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The Plains I Love

 

Every year it appears, mysterious as to origins, no authorship or credit given. It’s the Farmers Union Camp Songbook, the official catalog of songs to be sung by Farmers Union campers. I have a new copy courtesy of my friend Jared, a camp counselor. I don’t know if he can sing a note, he never has around me, but he brought me the songbook.

The repertoire of Farmers Union summer campers is nothing if not eclectic. It includes “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” and “God Bless My Underwear” – you know how it goes -

God bless my underwear,
My only pair.
Stand beside them and guide them,
As they sit in a heap by the chair.

But there are old standards of farm activism, too. Right up front we find that favorite from the Populist days of the 1890s, “The Farmer Is the Man.”

When the banker says he’s broke,
And the merchant’s up in smoke,
They forget that it’s the farmer feeds them all.
It would put them to the test
If the farmer took a rest,
Because the farmer is the man who feeds them all.

When I studied ag econ in college, that’s what we called farm fundamentalism. Some songs, too, partake of heartfelt love of the land, this land, this place on the prairies. For instance, some years ago a woman from South Dakota taught me how to sing one song in the book. As I recall, it goes like this.

I love the mountains, I love the hills,
Winding rivers and whispering rills.
But my heart with contentment fills,
Out on the plains I love.

Out on the plains where the wind blows free,
That is the place I am longing to be.
There good fortune will smile on me,
There let me live and die.

On me the city casts no spells.
I hate its noise and assorted smells.
Oh, what relief when my road map tells
I’m on the plains again.

If you would live where the skies are blue,
North Dakota’s the land for you.
Land where people are brave and true -
This is the land we love.

Misty moon in the autumn sky,
Listening to the wild goose cry.
Sometimes I wish that I might fly
Back to Dakota’s plains.

Out on the plains where the wind blows free,
That is the place I am longing to be.
There good fortune will smile on me,
There let me live and die.

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