#FridayFlash: The Green Fields of Home

The Green Fields of Home

by Tony Noland

Water ticked and groaned in the pipes as the center pivot irrigation came to life. Dozens of rainbows flashed over the bean field, dancing in the spray. The sun-shot mist covered the undulating rise of greenery as Plot 621 rose up to meet State Road JJ.

"And what did he say when you laid down the law?"

Tom Wallott didn't respond, but continued leaning on the side of his pickup, watching the rainbows move over the land.

His neighbor, Bill Campbent, snorted. "I thought so. You didn't, did you?"

"You think that second pivot is running a little strong?"

"Don't change the subject, Tom. We both know damn well the pivots are calibrated properly. Why on earth didn't you just spell it out for Tom Jr.? He knows what's at stake, he'd do the right thing."

Tom reflected that the main thing about Bill was that Bill was a horse's ass. It used to irritate the hell out of him, the way Bill would give advice on matters he knew nothing about. Since Donna died, though, Tom had come to a sort of peace with lots of things. It wasn't Bill's fault he was a horse's ass. He couldn't help it.

"Thomas knows his own mind," Tom said. "We talked about it, one man to another. He's married and has own his life to lead in Wichita. He knows his affairs better than I do; he's made his decisions and I respect his judgment on them."

"Tom, him going off to Kansas for college is one thing, but turning his back on the farm completely? That's just wrong! Your great-great-grandfather cleared and claimed this land. Father to son, it's been worked ever since. Farming is in your family's blood. Doesn't that mean anything to him? And what are you going to do without a son to carry on? Sell out? You can't do that and you know it."

The leaves in the field were rippling, soaked with the false rain being sprayed on them. Thousands of years old, that water. For age on age it sat down in the aquifer, Tom thought, until just now. It was my soil moisture sensor that sent the signal, my control panel that closed the contacts, my electricity that fired up the pumps to draw that ancient water up to push these plants to produce on command.

On my command, he thought.

Tom adjusted his cap, mopped the sweat from his brow. June 14, 1974 was just such a day as this - bright and hot. It was two weeks to the day after he'd graduated from Iowa State with a degree in soil science, and a minor in English literature. The day his father laid down the law, the day Tom had boxed up his books and come home to do the right thing.

The plants were leaning, bent with the weight of the water. Bowed down, they were slowly being pushed face first into the mud of his great-great-grandfather's land.

"You know, Bill," Tom said, "the calibration must be out of whack. That second pivot is running too strong."

Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


  1. This is a brilliant short -You have an enormous talent for economy and the weight of words to do much with little. A whole family history captured in a brief conversation.

    Beautiful and moving.


  2. That opening visual - powerful. At least for those of us that grew up in farm country.

  3. Exellent piece this week, Tony. Some of your tightest yet most evocative writing. Bravo! Peace, Linda

  4. Nicely done! Those English minors ain't nothin' but trouble, y'know. I could just see the rainbows in the mist.


  5. Just to echo, what a great visual opening.

    good stuff

  6. A great piece, Tony, on a theme close to my heart. This sentence carries a payload: "The plants were leaning, bent with the weight of the water. Bowed down, they were slowly being pushed face first into the mud of his great-great-grandfather's land." I know this feeling.

  7. He couldn't control his own life, but he can control the farm. And he's set his own son free. This really pulls at my heart, Tony. Great story.

  8. Tight and powerful. Great dialogue, too.

  9. DJ: You have an enormous talent for economy and the weight of words to do much with little.

    Thank you! In real time, this entire interaction between these two men lasts about, what, two minutes? Three? And yet it encompasses an entire life, five generations of a family history, the structure of an entire society, and the quiet love of a father for his son.

    I don't generally like to blow my own horn, nor am I the sort of person who uses the term "squee". However, I gave a little squee when I wrote this, then gave another squee when I cut it from 700 words to 600, and again when I cut it just over 500. Can you tell I'm rather proud of this little effort. Squeee!

    For Trev and anyone else who grew up or spent time in farm country, rainbows are a regular feature of the landscape. I'm glad the visuals worked so well for everyone.

    Simon: Fathers have a lot of power over their sons, sometimes more than they realize. It takes a special kind of strength and wisdom to use that power with a light and loving touch.

  10. Lovely piece Tony, the heartstrings were tugged, and the brain was awwed by how much you managed to put into 600 words!

    I can't help but think, though, that in real life the son would be raring to go as a farmer and the dad would be trying to nudge him towards the life that he wished he could have lived!

  11. Quite excellent writing here, Tony.

    You should be proud of this piece. With an economy of sentences, you've created a complete world of past, present, future.

