Once upon a time, my vision of becoming a writer involved jetting off to white sugar beaches and surveying the Paris skyline from the vantage point of the Eiffel Tower. Then I became an editor at a farm magazine. While I spent a good portion of my career there tanning from the glare of my computer screen, I did get to do some travel. And, well, let’s just say my expectations were managed.
Expectation: Jetting off to places like New York, Paris, or some exotic island.
Reality: Paris, Texas; Texarkana, Ark.; and backroads Mississippi.
Expectation: Wearing fancy dresses and business suits while traveling.
Reality: Wearing jeans that can get mud on the butt or cow spit on the legs.
Expectation: Going to parties, perhaps on the beach, sipping champagne cocktails as the breeze blows through my hair.
Reality: Conferences where we eat barbecue or cheap Mexican food while learning the perils of being sucked into a grain bin. If the event is outside, bug spray is optional.
Expectation: Nice cars to escort me around.
Reality: Old trucks that smell like dirt, bumping through pastures and down gravel roads.
Expectation: Writing a story about the locals in a quaint city like Charleston.
Reality: Writing about some farmer taking me to the “bottomlands by the river.”
Expectation: High heels (which I did wear in the office.)
Reality: Ten-year-old Doc Martens that have seen their fair share of cow manure and hay—often mushed together.
Expectation: Well-groomed dogs lying at the entrance of some charming shop.
Reality: A farm dog with blood running down his face because he got in a fight with a neighboring farm dog.
Expectation: Manicured hands.
Reality: Hand licks from the sandpapery tongues of cows.
Expectation: Press releases from four-star resorts and spas.
Reality: E-mailed photos of a mobile semen lab for cows.
Expectation: Samples of new products in shops.
Reality: Sample patches of jeans from Dickies, along with the offer of a desk-side workshop tool demonstration.
Expectation: Coffee table books on architecture.
Reality: Farm office books on the joys of keeping farm animals and growing oats.
Expectation: Travel impediments like hurricanes or snowstorms.
Reality: Electric fences, unruly cattle, and machinery that can eat you to pieces.
Expectation: Flight itineraries to exciting locations.
Reality: A cow’s flight zone (basically how to herd them through a corral using their line of vision).
Expectation: Touring a family’s home and writing about the décor.
Reality: Touring a milking barn and commenting on the farm hands who are artificially inseminating cows. Said workers also are riding around on a golf cart painted like a cow, with semen tanks on it.
Expectation: Well-groomed business people.
Reality: Farmers wearing their names on their shirts.
Expectation: Interviewees waxing poetic about their homes.
Reality: Interviewees complaining about commodity payments and corn prices.
Expectation: Walking down a cobblestone-lined street having just drunk a cup of coffee.
Reality: Sweating off the morning’s caffeine while wandering down a row of corn, trying not to get a paper cut on the leaves, and watching out for frogs.
Expectation: The latest products to review.
Reality: The latest herbicides and fertilizer brands.
Expectation: Gift boxes full of gourmet food.
Reality: A 50-pound bag of specialty horse feed.
So it’s not all wine and roses (okay, not even close), but I’ve perched on the viewing deck of the Eiffel Tower before (unrelated to work), camera aimed at the city below. And while trips like that are indeed a dream, walking through a pasture matching strides with a farmer responsible for nourishing the country is a different kind of dream. And listening to their stories while overlooking a sun-baked field of fluttering cornstalks, it’s easy to forget about that sandy beach. It’s a different job, sure, but a reality and a privilege I wouldn’t trade for anything.