Though cold for early March, bright sunshine bathed the landscape in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. This farmer took advantage of the situation and spread a different kind of sunshine.
For those of you not familiar with rural lingo, “spreading sunshine” equals spreading manure. It’s a necessary and important job on a family farm that includes horses, cows, and other livestock. Winter weather, especially this wet winter’s weather, doesn’t always allow farmers to regularly “clean out the barn.”
When the opportunity presents itself, farmers waste no time in getting the job done. When crop fields are frozen enough to support heavy farm equipment, the manure spreaders are loaded with the fertile livestock waste and spread onto the frost-firmed ground.
It can be a stinky job, but someone has to do it. In fact, it is the smell that satirically coined the phrase “spreading sunshine.” When the ground is frozen, its time to rid the barns of all the manure that can be hauled while the conditions are right.
Memories often materialize in the most unusual of circumstances.
It was early June, and we had endured rainstorm after rainstorm. At times, the rain pelted down at the rate of two inches an hour.
When you live between two mountain ranges and groundwater has already saturated the sticky, red-clay soil, that much precipitation spells trouble. And trouble found lots of folks throughout the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.
High water flooded roadways, keeping fire departments and rescue squads busy with multiple water rescues. It was still pouring when a river of muddy water rushed through our backyard.
I decided to check the five-foot crawl space beneath our ranch home. I slipped on my old black gumboots and jumped into eight inches of water. Instantly, cold, yucky water surrounded my right foot. The combination of old age and wear and tear had finally taken their toll on my versatile rubber boots.
I was grateful a local plumber was gracious enough to bail us out despite being swamped with other calls. Everything beneath our home seemed to have weathered the storm except my precious boots.
Gumboots are knee-high footwear made of rubber and fabric designed for all kinds of outdoor activities. Those boots and I went way back. They had served me well in a variety of conditions over several years.
I remember where I bought them nearly three decades ago at a now-defunct shoe store in Mt. Hope, Ohio. I wore the boots often in many different situations. I had depended on them time and again, often in dire instances.
When a storm hit, I put them on to check my roads as a township trustee. I can’t tell you how many flooded streets and ditches I waded through wearing those boots. I traipsed through many snowstorms with them, too.
Once after a big snow, I spied a grizzled old opossum munching birdseed from a feeder that sat atop a picnic table in our backyard. On went my coveralls and those gumboots. I intended to shoo off the unwanted mammal. As I opened the door, our pet rat terrier Bill shot out the door ahead of me.
Bill’s fearless instincts immediately kicked in when he spotted the opossum. The little dog circled the unimpressed marsupial once, and on his second pass, Bill leaped for the much larger animal’s tail. The opossum hit the ground with a thud, dead on arrival.
Those boots even helped me as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. On one run, I found myself standing in the shallows of a stream holding up an elderly victim who had fallen into the rushing creek. I still remember the fire chief’s surprised expression when he saw me in the water with those black boots.
Another time, on an early subzero February morning, I spotted our Amish neighbor heading across frozen farm fields toward our house. Levi was delivering the promised fertilizer for our garden. Steam shimmered in the morning light as it rose from the hardworking draft horses and the load of manure they were pulling in the spreader.
By the time I dressed and pulled on my gumboots, I was too late. Levi and his pitchfork had already deposited a still-steaming pile of manure onto the garden plot. Standing in that frigid, fragrant morning air, I asked him how much I owed for the delivery. Levi just smiled and said wryly, “Nothing. I don’t have anything in it.”
Like I said, sometimes the strangest circumstances stir the fondest memories.