Planting a straight row

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Perhaps it starts at age 3 when he lines up his Cheerios in a straight line on the spoon. Or maybe it’s in the sand pile at 6 when he pushes that toy tractor from one side to the other.

Possibly it’s in sixth-grade math when he first hears “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”

They all come together years later as his hands grasp the steering wheel of a 200-horse tractor pulling an eight-row planter across a 30-acre field. It’s like a canvas waiting to be painted, or a mound of clay yearning to be sculpted. And it all starts with planting a straight row.

Now I’ve been at this for 40 years and — just between you and me — I haven’t figured it out yet. Seems my rows always have a crook in them somewhere. But I have learned a few things.

That first row sets the stage for all the rest. Get that one crooked and all the others will follow, for you must maintain proper row spacing. The first set of rows sets the mark for the second, and the second for the third and so on.

Once a crook starts, it’s hard to get it out. It might have started from planting on the side of a hill, and the tractor slips downhill. It might come from starting slightly sidewise at the beginning of a row.

It may even come from leaning to the left in the seat and lining up differently as a result. But once a crook starts, unless something is done, it tends to get worse and worse, and stays with the row until the field is finished.

The only way to get a crook out is a little at a time. It takes steady work across the field intent on changing course. About the time you think you’ve got one out, here comes another, then another. A constant battle, I tell you.

Furthermore, it’s out there for all the world to see. Can’t hide it. Like showing your mistakes to your neighbors 24/7.

Now here’s my point. I suggest this is much like life. No perfectly straight rows out there. Not even close. We’ve all got crooks in them somewhere; most started when the first few were laid down and they just got worse.

Now they are nearly impossible to change without a lot of work from somebody, and usually someone outside of ourselves. Otherwise, they just stay there until the field is finished.

So the next time you are driving past my fields and are tempted to say, “those rows look awful crooked,” I ask you not to be too hard on me.

Just say, “You know, that’s kind of like life.”

REX ALPHIN of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His email address is