the valley darkens
farm by farm
Allen McGill has crafted a haiku that resonates well beyond the
duration of its brief eight words. The opening line instantly invokes
the image of an ominous sky. In just two words we have all the information
we need to begin to paint a picture in our minds’ eye. Then
our attention is directed downward, to where we can see the effect
of the clouds on the ground below: shadow meets earth. Finally,
the image is put into context when we learn that these events are
unfolding in farm country.
The haiku suddenly takes on a human face. The ground darkened by
passing clouds is the source of someone’s livelihood. The
clouds, in turn, are either harbingers of life-giving rain or a
cruel joke of nature. Such is the dependence of the hard-working
farmer on things that are beyond his or her own control.
I must mention that I see another possible reading of this haiku,
one that hinges on the word “darkens.” Had storm clouds
merely passed over the valley, as they undoubtedly did long before
farmers sought to cultivate it, they would have warranted little
notice. The clouds, however, cause one farm to darken after another,
leaving us to wonder: precisely what are these clouds?
In the U.S., the past century has seen a continuous flow of population
from farms to urban centers. Those who remain to work the fields
face fierce international competition and sagging prices. Often
they must struggle to keep land that has passed from generation
By extension, clouds in the form of foreclosure have appeared over
farm by farm, with little sign of daylight. Brought on by drought,
clouds in the form of dust covered the U.S Midwest during the Great
Clouds in the form of pesticide-resistent insects threaten farms
continually. Allen may not have intended any of these tangents,
but his haiku is an easy harvest for the fertile imagination.
Such is the richness of a great haiku.
Allen McGill’s words
are seeds that germinate and quickly grow in many directions, providing
sustenance to all who partake of them, as well as comforting shade
to all who pass on by.