One Last Crop

Once upon a time, long long ago, peaceful Sweden was not a single, unified country but a ragged patchwork of bickering fiefdoms ruled by barons or “Jarls”. One of these was my great(X) grandfather, Ragnar, son of Sten. His “fief” was a rather small farm carved out of the oak forest. It had sheep, goats, and a few hardy cattle. There were fields for flax and winter wheat and a lumber mill that served a region as broad as a man on a good horse could cover in a day.

Ragnar’s farm had been in his family for generations, as was the case with most of his neighbors. But times were changing.  Bjorn, son of Einar, had amassed enough power to declare himself a king and was hungry for more land. He invited all of the Jarls in the region to visit him at his “court” on a certain day and to bring with them a deed to their farm. He made it clear that refusing his invitation could well be fatal.

Being neither suicidal nor a fool, Ragnar showed up on the appointed day.  It was a bitter and unruly gathering.  His neighbors were angry and quarrelsome, furious about the loss of their land and prevented from violence only by the highly visible presence of the King’s guards.

Ragnar stood at the rear of the hall and watched as, one by one, they resentfully and often argumentatively surrendered their deeds to the King.

Ragnar made sure to be at the end of the line, and when it was his turn, he strode to the throne, bowed politely, and said “I salute you, King Bjorn!  You are building a powerful kingdom, worthy of the respect of all.  Bards throughout the land will sing of your greatness.  It is an honor to present you with the deed to my farm and to become one of your vassals.  But I do have one small request!”

Flattered, King Bjorn gestured to him to proceed.

“My family has run our farm and lumber mill for generations.  More than I can count.  All of my ancestors are buried on our land. I would like to plant and harvest one more crop to honor them.  Then I will gladly give you my deed.”

Seeing an opportunity to demonstrate that he was generous as well as powerful, King Bjorn agreed and proclaimed before all that he had given Ragnar, son of Sten, permission to plant and harvest one last crop before surrendering the deed to his land.

The next day, Ragnar rode home, his deed still in his saddlebag.

A year later, King Bjorn, still powerful but having had to put down frequent rebellions among his unwilling vassals, again called everyone to his court to pledge their loyalty. As he looked over the surly but obedient crowd, he noticed that Jarl Ragnar was not there.

“Where” he asked his advisors, “is Ragnar?  He should be here to affirm my power by surrendering the deed to his land!  His absence weakens me with the other Jarls.  Tomorrow we shall ride to his farm and demand it!”

The next day King Bjorn, his first Advisor, and a squad of soldiers set out for Ragnar’s farm.  Arriving late in the day, they found Ragnar supervising the sheep shearing and the work in the lumber mill. Angrily, the King commanded that he turn over the deed.

“But your Highness” Ragnar responded respectfully, “It isn’t yet time for me to give you the deed.  You gave me permission—in front of your court and all the Jarls—to plant and harvest one more crop.  Is this not true?”

“Yes, it’s true” snapped King Bjorn. “But a year has come and gone. Surely your crop has been harvested!”

“No, your Highness”, said Ragnar, “it has not.”

“It has not?” spluttered the King.  “It has not?  What crop did you plant?”

“Acorns”, your Highness” Ragnar replied, casually glancing over at the lumber mill.  “Acorns.”

This isn’t an original story.  It is a retelling of a tale my father told me many years ago when I was home from college, and he was more than a little drunk. I’ve always thought it deserved a wider audience.

Al Carlson Headshot

After retiring from a long career as a Librarian, Al Carlson happily discovered OLLI.   So far, he’s taken courses in geopolitics, religious fundamentalism, Greek mythology, genomics, and bio-inspired design.  Plus a handful of technology courses.

This is his second time around as an editor, although the first time was so long ago that an IBM Selectric typewriter was considered cutting edge technology. 


Now that he has begun sharing editing duties, Al is finding the time and inspiration to give voice to his personal stories and reminiscences. But OLLI Connects isn’t about sharing the stories of just a few writers.  We’d like to share the stories of more of OLLI-USF’s members.  In other words, we’d like to share one of your stories.  You’ve led an interesting life.  You’ve been places.  You’ve done things.  You have stories to tell.  And where will you find a better audience than here?  The people you’ve taken face-to-face classes with and now see in Zoom sessions.  A few minutes at your word processor.  An email to And Al will be reading your story.

25 Replies to “One Last Crop”

  1. You do tell (and write) a great story, Al! Thank you much for this delightful one! It’s especially interesting because this man was one of your own ancestors, and probably accounts for some of the wit and pluck that we see in you. I hope that the extra publicity this month will inspire more people to write stories for OLLI Connects!

  2. I could certainly have used this wonderful story when I was in the “corporate world” to describe the meaning of the term “strategic”.
    Bravo Al and thanks!

  3. Great Story, thanks!
    Reminds me of T/F? story about a forest, trees and a rebellion;
    Sailing ships in the tea trade would stop in Hawaii for highly prized wood and continue to China.
    The natives were not paid by the King to cut the trees so they pulled up every seedling so their children would not be force to do the same……..the forest disappeared…

  4. I’ll reply as “OLLI Connects” rather than “Al” since I’m both. I have it on good authority that Great-to-the-X-power Grandpa Ragner paid his men very well to cut trees, and–as the story illustrates–he was ahead of his time ecologically and planted a tree for every one he cut down.

  5. Al, Great story, great images. Your skills are a credit to the Swedes of old – and the current ones. Thanks for all you do for OLLI. Vern

    1. Thanks, Vern. OLLI is well worth any help I can give it. And Theresa gets credit for the images. I’ll claim the words. And being Swedish.

  6. Hi Al,
    I was under the weather for a while and just read your story. You write so beautifully and so clearly! Thanks for your story; it’s such an incentive for others to write and publish . . .
    I’m happy you are proud of your ancestry.

  7. Al, I am late to it, but enjoyed this charming folk tale immensely. Your writing is so descriptive, it stirs the images in my head, also helped by Theresa’s graphics. Thank you both!

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