Rock Picking and The Crust

It’s my favorite time of year again: rock picking time. If you missed my article on the fantastic attributes of rock picking in a field alone for hours, please take a moment to peruse the Tribune’s website to find it. I’ve received many compliments on that article, and I am truly grateful for all those kind words. However, it is once again rock picking time and unfortunately, it has been raining cats and dogs. This means that rock picking has been delayed, but my thinking has just been taking place in other locations. This thinking has been occurring over coffee on my mother’s porch, watching the rain come down and pool in the fields.

There has always been one thing that has amazed me during rock picking. It can be 100 degrees with the sun beating down on my shoulders and the dirt, deep cracks in the field, with a hard, dry crust on the top of the soil and the moment my boots break the ground, the soft, dark, nutritious dirt shows itself. This metaphor, (pardon me, I’m still in English teacher mode), instantly recalled friends, family, and people I know. I thought deeply about the people I have interacted with throughout my life, both in State College and here in Trumbull County. We have all developed an outer shell, like the fields, that hide our inner selves from view. In my first year as a teacher, I saw many students who had outer shells that worried me. Some student shells were catty, some were mean, some were genuine, some were kind, some were hard-workers, some would cheat, some were rough, and some were smooth; but every single student had a shell. It was interesting to watch my students create their shells; at the beginning of the year, those shells were softer and more malleable, just like field dirt right now. However, as the year continued and pressures arose, just like the sun baking the dirt, these shells hardened and solidified.

It made me think about the pressures and external forces that our students face in school as well as the forces that our ground faces each day. My students face many obstacles, we all know this, we were once in their shoes. However, I’m not one hundred percent sure that is true anymore. When I was growing up, heroin was not ruining as many families as it is now. Work was not as hard to find, and prices of goods were much cheaper. Social media was not even invented and computers were still black and green and took forever to work. My biggest social media issue was contracting dysentery on the Oregon Trail game and dying. Kids these days face a world that requires a hard shell in order to survive. From bullying at school, to homework, grades, college, money, cars, social media, sports, music, art, summer enrichment, expectations, and a whole range of pressures, it is little wonder that the shells of students these days are hard to crack. Fields face the same pressures. That hard layer of dirt protects the soft inner soil from rain, wind, lightening, bugs, birds, and a whole host of predators and harmful invaders. Outer shells of students serve that same protective barrier.

Yet, I see hope. Just like the small corn or soybean leaf that pushes up through that tough ground shell, many of my students have instants where they shed their shells and truly enjoy the moment. I thought about these minutes and just like rock picking, these instances happened when pressure was applied to the crust. Just like my boot in the field, my teaching activities applied a bit of pressure for many of these students to crack their crust just a bit and show a peak of their true selves. And from that peak, what I see of my students is amazing. Like a newly planted field, these upcoming generations hold the promise of a great yield. Right now, though, they are young and green, with a hard crust surrounding them, they have not yet broken through the crust. But those young plants waiting to grow are hearty, smart, and technologically advanced, their yields will be incredible. I only hope that as they continue to grow, they will not allow that hardened outer shell to smother them. So, this brings me to my final point of contemplation. What and where is your outer shell? Did you break through your shell and use it as a way to anchor and protect your roots so you can deliver your bounty of talents and gifts to the world? Or did you let that shell contain you and cause you to wither and die without sunlight or rain? This latter scenario does happen, in both life and fields. However, it is never too late to try to push through. A soybean plant will strive with all its might to break through whatever crust it faces in a field. I hope that you will do the same. Now, it has stopped raining and I need to get back to rock picking. So, don’t forget, if you are driving past the farm on Route 88, beep, wave, or even stop and say hi. I’ll just be outstanding in my field.

Written by Christen Clemson a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau.  Christen completed her Ph.D at the Pennsylvania State University.  She and her family, farm in Mecca Township.