Early Non-Fiction

Fields of Change: A Parable of the Country

The following appeared in a spring 1999 issue of the Luther College Chips newspaper.  It was intended to be a response to then-recent activism against a proposed Super Wal-Mart to be built in Decorah, Iowa.

The amusing thing about this editorial is that I would later encounter individuals on both side of the debate who thought that the following was in support of their cause.  It was a lesson in understanding how interpretation can vary wildly after a writing is published.

It was co-written with my friend Neal.

Finally reality caught up with the rumor and the combine arrived in rural Winitonka County.  One day, Don Jeere, a plump jolly salesman, came upon Wally and Ollie, two neighbors chewing the fat at the fence line of their adjacent fields.  After a greeting and some small talk Don Jeere slipped into his sales pitch, “Friends, I bring to you the wave of the future.”  And as Jeere lifted his hand to display a photo he exclaimed, “Behold, the combine!”

Quickly Wally’s eyes lit up while Ollie shuddered and avoided the conversation, as he gazed off into to the setting sun.  Wally wiped the sweat from his brow, slipped on his yellow seed corn hat and pondered the fortune he could amass due to this new advance.  Ollie’s mind mused over his current good fortune, oblivious to the not so distant future.

As the harvest moon approached later that year, Wally’s new combine roared through the field, while Ollie’s field hands worked the land with their hands.  Every so often one of the workers would see the combine and equate it with lost jobs.  At lunch and other break-times the despairing conversations rapidly turned toward the devil machine in the neighboring field and whether the contrivance would soon eat their job.

Yet, each person seemed to forget the newly seized opportunities presented to Wally’s old laborers through the arrival of the combine.  And despite all of the talk, at night most of the hired hands made sure to stop by Wally’s and purchase grain, always at the lowest price.

At the close of the fall harvest, Ollie was able to continue into the next year.  However, the next fall the countryside was filled with the sights and sounds of an array of different combines.  Sadly for Ollie and the others like him who kept their old ways, the harvest marked the closure to many of their farms.  In the end, the combine came through and its benefits had outweighed the costs.  The country dealt with the changes, worried about greater issues, and pressed forward into the future.

Thus ends the parable of Wally and Ollie, a story in which many parallels can be found.  If we all open our eyes wide enough, maybe we can find parallels in a particular issue facing our own extended community.

(The authors would like to thank the contributions of the 22 members of Farwell 6th Floor Center and the Inter-Dormitory Living Establishment.)