A lot is said nowadays about the Americanization of the foreigner; but the only thing that will do the thing is to work with the foreigner, as I worked with Magnus—let him help me, and be active in helping him. The Americanization motto is, “Look upon the foreigner as an equal. Help him. Let him help you. Make each other’s problems mutual problems—and then he is no longer a foreigner.” When Magnus Thorkelson came back on foot across the prairie from Monterey Centre, to lay his hand on the head of that weeping boy alone on the prairie, and to offer to live with him and help him, his English was good enough for me, and to me he was as fully naturalized as if all the judges in the world had made him lift his hand while he swore to support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Iowa. He was a good enough American for Jacobus Teunis Vandemark.
THE PLOW WEDS THE SOD
The next day was a wedding-day—the marriage morning of the plow and the sod. It marked the beginning of the subdual of that wonderful wild prairie of Vandemark Township and the Vandemark farm. No more fruitful espousal ever took place than that—when the polished steel of my new breaking plow was embraced by the black soil with its lovely fell of greenery. Up to that fateful moment, the prairie of the farm and of the township had been virgin sod; but now it bowed its neck to the yoke of wedlock. Nothing like it takes place any more; for the sod of the meadows and pastures is quite a different thing from the untouched skin of the original earth. Breaking prairie was the most beautiful, the most epochal, and most hopeful, and as I look back at it, in one way the most pathetic thing man ever did, for in it, one of the loveliest things ever created began to come to its predestined end.
The plow itself was long, low, and yacht-like in form; a curved blade of polished steel. The plowman walked behind it in a clean new path, sheared as smooth as a concrete pavement, with not a lump of crumbled earth under his feet—a cool, moist, black path of richness. The furrow-slice was a long, almost unbroken ribbon of turf, each one laid smoothly against the former strand, and under it lay crumpled and crushed the layer of grass and flowers. The plow-point was long and tapering, like the prow of a clipper, and ran far out under the beam, and above it was the rolling colter, a circular blade of steel, which cut the edge of the furrow as cleanly as cheese. The lay of the plow, filed sharp at every round, lay flat, and clove the slice neatly from the bosom of earth where it had lain from the beginning of time. As the team steadily pulled the machine along, I heard a curious thrilling sound as the knife went through the roots, a sort of murmuring as of protest at this violation—and once in a while, the whole engine, and the arms of the plowman also, felt a jar, like that of a ship striking a hidden rock, as the share cut through a red-root—a stout root of wood, like red cedar or mahogany, sometimes as large as one’s arm, topped with a clump of tough twigs with clusters of pretty whitish blossoms.