Hippies, Horses, and Popcorn

It grows in fields?

Image Credit: Mark Barnett

Or how young Jim fell in love with nature

Iwas six years old the morning I tried to sell the gleaned ears of popcorn to the hippies.

Don’t blame my parents. It’s not their fault that we lived in a farmhouse beside a field of popcorn.

Yes, I said popcorn.

What, you think they make the stuff in a factory? It grows on ears in fields. On farms. And I lived right beside one.

Our horses loved this nifty little coincidence. The broken down old Percheron we inherited with the barn especially loved it. The popcorn farmer didn’t. But, hey, you try telling a twenty-hand-high workhorse to stop eating popcorn out of the field he just broke into. See how that works out.

So, the hippies…

We gleaned the popcorn field after the harvest. Not the whole field. We just filled a few paper grocery bags with it so we could make popcorn. Mostly because it was cool. Because who knew popcorn grows in fields?

I got the bright idea to open a popcorn stand. Look — I was 6, remember?

Sue me.

The hippies roared up our half-mile lane on the way to their shack way back in the woods behind our house. I planted my bare feet in the dirt, stuck out my hand like a traffic cop, and squeaked, “Halt!”

After they skidded to a stop, I marched up, paper bag I hand, and piped through the window, “Wanna buy some popcorn?”

I didn’t know the sweet smell wafting out the window was weed. I didn’t know why they started laughing. I had no idea why my mom snatched me up and whisked me away.

The story is much funnier to me today than it was then! I was just pissed that mom ruined my sales pitch.

What has this to do with nature?

It’s all about memory. I grew up beside that popcorn farm. I learned to ride horses before the training wheels came off my bike. I fed and watered that grumpy old work horse. I chased him out of fields he broke into.

Mom taught me to swim in the twin ponds beside the hippies’ shack.

I played with milkweed, ran my dogs, chased field mice. I climbed trees. I lived outdoors. I absorbed the woods and the fields into my blood.

A few years later, in another woods with a baseball-playing boy at my side, I inhaled the forest. I breathed down to the bottom of my toes and felt like, like I can’t really explain.

I turned to him. “Can’t you you smell it? It’s​ like we aren’t really outside. It’s like we’re home. Where we’re supposed to be.”

He just gave me a look that said, “Jamie’s being weird again.”

I didn’t understand, but I didn’t care. I don’t care.

I’m a city boy now. Not even the suburbs. I’ve spent most of my life living in the middle of big cities. In apartment towers. New York. Berlin. Montreal. Detroit.

But if I can’t escape on a regular basis, if I can’t breathe in home right down to my toes, I lose something of myself. I need to breathe in the woods. I need to watch the dogs run.

I need to find another field of popcorn one day. I’ve never have laid eyes on another one.

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