A real life lesson about quicksand


“There is a time in late September when the leaves are still green, and the days are still warm, but somehow you know that it is all about to end, as if summer was holding its breath, and when it let it out again, it would be autumn.”

— Sharyn McCrumb

Walking through tall grass, the plentitude of foxtail all around, it’s easy to feel the changing seasons. Though the calendar hasn’t yet confirmed summer’s over, a bit of chill in the air lets us know it is clearly giving way to fall.

My walk took me past wide open fields, corn wilting and waiting. Soybean fields show the early changes from bright green to tints of yellow amber, and it won’t be long until all of the busy wheels start turning, ushering summer out the door.

I remember September days, chafing at the bit in a little classroom, dreaming of wide open spaces, watching the clock that ticked so slowly. We endured a short school bus ride home, and then went bounding in the door to change out of a dang old school dress to the freedom of clothes made for exploring.

It was a hot September day when Dad made us all jump in his truck. He drove to the back fields, past our best arrowhead hunting hill, and we kept asking him why.

“You’ll see … something we discovered today that I want you kids to know about,” was all he offered in explanation.

We passed around a sleeve of saltine crackers and took sips from a thermos and passed quizzical looks to one another.

We stopped and got out, walking toward the deep, watery ditch that ran through our fields. Dad broke a stick off of a larger limb of a tree he had purposely carried in the back of his truck.

Dad reached out and laid that stick on the part of the shallow ditch that held very little water. Just like that, it was swallowed up. Gone.

“Look closer. You’ll see how the dirt is not like most dirt you’ve ever seen. It’s bubbling … can you see that? It’s quicksand.”

Dad went on to tell us he wanted us to stay away from it, saying it was not safe like the creek bed we loved to explore. “Even when we get heavy rains and this ditch might look more like the creek, that quicksand is always going to be here, and it could pull you right down.”

Farm safety was always such a big part of our daily conversations, but this day will forever stay with me. It was an object lesson in real-time.

“From now on, you won’t go through this ditch, you’ll go around it,” Dad said. “You follow me?” This was the question asked when a vital point was being made.

Later that evening, after the milking was done and homework was nearly finished, I asked Dad if I could stay home from school the next day. “Now, why would you ask that?” he said, trying to hide a grin.

“Because today we got an extra lesson, all about quicksand. I figure I learned more stuff today than most kids did,” I explained.

He thought for a long enough spell that I thought maybe I had won my point. “I have a better idea. How about you go to school and tell your teacher what you learned today. You’ll be the star of the classroom for the day!”

There was no fun in that. Star or not, it still meant wearing a stupid dress and shiny shoes. For the whole darn day.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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