Brown works as a librarian at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he lives and writes.


I’ve got Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Tax Return) here in front of me. The instructions seem straightforward enough: I must record my personal information, including my occupation, and then calculate my estimated total tax liability, the total tax payment I already made, the balance, and the amount of the balance I am sending in along with my extension form. But in the time it takes to do all of these things, I could just about file my taxes. For consolation, I did some quick research and found that I am among an estimated ten million Americans in this pickle.

I woke early yesterday morning, the day before the deadline, with the intention of filing my taxes as soon as I completed my chores: Watering and fertilizing my vegetable garden; staking tomatoes; sewing additional rows of lima beans and sugar snap peas; fitting the stems of crookneck squash with tinfoil collars to protect them against insect borers; planting marigolds to redirect such tourists as the Mexican bean beetle to my neighbors’ yards; snaking my gloved hand through beds of money plant, Queen Anne’s lace, and phlox to extract smartweed, greenbrier, and poison ivy; cleaning my pet chickens’ compact coop; and dusting their fresh bedding straw with diatomaceous earth to ward off mites. As evening approached, I stood outside the coop with an aromatic cigar and a glass of chardonnay, and recited a few poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. His words and “sprung rhythm” quiet the hens, especially at this time of year, the height of their annual egg production, “When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.”

As you see, one chore led to another, until darkness descended and I found myself doing a load of laundry, including the denim bib overalls I had been wearing. After running the load through the dryer, I discovered that I had left my checkbook in my overalls (till then, I had drunk but one glass of wine). With the checkbook in tatters, the dryer looked as if the seed head of a dandelion or a cattail had exploded inside.

Not only did my checkbook contain all of the charitable contributions I made this past year, which I need to itemize to attach to my 1040 (Individual Income Tax) Form, but it also contained all of the cash payments that a local farm-and-garden-supply store gave me for my organic, free-range eggs. My hens produce between one- and two-dozen eggs each week, even during winter, when the heat lamp in the coop supplements the sun.

As a farmer, I operate by the motto “Intensive variety!” My entire yard — front and back — is just shy of one third of an acre. In my backyard I grow a little bit of everything, from asparagus to leaf lettuce to zucchini. Recently, I have branched out into fruits — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, muscadines, and scuppernongs. Still, my chickens’ eggs are the only produce I claim to make a profit on. This cherished sum grows suspect upon close examination because of my rising production costs — organic feed and herbal wormer treatment as well as cigars and wine.

Once I get my checkbook pieced back together, I shall complete my 1040 Form and then send it in along with my remaining balance and a dozen fresh eggs. I trust that FedEx can deliver them overnight and intact. In addition to your understanding, I ask for a personal favor: Might you consider changing my recorded occupation from “college librarian” to “college librarian and backyard egg farmer?” This nominal change may not qualify me to get a coveted “Farm Truck” license plate from my State’s Department of Motor Vehicles, yet it would give my vanity a shot of 10-10-10. Later this spring I am going to visit my parents, whose neighbor used to be president of my hometown’s 4-H Club. Although retired, he continues to cultivate a crop of future agronomists. It would thrill me to surprise him with my new official title, to give him one more opportunity to “hurrah,” as Hopkins likes to say, “in the harvest.”

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