Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer
Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

Ever had an ox in the ditch?

 Most of you have heard the Biblical admonishment about a day of rest. There was an exception for labor, when one’s ox was in a ditch, one was allowed to get it out. If the ox was continually in a ditch and needed rescue, barbecue the animal. Well, I probably would make a rancid barbecue, but I sure have been stuck in a ditch over the years here on Irvington Road.

We have a pond next door, owned by Cres Saunders and clan, which overflows into the corner of our yard. Our smaller pond flows into a boggy runoff, under our drive into a ditch, then under Irvington Road and off to the headwaters of Carter Creek.

This boggy soil is difficult to maintain. Our late John Deere used to mire up, send the preacher for the tow-truck, demanding to be extricated almost every time I cut the grass. Underground springs and a high water table move about our yard. What is firm and steady on one day will be a swamp on another.

In the past I assembled a team of ditch workers consisting of a Deere, a weed eater, a power push mower, a black Ford 150 and an old, fat, white-haired, Santa-look-a-like, preacher. Together they attempted to keep pond and ditch groomed. The ditch clearly won, not the preacher.

Thankfully Bryan Keyser and team now wander that swamp.

Ten or more years ago a Southern Living magazine arrived with an article and picture of some chap’s Alabama ditch. It was a beautiful ditch over which friends, neighbors and drive-byes could enjoy. “That’s it,” I said, “I’ll plant the ditch!”

So, I decided to plant the ditch and pond surround with plants that are somewhat invasive and simply required a mower’s cut about the perimeter to keep the area tidy. Well, I read and read, called friends and neighbors, looked up stuff on the Internet and swiped a plant or two from Grandma Rosie’s former shoreline.

Education acquired, I set about to buy such plants as were appropriate. Three truckloads later I had gathered the textures, colors and ground covers sufficient for the task.

Oh, never mind the embarrassment that during several nursery visits I found that plants such as I had sprayed with “Round-Up” were the same as one’s offered me anew. I tried not to let on that I was that stupid.

Day after day I waddled about the yard, pulled stuff from the truck, waved at the parade of drive-byes and sweated unbelievably. Me, partnering with God to improve upon his canvas. He was good with that, since he’d contributed the flora and fauna anyhow. He chuckled to see me work away while trying not to sink out of sight on the site.

Hibiscus plants, water calla, blue and pink water iris, narrow-leaved cattails, pink and blue bellflowers, bronze canna, red stem lizard’s tail and narrow-leaved arrowhead were set into place along with grasses and something called Creeping Jenny (sorry Jenny). They are all supposed to be friendly and in season mass into a painted ditch. I bought some insurance by telling God that I was doing this to help improve upon his landscaping. Have you ever heard laughter from heaven? Oh well, I really did shop, haul and dig as a thanksgiving to God for giving us two and a half acres of canvas onto which we could paint our preferences and prejudices.

Some of the plants wanted to lean this and that way from the direction I thought best. Grabbing a bag of sand from the barn, I was off on the Deere and down to the ditch. I stood the recalcitrant chaps and poured piles into the water to assure posture. But, in my haste to finish the project and having sweated the glasses off my face, something was amiss. Looking at the dustier than usual sand bag I discovered that I had poured concrete mix onto and around several plants but nobody saw me, except God of course and he is still laughing. I decided to disguise my mistake as an attempt at adding a little waterfall before the water rushes off under the road. Thankfully I didn’t kill the plants over which I had labored.

We wander often about the yard picking up trash that daily jumps from passing vehicles—surely no one would throw cheap beer bottles, cigarette butts and assorted paper trash in a preacher’s yard, right? Wrong! Besides, I don’t drink cheap beer.

All I have done is rearranged God’s ditch with such wild flowers and water plants as have caught my eye.

God is laughing at my prejudices, for had I done nothing about the swamp, he’d have greened and flowered it with a tenderness to which the soil was already accustomed. When I really think about it, he hadn’t even asked me to cut the ditch in the first place.

All my years of chores notwithstanding, God snuck in and planted more cattails which have dislodged most of my efforts.

If you’re amongst the yesteryear or today drive-byes who chuckled, or the concerned citizens who stopped to inquire about my health and sanity, let’s just agree that it wasn’t an ox in the ditch. It was the pastor of the Irvington Baptist Church.

Hey, who asked: “What’s the difference?