The Last Unhitching

Cecila Farran

By Cecilia Farran

My father was a farmer whose father was a farmer’s son, and so it had been as far back as the ancestral stories can be remembered; into Europe, into ages past, always farmers partnering with their horses on the land. 

Life progressing at the speed of a walking plow.

In 1948, my father made the decision to purchase his first tractor, a yellow prairie gold Minneapolis Moline. But I doubt he could have known that although he still used the horses a bit, the Last Unhitching would someday come and the harnesses would hang mute upon their pegs, encasing the once sweat of mighty beasts under a half century of earthy dust.

Circa 1930, Cecilia Farran’s father, Richard, is pictured with his team of horses hitched to a hay wagon.

My father, the horses, the farm gone now. Farmland rolled over by the exodus from the city, and that which is left consolidated into mega-farms, worked by mega-tractors, captained by mega-farmers. They are family farms still, but on a scale that the old farmer and his team could never have imagined.

Twenty years ago, I rescued the tangles of leather from the gathering dust. They now hang on the log wall of my wide porch. I finger the curve of each strap; the collars and hames, bridle and bit, cruppers, traces, reins, each with its own stated purpose to harness the power of horses and men. Now although mute, in their cracked leather silence, I cherish them for the stories they tell. 

The hay wagon is converted for winter to a sled on a cold January day.

It is a tale of strong animals and men. Yes, and of hard work, but of a gentler time. Of fresh spring-turned earth, of summer muscles sweat-glistened in the heat, and of winter ice. Of sun and breezes across waving fields of wheat, of dried corn rustling in November storm, of walking plows and a farmer whose unencumbered soul was fed by it all.

It is the story of an old farmer in touch with the life of the land. A tale in sharp contrast to the farmer of today, separated from it all by the comfort of a climate-controlled air-conditioned tractor cab and headphones delivering the beat of country music and the latest grain market reports. 

Harnesses for the horses.

The tale now is of giant-size computer-driven machinery built to match the spread of land. Today the farmer and his sons and sons of sons may farm and love the land just as much as their forebearers, but instead of the quiet pace of horses they must farm larger than life in order to stay competitive in the modern marketplace. Through it all, the land endures.

The earth of the farm may no longer be under my fingernails, 

but it lies fertile still in my soul.

As a story smith, Cecilia Farran writes for the written and spoken word and performs one-woman shows Beyond the Story. She gains solace and inspiration from her home, Taralir, nestled in a pine forest along the Wisconsin River. Contact her at cecilia@ceciliafarran.com.