Part of the geology of eastern North Dakota, which includes the mighty Red River of the North, (which by the way flows north, creating some interesting issues when the river melts from south to north each year), is that it was once all part of the ancient Lake Agassiz, created by the melting of the glacier at the end of the last significant Ice age. The lake was really more like an inland sea. It stretched up into a large part of Canada, and spread out 115,831 miles – larger than all five of the Great Lakes combined. When you drive north on I-29 past Summit, South Dakota, about five miles later you will make a huge drop down into the valley – what really is happening is that you are driving down the southern end of Agassiz into the lake bottom, which is as flat as your kitchen table – for hundreds of miles!
The other thing that happens when the land is under a prehistoric sea, is that all those wonderful aquatic creatures eventually die and decompose on the floor of the sea, which makes Lake Agassiz/Red River Valley one of, if not the most fertile land you will find on earth. It’s usual for bumper crops of all sorts to be produced regularly up and down the valley. One of the great tragedies, actually is that both Fargo and Grand Forks, on the Red River, are growing and expanding, and turning incredible farm land into backyards of homes, and paved streets and parking lots of businesses, never again to be used to provide the food to feed the world.
Did I mention the land is flat? A couple of jokes often told are, “Yep – my dog ran away once. I watched him for three days…” or “This land is so flat that if you stood on a coffee can and looked west hard enough, you can see your own rear end.” The highest hill for the 210 miles south to north on I-29 is the railroad overpass just before you get to Buxton, ND. The flatness of the land makes it great for farming, and until you go west to that edge of the old lake, you will find little or no rocks in the soil. It plows up deep dark soil which easily takes the seed and goes to work growing almost anything you plant.
Having such great soil makes it really difficult to intentionally fallow the ground. For you non-farmers (like me!), to fallow means to set aside a piece of land for a season, to let it regain its fertility. “Fallow” as a word finds its way back through English and German most likely to Latin “pallere,” which means of course to be pale – the color of dried up leaves or grass on an untilled piece of land. The word “fallow” actually is one of the older words to describe a color of something in English – the pale, gray, light brown color that is used to describe fawns or other pale tan animals. Sometimes farmers will try to cheat a little and plant a crop on a land that should fallow for a season, but hopefully the crop will restore nutrients for the next year’s crop as well. Beans are great crops for that.
Of course, however – not to stretch out this farm lecture brought to you by the son of an Air Force officer – the best way to restore the soil is to leave it alone for that season. Don’t try to raise a crop on it. At most, at some point during the summer, plow it over to knock down the weeds, and then let it be. Of course, there are times when Nature fallows the land for the farmer. This past spring was one of those times. Remember that flat land of the Red River Valley? Well, that also means when the river floods, and all the small rivers flood, and there is an overabundance of rain in the spring, hundreds and thousands of acres go underwater for a few days, or even a few weeks. It also happens that parts of the field which were planted catch the overflowing water, and the crop is drowned out. Or perhaps the snows came too early in the fall, and crops like corn and sunflowers, which can stand above the snowline, wait until Spring to be harvested, and with it being so late, it usually means it won’t be replanted immediately for the current year.
So, it goes fallow. It rests. It pauses. It takes a break, and the rain and the sun and the weeds and natural grasses help to restore its wonderful fertility. It looks ugly – all brown and not growing like its neighbor fields. However, it’s catching its breath, simply stopping from working so hard, and preparing for another year, when the best crop can be grown on it once again.
You know where I’m going, don’t you? Have you been working hard, but not feeling as though you were really accomplishing anything? Do you put in a lot of effort, but there’s not much joy, and more frustration in what you are doing? Do you find yourself watching the television commercials that talk about those wonderful vacations to beautiful places? Are you tired? Another time, we will dive into a talk about Sabbath are part of the cycle of our lives, but today, I’d invite you to think about “going fallow,” and taking a time apart from treadmill, checklist, must do, haven’t done yet “stuff” that dries up a soul, that drains the life-giving nutrients from us, and leaves us unproductive, or worse, needing to be overfertilized with more and more things to help us get through what we are trying to get through.
Go fallow. For a season, not forever. There is something so very right about ebbs and flows, or high points and low points, of great activity, and great rest. It may be that you are ready and eager to do even more, and that your energy gives you that power and strength to do so. More power to you – so long as it is honest, and not trying to overcompensate for what is not happening. I guess honesty is probably the best path to determining our work and life. If we are authentic and honest with where we are and who we are, we can best decide what the next thing is that should and could be done – whether that is again, the on switch or the off switch – for a time. The key of course is that we make the decisions based on the real part of who we are – that we not swing accidentally into the near future, but that we are deliberate, and intentional about what needs to happen this week, this season, and what perhaps needs not to be part of our gracious life in this world. What things fallow need to come your way?
Word of the day: flabbergast. Sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by words we may even use with some frequency, and we sort of know what they mean, and yet have no possible idea from where they came. Meet our good friend, flabbergast. In studying this word, I found close to ten different explanations and all of them were guesses. One writer said it was a combo of glabrous which means smooth to the point of speechlessness, and fast or not having eaten, so that the word means you are so overwhelmed you can’t even eat. Doubtful.
I like the one that says it came from Dutch flappen “to hit” and aghast “being without breath,” and so they combine to feel like you are so overwhelmed you are out of breath. Even so, it’s a bit of a stretch.
It’s like where the word “butterfly” came from. Certainly, we were not watching pats of oily goodness floating by! More likely, the word was transposed, and originally was a “flutter-by” which makes so much more sense.
As for today’s word, some will throw it back to early Scottish, or welsh or French – but they all understand it to mean the emotion of being overwhelmed, or bewildered, or astonished, shocked, but with the extra flavor of not being comfortable with it. You can be astonished and overwhelmed as a double rainbow that suddenly appears, but you won’t be flabbergasted. That only comes when you see something, or experience something that you also never really wanted to see in the first place!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.