by Andrew Reichard

 

The electric glider pulsed down green and yellow farming fields and silvopasture, Franz clinging to the catchstrap with one hand and the camera with the other. He’d come from the city—didn’t matter to them which one—and these communities below looked like some bright childhood basement model set up within the context of the basement itself: the world as storm cellar.

He would have whooped with this giddiness of green had he been without escort, but they didn’t let sidewalk folk simply waltz into their million-acre, multistrata farmland without an escort.  

Franz had come journaling for a news company they didn’t read. Writing a feature on the frontline of the recovering world of agriculture, most of which was still climate-shocked.

“We’re on the cusp of an agricultural renaissance,” sang Bill, the man who’d agreed to this gig. Known as the Noah of the plant world, working this wigged-out land between desert and drought. “Had a hell of a time in years past with some of the crops, but gradual intercropping along with these new irrigation methods are paying off, and it’s beaut-ee-ful!”

“Those aren’t tractors.” Franz pointed at the horizon where bizarre gliders dredged among the rotated soil. Alarming sight.

“It’s an absent-tilling method. No soil disturbance, which causes water waste and carbon release. Those drones shunt seeds into the soil direct—without churning it up.”

Franz blinked at the wasp-like machines dripping seeds like larva, the weird cross of muscular dystopian shapes on the platform of paradise.  

They landed in a crop circle outlined by solar panels. Bill cut the ride and leapt out, shouting, “Diversify, man. Diversify. That’s what you streetwise fellas think you know, but your world is all *glass*. Lemme show you something.”

He actually took Franz by the hand and led him down a corridor of elephant grass to a clearing where he introduced his family at the old farm house. Quite a lot of them—the whole intermingled mess of an extended tree. They looked hungrier than Franz was prepared for. Hungry and happy was what he thought, amazed.

Someone handed him a beer in a recycled bottle, and they were laughing, telling crude, harmless jokes and preparing, all evening it seemed, for the meal.

“Productivity of the land,” Bill said at one point with his usual, Franz had noted, untraceable-to-the-source thoughts.

“That’s what you’ve got here, I’d say,” Franz said, amiable, happy in a way he hadn’t intended to be.

Beseeching him with leather palms, Bill said, “It makes you hungry to work the land. Put down the friggin’ camera, and I’ll tell you: when you start thinkin’—not just what you can see and taste—but thinkin’ carbon, thinkin’ *molecules*, and because of that then thinkin’ global impact of everything you do, every shit you take—man, it takes *energy*.”

“But, Bill, you own more land than some states. Your crops feed thousands. You own a fleet of drones. You don’t have to be hungry.”

Bill was shaking his head, as patient and sad as a prophet with a wayward king. “We’re never hungrier than we can stand to be, city-fella, and that’s still a tummy-grumbling thing sometimes, but integration has to be worked for; integration is the key. Irrigation and solar and wind, it’s a big jig-saw!” He might have had the words it took to make Franz understand, but he didn’t have the energy after the day in the sun in a wide land with that attention to detail he had to have.

Still. What he said reminded Franz of something he’d heard once and couldn’t recall where from. Maybe a comedian who’d run out of jokes: *you people and your silver bullets. You forget that out on the land there are no werewolves, only Nature. And she’s a lot less tame*.

In the sunset on a too-warm planet, Franz took a few shots of that nature and the people who lived among it. He wanted others to see what he saw, learn what he learned. “Bill, tell me more about this intercropping business. Is that the integration you’re talking about? When you say diversity?”

Instead, the farmer said, “Pole beans and radishes.” Sounded like code for something.

Franz waited for more, which came from Bill’s son as he brought out a salad dish. “Corn and cucumber.”

A young daughter shouted, “Oak and alfalfa!”

Everyone came out of the house and sat around the picnic table and picked up their forks and drummed them on the wood while each one offered up an intercropping combination. They were endless. Chili pepper and coffee, pumpkin and marigold, walnut and eggplant, citrus and asparagus, oak and olive, teak and taro, white clover and lavender—the list began to sound on the tongue as beautiful as it looked on the land when Bill had flown Franz over it. It sounded like lines from Whitman, like a lost land rediscovered, reinvigorated.

Franz set his elbows on the table and gazed at each of them as they took their turn and decided he’d ask about the details later. How hard was it to intersperse their planting in this fashion, and what kind of benefits to air, earth, and plant did this offer? But, right now, just listening to the variety was astonishing enough. His feature article was writing itself, full of the most beautiful words ever invented.  

On a globe just now cooling again after long disaster and slow degradation—just now creeping back from the edge with the edge still in sight—integration in this place had become total. Even the integration of dystopia and utopia, which was, after all, ‘just the friggin’ way of things.’ But even before the food, Franz felt like he’d been charged full.

 

*

 

Andrew Reichard is a writer who also works in the marketing department of a branch at HarperCollins Publishing. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Columbia Journal, Into the Void, 67 Creative Publications, One Throne, and others.