I often travel back and forth between St. Joseph, MI (Andrews University) and Linden, VA (home). Actually this and next month every weekend is a travel weekend. As I’ve aged my strong opinions of what I like and how I like it, have floated to the surface of my personality. I’ve quickly realized I come from an old soul. Somewhat recharged by alone time for instance I like people but prefer to lunch alone. I’d rather slip home at the end of a day and do a little quiet work into the evening then stand around the water cooler making chat with cohorts. And I travel best on the slowest possible, most old-fashioned option available.
I’ve been to Bermuda a few times in the last decade, to New York as well as tripped between Hawaii and California and Virginia and Ireland. On all those journeys I sailed. Some times on others boats and many times on my own and with a small crew. On my weekends traveling between St. Joe and Linden I most often choose to use the train. It leaves from South Bend at 8:00PM and arrives in West Virginia at about 10:00 the next morning. Some times I ride coach and at times I spring for a sleeper car. Either way the experience is the same. Settle in, organize my “stuff” get comfortable and if all is well sit quietly by myself. I spend my time reading, working on articles, grading or just looking out the window and celebrating being trapped with no Internet or work. A good sleep and a hot meal or two is also always a part of the deal.
This evening I wasn’t so lucky. I’m in coach and a young lady got on the train behind me who was then set directly next to me. I knew it would be full due to a sell out and was awaiting that reality. But it wasn’t so bad. As a matter-a-fact I often get paired with people in the dining car and it seldom is bad. I didn’t catch my seatmates name but she is a freshman-nursing student at St. Mary’s in South Bend. We talked about her issues with biology and her grade in Chemistry. We talked about how old nuns are so cute and her sister, who is a little naughty. We talked about why she chose an all girls school and her fear/love of the ocean. I showed her pictures of my boys, answered questions about my wedding band design and told her about my wife’s success as a landscape designer. Best of all she got off at the first stop so that for the rest of my 13 hours I could stretch out into her space.
But it was my last Monday trip that made me realize what a learning journey I’m on when I slow my pace and travel in such an unconventional way. I was headed from Virginia back to the mid west for work. I was up at 5:30, had a shower and was in the dining car by 6:30 for a little oatmeal and coffee when I was set with a man heading home after burying his mom in Maryland. He shared. He did he shared many personal things including a long theory on why farmers are geniuses. He was a talker, like the man the night before at dinner who was an over the phone psychotherapist for large firms. Yes, they were both talkers. But, the farmer theory stuck with me. He had no idea what I taught or my daily responsibilities at our Student Garden. But with the influence of the fields and our small-glassed car racing through them, farming bubbled up. “Farmers are the smartest people we have in this country”, he said. Now I’m paraphrasing…they are businessmen, they are economists who play the futures, and they are scientists who know the earth, plants, chemicals and life systems. They are bosses, schedulers, organizers, politicians, weathermen and more often than not rather good mechanics/inventers. “I see no other discipline that demands so many skills and so much knowledge in one person, who is also the one getting their hands dirty with the task.” This all came from a man with significant postgraduate work who now designs GPS systems and components. It was sincere, I appreciated it, and his name was Jeff. I’ll remember his name, because he reminded me of the task, or better the honor I carry in leading young students into one of the most prestigious careers our campus offers. Maybe not always seen that way from some of our academic peers, but certainly from the world that can’t pass a day without buying our products. The expectations are great for our students and like many youth they come to us with some self-doubt and questions. I only hope that each of them can sit at some point to a leisurely breakfast with a ‘Jeff’ who can remind them of the honor and respect that farmers have in many American’s minds. And to encourage them to achieve the greatness that is farming.