A New York Story

Here’s a New York bartending story that doesn’t fit into the memoir but it’s a funny true-fact story so maybe it will make you laugh. It always does me. This happened before I went to Mexico for the movie and was working at a place called Molly’s in Hell’s Kitchen, a true neighborhood bar.

That night, the bar was crowded. A full moon, still two days away, built a noisy rush of energy. All the tables were full, even after eleven on a weekday when things usually calmed down. The jukebox was cranked up loud. Somebody had gone Chuck Berry crazy, and since only four of his records were available, the same four played over and over. I’d given one of the waitresses quarters to play Billie Holiday but that relief hadn’t come up.

I scooped ice into a class and listened to an order at the same time. Rita understood how to talk under the noise instead of trying to outshout it, so that helped. I nodded before carrying the freshly made drink to the other end of the bar.

“Smile! Things ain’t that bad.”

“Dino, I get paid $350 a day to smile. You want to match that, I’ll smile,” I said.

I picked up his money and went to the cash register. Dino was a local, born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen. He sounded like West Side Story without the music and he drank Jack and Coke. His friends called him Ding-Dong but he hated that old nickname. Probably always had. I took his change back. He never tipped, none of the neighborhood guys tipped. They’d grown up in this bar as a second living room.

“Come on, baby. Smile. Wanna hear a joke?” Dino had lots of jokes, most of them bad. “You hear the one about the Buddhist and the hot dog vendor?”

“Not now, Dino. Rita needs an order.”

The good part about being busy was that I didn’t have to talk much. Things would calm down after midnight when the kitchen closed and the late night regulars wandered in.

I stayed in a work rhythm that didn’t require thinking–ice, shot, soda gun. Simple. No one wanted daiquiris tonight, although Nikki had a table drinking tequila sunrises and Rita was selling margaritas. A tequila night. They’d start on straight shots soon. That would clear them out.

I glanced down the length of the bar. Two glasses empty: the scotch and soda couple sitting next to Dino. I walked down and lifted the glasses. The man nodded.

Dino finished his joke. “Make me one with everything. Get it? One with everything…..”

My glare didn’t stop him. “There. You know who you look like?” he said. “That Lauren Bacall. Remember, she always looked at Bogart under her eyebrows.”

Now there’s a trick, I mused, walking to refill the scotch and sodas–looking at someone under your eyebrows. Sort of like a hidden pocket…oh, I just keep him under my eyebrows.

“You know, you do look like Bacall,” the scotch and soda man said when I set their drinks down. The woman studied my face.

“See? I told you,” Dino said, nodding. He was getting drunk. That meant he’d leave soon.

“Yeah…thanks,” I said to the scotch man, taking his money to the cash register and punching the buttons a little harder than necessary. I’d heard it so many times. “Do you know who you look like” followed me from bar to bar, state to state. “No, who?” I always said, feigning surprise. The answers ranged from Bacall to Julie Christie to Faye Dunaway. Once, from an older man, Deborah Kerr. When I’d first started bartending, I’d been flattered. Now I was thoroughly sick of it. Show biz and bars. They went together. In this town anyway. Most of the people in here were either unemployed actors or singers or dancers or playwrights, including the employees. Dino had started talking to the scotch and soda man; the woman stirred her drink, looking bored. Another woman’s looks were probably not her favorite subject. I returned the change and slid away quickly, back to the ice bin and the waitress orders.

If Duffy could see me now. He’d rescued me off a bar stool and put me behind a bar. That was seven years and four moves ago: Austin, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York. They’d given me a big going away party when I left the Rio Club in Austin. I’d been heading for La La Land, sure the breaks would go my way. “Don’t forget we knew you when,” they’d said.

Billie Holiday’s voice rose over the clatter…God bless the child…she sang. God bless us all, I thought as I glanced along the bar again. A near empty glass was pushed forward. JB and water. I knew the man it belonged to had been watching me but I didn’t want to talk to him. I retrieved his glass, filled it, and set it back down, reached for his money.

“Do you know who you look like?” he said.

“No,” I said, as anger crinkled along the corners of my eyes. I folded my arms on the bar and leveled my gaze at him. “You tell me.”

“You look like a female Clint Eastwood,” the man said.

My sudden shot of laughter surprised us both.

“You win,” I said and slapped his money back on the bar. “I’ll even buy your drink for that one.”

