John Henry


For more than a few weeks now, we’ve been setting deadlines for moving our harvest packing operations to Rising Sand. Week after week, we (Oren) seem to say, “Yeah, we can have it all ready to go; we’ll be packing here by next Friday.” And week after week, each project manifests more projects, and we spend a month raising the roof, three weeks finishing the concrete pads, and half of forever to lowering the huge cooler into place. Last Tuesday, feeling exceptionally optimistic, we moved a majority of our packing supplies to Rising Sand, fully intending to move the entire pack shed that afternoon. Didn’t quite happen. However, having dedicated ourselves to the move, we rented a trencher on Thursday to run the electrical lines to the cooler. Knowing what this would entail, I prepared myself mentally as Fanni and I cruised out to the farm. “Yeah,” I told myself. “I just feel like digging up huge stones today.”

Huge stones there were aplenty — resting lazily along the trenches spanning the acreage like arteries, amidst the rolls and rolls of electrical line and housing sprawled throughout the common area. Wow, I thought when we arrived, we are never going to get this done. Polly and Corrina were on-site: digging, prying and levering on one huge stone which had apparently demanded their attention for quite some time. Wow, I thought again, we are never going to get this done. Sighing, I grabbed a shovel, and got to digging.


The project of absolute necessity for the afternoon was to complete the 18” trench from the main shed to the cooler, and lay the lines required to get the cooler running. This portion didn’t actually look that bad at first glance. Okay, maybe we can do this…Then I met my first huge stone. Digging around it, to hopefully redirect the line, I met my next big stone. Digging instead in the other direction, I came into immediate contact with my third big stone. Alternating between the shovel and mattock (large pickaxe), I dug, levered, pried, swung, heaved, chipped and swore; finally achieving adequate leverage to at least budge the middle stone. From there we all coalesced, tied the strap around it, and heaved it to the side of the trench. Standing back, I let out a heavy sigh and looked to the trench ahead. Fuckkkk…


Somehow it became the evening. Head down, one rock at a time, we beasted, grunted, hoisted, pulled and pried. From somewhere in the depths of my consciousness surfaced the song John Henry, and I started grunting out a bastardized version of the lyrics as I swung my mattock; hands stinging with the vibration of every misplaced swing. Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, God God. Hammer’s gonna be the death of me. Springsteen’s version morphed into Johnny’s version as I swung and pried at what was quite certainly the final huge rock standing between us and 18” glory. I can run a jack, and I can lay a track; I can pick, and shovel too… I grunted, moaned, groaned and pried, and the rock finally submitted, only slightly. We again coalesced on the beast, and after 15 minutes, three buried shovels, and numerous back-breaking maneuvers with the strap, we succeeded in rolling her a half-turn over, out of the immediate line of trench. Whew, I thought, last big stone out of the way.


Then it became night. To my chagrin, the stubborn measuring tape revealed only 14” on our last stretch of track, and, as it turns out, 18 minus 14 equals more huge stones. Now requiring flash lights, Oren and my teeth gritted a little harder; we grunted a littler louder, and swung only slightly more frenziedly as the stones continued in their stubborn refusal to budge.

“Hey Lee,” remarked Oren beneath a sky of beautiful stars, “Remember when you started clearing out this space?” He gestured to where our cooler now stood, half roofed, perched on its glorious cement pad in the space which was once little more than a mess of tangle and bramble. Wow. I looked at the now level floor of the pack shed, which was once itself a mass of huge boulders and old bricks. I thought about the old decrepit planter, and the overall dinginess of the shed we’d had to duck just to enter. Now, roof raised, concrete concreted and cooler placed, it actually looked like we’d be packing here tomorrow. We’ve come a long way, I realized; one stone at a time. With that, I grabbed my mattock and got back to swinging. Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, God God. Hammer’s gonna be the death of me…

(Note: We did not in fact perform any packing operations at Rising Sand that Friday, but we’re especially optimistic for next week.)