  12. Concise writing is always the best kind of writing, in my opinion.

    A simple, human story. Beautiful.

  13. Masterful! The imagery of the plants being overwhelmed, the touching, uncondional-loving decision of a father, and even a bit a humor sprinkled in! Loved the horse's ass comment...so true, lol. So many life lessons in 500 words?! You rocked this flash.

  14. Tony,

    I like stories where the conversations tell it. Well done!


  15. Wow, the economy here is wonderful--and within it, not just the story of the family, but tender and not-so-tender emotions evoked with the plants, the sprinkler system, the field meeting the road...This piece was particularly poignant for me as my family has a farm that my dad does not want passed out of the family. He wouldn't care if it functioned as a farm anymore, but the land must still be ours...(Incidentally, he was the one who left the farm to become an engineer and moved back after early retirement...)

  16. Great story, Tony! He was trapped but he set his own son free.

  17. Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!

    Melissa, the protag in my story had the course of his life set for him by his father, who in turn had been set in that path by his. I wanted to show the weight of that family tradition. The father in this story essentially said, "Let it stop with me. I will not force this on my son."

    By doing that, by letting his son choose his own path, Tom has to suffer the approbation (perhaps even ridicule) of his neighbors. So be it. He loves his son enough to let him go.

    I'm glad this piece was resonant for you. Feel free to forward the link to your dad.

  18. Wow! Is my first response! You deserve to "Sqee" over this one. Every word you left in is a gem.

    I am from Iowa and from generations of Iowa farm families, so this story was very personal to me. You have captured the feelings of hundreds of families who have been experiencing this exact situation for the last few decades. It is a huge leap in human evolution to allow individuality when there has been so much tradition for generations.

    I can feel the bittersweetness of this deeply emotional piece!

    I'm just start to write several fictional stories about Iowa farm life in previous generations (based on real life events) - now you have really set the bar high!

  19. Really nice writing here. The end of the family farm; it's such a universal concept. I loved the rainbows over the field, his idealism of what he had created and the sacrifice of preserving his relationship with his son by allowing the freedom to make his own choice. Bravo!

  20. This is so tautly written, encapsulates a whole way of life and family relationships in a few words. I particularly like the use of the pivot as a metaphor for control and being oppressed. Love the fact that Tom gave Tom Jr the choice he never had. Beautiful. And Bill always being a horse's ass is great.

  21. Anne: You deserve to "Squee" over this one. Every word you left in is a gem.

    Thank you! I'm not from Iowa myself, but I'm glad to have drawn a picture of Iowa that works for you. As you and G.P. note, the issues of transferring the family farm between generations is a very hard thing to deal with, even in loving families where everyone respects everyone else.

    Virginia: tautly written... and Bill always being a horse's ass is great.


  22. This whole thing feels like an Elmore Leonard moment. (that's a high compliment)

  23. I really liked it. I love fiction that works by implication and makes the reader work a little.

    (Not that I do that myself but... :P)

  24. Flat out, this is easily one of your best pieces. I loved the space-ship one, I've really enjoyed the twists in many of the others, but what you've managed to do here is to convey more with what's not said, than with what is said.

    That's some serious talent, lad, and it is BRILLIANT!

  25. Yep, it's the unsaid in this story that makes it so powerful. Excellent flash, Tony.

  26. Brilliant - wow!

  27. These comments are terrific, guys, thanks! Brilliant? Elmore Leonard? I blush!

    As I said up above, I gave a "squee" when I wrote this because I felt I'd done a good job with it. I'd be justified in doing a happy dance based solely on your reactions, BUT...

    I took a chance yesterday and tagged James Scott Bell in a tweet yesterday, mentioning that I used some of his writing advice in doing this story. I also included a link (because I'm that kind of a guy).

    He responded a few minutes later. He read it, liked it well enough to be polite and say so. It may be reading too much into it, but if he hadn't thought it was passable at least, he needn't have said anything.

    I am inordinately pleased.

  28. You have every right to be inordinately pleased, Tony. Beautiful writing.

  29. Tony--oh, no--I got that in the story. I was simply sharing a resonance. It's not just our family farm, which has been in the family for generations, but the farms around us. My uncle followed the family line. My dad did not. BUT they were lucky to have a father who would let go, period. He'd never hung on to begin with--not so true with other families. In your story, I get the ridicule (farming communities can be very tight--and build their identity out of their shared work and "plight"), I get the sacrifice, I get the breaking of-well, almost a type of curse in that everything is all planned out, like rows being plowed in the ground over and over again over generations. The overall thing you are getting at, though, I think, doesn't just apply to farms and farming...

    p.s. mentioning the plants, sprinkler system, etc.--I saw them as symbolic. Maybe I was wrong. They add to the emotional immediacy of the story to me. But I tend to read way too much into things. (When I said not just the story of the family, I meant the simple historic narrative. The surroundings reflect that history condensed into the present, *with all the emotion*. Guess I didn't speak too well...

