guess you're a burr in the saddle blanket,” I said quietly, with a sideways glance at her.
“They're going to have to listen to me someday,” Molly asserted with determination. “I'm not going away.”
“It might not be easy,” I said, a little louder this time. Molly looked at me, but her gaze was cool.
“So?” she shrugged.
Dad pushed his chair back and ran his hand through his hair, making it stand on end.
That's funny, I thought. That must be where I got it.
“Will's right, Molly,” he said soberly. “The scientists may be convinced with the truth, but the money that pays for their research is from people that don't care about right and wrong. For them, it's about the money, and there are billions of dollars at stake. Do you think your life is worth that to any of them?”
“What are you saying?” Molly asked, the color rising in her face along with her temper.
“Just, to be careful. To go in with your eyes open,” Dad said mildly. Molly didn't answer, and everyone else was silent. She looked at me and I couldn't tell if her expression showed fear or anger.
“In my opinion,” I said as gently as I could, “it's the little people that need to be convinced; the people spending their money every day buying whatever is on the shelves. The answer is showing them another way of life—a better way. If they stop buying crap, it won't be peddled anymore. If they grow their own food, they won't need to buy it.”
I wondered if I was justifying my own lifestyle, if I was feeling small next to Molly's greatness. But when I searched my own heart and mind, I found I believed what I was saying. So I met her gaze squarely, and it was Molly that glanced away.
“Do you girls need help in here?” Dad asked Mom, changing the subject completely.
“No, but thanks for offering,” Mom answered, setting Anna down on the floor. She immediately ran around the table to Jeremy again. Jeremy seemed unperturbed with Anna's adoration and his big hand rested lightly on her small shoulder.
“Well then, us menfolk are going to take a tour with Jeremy and set up an electric fence in the small pasture,” Dad announced and added, “Call us when you need us.”
“What's a ‘menfolk'?” Susanna asked, as we left the table.
“Guys,” Ramona answered, already stacking empty bowls and gathering spoons.
“But manlier than guys,” Mom added, kissing Dad as he rounded the table for that very favor.
As Dad, Jake and Jeremy walked around the farm, talking about various paddocks and looking at the herd, I stopped off at the shop to look for the fencing parts and pieces.
Molly's irritated response to our warning at the breakfast table kept going through my mind. What was driving her? Was it really a passion to get the truth out, or an ambition to be somebody important? Either way, what did it matter to me? Dad's advice on the day we'd ridden over to Lonnie's place came to mind.
Just enjoy the journey, I told myself. Live without fear.
I carried the electric fencing stuff out of the barn and breathed deeply on the way, smiling with pleasure. The rain had washed all the dust off of the trees and released the oils. The air was heavy with the scent of pine, cedar, and sage. The fine dust that had covered the ground the day before was now damp and packed down again, a reprieve from the windy, dusty days of Spring.
I went through the barn and into the small pasture, looking for a place to secure the solar panel where it wouldn't get damaged. Then I started stepping off the pasture, trying to figure out how to divide it evenly.
“What's this?” Jeremy asked, as he, Dad and Jake came through the barn and found me placing fenceposts in a straight line.
“The first paddock,” I answered, sighting down the top of my T-post to make sure it was in line with the others.
“You're a fine fence builder, Will.” Jeremy said, smiling as he gently took the post out of my hand. “But you've still not quite got the idea of holistic land management.”
“What do you mean?” Dad and I asked at the same time. It was clear Jeremy was trying not to offend us, but that there was something fundamentally wrong with my fencing plan.
“Go ahead, Jeremy, you can be plain with us—we're not easily offended,” I assured him.
“When you caress a loved one,” Jeremy answered, gesturing toward the ground, “do you follow a plan, equally dividing the area of skin, being fair with every stroke? Like, they say. . . a system addict?”
“Systematic,” Dad offered, chuckling appreciatively at the mistranslation. Jeremy nodded and continued.
“Or does love guide you?” he asked. “Does your hand move with the response of the one you love?”
“It's more intuitive?” I guessed. “We should start with the ground that responds the most?”
“Maybe,” Jeremy agreed, reaching his hand toward the ground as though he might caress it. “Or maybe the closest ground is a good starting place.”
Dad shook his head, lifting his shoulders to indicate he still wasn't catching on. I wasn't either. Jeremy smiled his bright, white smile.
“Observe the land,” he said, and squatted down to look out across the field. I knelt down and looked across it as well. It was the same old pasture it'd always been. “Look,” he said, “do you see the fence should go around this little rise here. . . not straight through it? And over here it should move out around this dry patch of grass. And when you move it, you should overlap a little, to make sure the area right under the fence is never neglected. Do you see?” He stood up, just as I was beginning to catch his drift.
“Why make a straight fence?” he asked. “Why? If you are not going to drive a tractor down it, and if you don't need to pull the wire tight over long distances, why make it straight? Any reason?”
“No,” Dad shook his head and chuckled. “No, I guess not. I think I'm starting to understand.”
“You see?” Jeremy nodded and smiled. “But you must also continue to watch and let your actions change with the need. Let love guide your hand.”
I was already pulling up the stakes I'd hammered in such a straight line. It was funny how mentally difficult it was to make a misshapen paddock on purpose, but when I focussed on the ground instead of the fence, it all started to make sense. I smiled to myself, thinking I should carve a note-to-self to hang over the barn door.
Let love guide your hand.