"The young men from the agricultural college say doing work with our cattle isn't efficient," Sumner says with some heat. "Not efficient! Able to break the land, sow the seed, cultivate the corn and oats, mow the hay, haul it to the barn and so feed themselves and us besides, fertilize the soil while they're doing it and even reproduce. And yet they're not efficient. Well, you can't eat your tractor when it breaks down, and you can't put old crankcase oil on your turnips. And why work away to make the money to buy $100,000 worth of equipment so you can farm quicker, when if you didn't work away you'd have enough time so you wouldn't have to work as quick?"
As he says this, Sumner leans his spare body slowly against the back of the couch, smiles and says, "But I'm just an old man and probably don't understand."
One thing that's not hard to understand, sitting around the wood stove after a belt-stretching meal of food grown almost entirely on the place and prepared by Sumner's wife, Hazel, and daughter, Minnie, watching the lights flickering in the emerald triangle of balsam fir in the front room and listening to a group of neighbors who've brought their guitars, spoons, harmonicas and voices to share them on a Christmas evening, is that underlying the festivities is a constant bass note of plenty. It resonates from the potato, apple and carrot bins and stacked heads of cabbage in the basement, from the fresh milk, eggs and churned butter in the kitchen, from the nearby woodshed fairly groaning with dried stovewood for the cold nights to come, from the hay piled high in the watertight barn, from the smokehouse hung full of sausage and ham, from the cud-chewing ruminations of old Bright and Lion.
On the Gates farm Christmas is a holiday as it remains in our oldest dreams, and even the young evergreens down the hill grow slowly toward the day when they will play their part in the season's amplitude.