  30. Melissa: Tony--oh, no--I got that in the story. I was simply sharing a resonance.

    I have a confession to make: one of the things I'm working on is trusting the reader. I left a lot unsaid in this one, or said it through symbolism. That's probably why it works the way it does, because I'm not beating the reader of the head with it.

    Ham that I am, though, I couldn't resist the urge to hammer the point home in my comments. It's like I only have a certain amount of self-restrain in me, and I used it all up in the writing.

    I saw them as symbolic. Maybe I was wrong.

    No, you're absolutely right - I meant for there to be a lot of symbolism in this, including the plants, etc. In fact, I was worried as I wrote this that I was being too heavy-handed with the symbolism. I toned it down quite a bit from earlier drafts, changing "the young plants" to "the plants", changing "the press of ancient waters" to "the weight", etc.

    Any of this could be a stand-in for the weight of familial or cultural expectations in any setting, not just rural agriculture.

  31. Really well done here, Tony. One of the best things a writer can learn is subtext, and you've done a great job using it well here.

  32. Tight, Tony, tight. Good characters. I think this is the shortest, tightest story I've read of yours. I haven't read them all.

    Edging 500 words? Worth a celebration, but only teenage girls should squee.

    My flash this week is my first under 500 and I didn't think I'd ever write one since I lean towards longer works. So I know the feeling. Cheers.

  33. This is awesome. The dialogue kept this story moving forward. I was so into their words and the ending was strong. You have the makings of a generational novel. I enjoyed this story very much. Nice job!

  34. Best work yet. I'm horrible at commenting, but I try to let everyone know I read it, because that's why you wrote it. Fabulous. Insightful. Masterpiece. Perfect flash fiction, Tony.

  35. Elizabeth, David, Cynthia, Carrie: Thank you! I cut and cut and kept cutting at this one. It was hard to do, but the result demonstrates the value of doing it. Everyone's comments are a solid indication of that.

    I have always been one to add during editing, rather than take away. I'm starting to wonder if that's because I'm too restrained during the first draft phase, and have been trying to pad things out.

    I'm going to try a few experiments with an amok eruption of writing, then editing to trim it into shape. Look for the results in the next few weeks.

  36. This one certainly was well-told. Great imagery, and you did a great job of not hammering points home, but letting the reader get it on his/her own. Well done!

  37. Very powerful visuals, and very well written. Fantastic, well done!

  38. You should be proud of it, Tony. Not only is it a model of concision, but your descriptions are outstanding (I too come from farm country).

  39. I'm a farm kid who's come back to the family farm after going off to study something else at college. I, too, was blessed with parents that were willing to set me free - I came back of my own volition after getting to know myself in college and time spent exploring other careers.

    So from one who knows, thanks for the story.

    -the 8th generation on a 200+ year old family farm

  40. Nice, tight. Yet everything that needs to be there is there.

    As one commenter noted, the whole history of several generations contained in such few words.

    Very well done.

  41. Wonderfully written. You captured so much with so few words, and I love that you made the point subtle yet powerful.

    This was ... I don't even know what to say. I just keep saying the same thing. I think it was wonderful. Great job.

  42. Thanks, guys! Especially Mark & Capriox, I'm glad the visuals and the whole scene rang true for you.

    Oh, Ganymeder, I don't mind hearing "wonderful" more than once - please, feel free!


  43. Absolutely gorgeous. This is breathtaking imagery. I'm amazed.

  44. Magnificent!

    As I was telling my gr.8,9,10 English students who I am convincing to love Susan Musgrave (in this case her poeming, "Exchange of Fire" - which I HIGHLY recommend to everyone) the "bang" always comes at the end in poetry & short fiction - and so it does in your beautifully crafted story.

    And, we know full well, that sometimes, there is no "bang". Thank you. I have put a link to your blog on my writing website. "Caitlyn's Write" at http://caitlynjames.com.

  45. Clive, stina, Caitlyn: I glad you liked it! Feel free to read and comment on any of the past stories on the sampler page: http://www.tonynoland.com/2009/02/fiction-playlist.html . There's an eclectic mix in there.

    Caitlyn, thanks for the link, I appreciate it.

  46. Fantastic story, Tony. You've created sharp visuals, and the characters are real. Loved the sentiment. Really fabulous.

  47. You're swimming in comments, Tony, and there's no insight I could add to them. I'll just say I liked it. Always appreciate word economy.


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