The man seemed taken aback but he nodded his thanks. What did he expect? A denial?

If all of them could be that easy, as smiling, I moved back to the ice bin.

The kitchen closed; the bar began clearing out. The couple next to Dino left, abandoning the woman’s half-full drink. She must have prevailed over Dino’s fascinating conversation. He nodded over his Jack and Coke.

“Dino, go home.”

“Hmmmm.” He finished his drink and stumbled out. The man who had named her Clint Eastwood’s double also slipped out without finishing his drink. He’d left a $5 bill under the edge of his glass.

I glanced at the front door and beside it to the plate glass window. Snow fell as soft as a whisper.

 

 

 

Waking Up in Mexico #3

Dear Girls and Boys, sorry for the long delay for chapter 3. I’ve decided not to use the I/You format and so have spent time revising. As usual, if you run across a clumsy sentence or an un-spotted “you” I’d love to hear from you.

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III

            “Freedom!” I sang in a bad imitation of Richie Havens as I thumped my hand against the car’s steering wheel. I repeated the word twice, couldn’t remember any more words so switched to a childhood song: “Yippee ki yi yo, git along little doggies. It’s your misfortune and none of my own.” My side window was open and the road stretched in front of me. It hadn’t been easy to convince Sergio to let me go even for the day. I’d wanted to drive across the mountains to Mazatlán and the sea for a few days, but he’d nixed that plan. There were bandits in the mountains, he’d said. And the dailies weren’t back. I wasn’t sure he was worried about me or about the film. Looking back, he was wise. Likely those bandits were the precursors of the cartels.

Franco, the location scout, had told me about a mountain balneario above Mezquital. I wasn’t sure what a balneario was except it was a pool where thermal water surfaced. At least it was water if not the sea. I left early, armed with maps and dire warnings: don’t stray off the main highway; don’t pick up anyone along the way; watch out for burros. Mezquital only an hour south of Durango, Franco said. But there you were, driving more than forty miles into the mountains with nary a sight of a pueblo or a solitary burro. No anything for that matter except a curving road and rock strewn mountains.

The road made a sharp switchback. A white cross reared from the rocks above. Farther on, two more crosses. Striations of ocher marked the sheer red rock looming on my right. On my left, the mountain dropped precipitously from the road and I could see a valley and a glisten of water. Around another curve, the road widened with a dirt turn out on a platform ledge, and I saw a blur of white against the rock wall. A shrine? I pulled onto the turn out and parked. Where was I?

“Probably not headed for Mezquital,” I muttered as I got out of the car and crossed the road. I hadn’t seen any traffic for miles. The shrine was a simple structure of gray and white concrete set on a pedestal and nestled into a niche carved from the rock. The glass-paned wooden door no more than a foot high. I peered through the smoky glass. A framed picture of The Virgin leaned against the back wall, a bouquet of white zinnias at her feet. Tiny woven baskets held something but I couldn’t make out what. Two small plates held a bun and two cookies. The plates had tiny, blue flowers around the rim and looked like something from a child’s doll house.       Burning candles made a syrupy golden glow. I reached out to open the door, but my hand arrested itself. Solitude pressed against me.

The heavy growl of down-shifting gears rattled against the rock walls. Something big was coming. Flattening myself against the mountain, a wide truck nose loomed around the curve and a fully loaded logging truck thundered by, the driver’s expression startled as he spotted me. The back-draft whipped hair across my face and he was gone, rumbling down the grade. Was the shrine for truckers to make an offering on the way back from safely snaking heavy loads down the mountain? If so, they seemed to trust the Virgin’s good sense more than their own.

I stood in the middle of the quiet road and studied the shrine. This wasn’t about controlling life. This was about trusting the curving road to take you where you needed to go. I walked back to where the ledge dropped away. The glint of water below traced a river, winding along the valley floor. My gaze traveled across the valley and up the side of more hump-backed mountains against the blue sky; my eyes filled with sunlight.

The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows God’s handiwork. How unbidden those old verses popped into my head from time to time. The memory accompanied by a vision of standing with my sister, singing in church.

A long scream jerked my eyes up. A hawk circled overhead. My laughter broke the heavy silence.

“I’m not your prey,” I shouted. The long wings flapped once, lifting the bird on a higher spiral. I heard one more scream before it drifted behind the mountain at my back. In the silence, my heartbeat sounded loud. The space above me was so infinite and I was so small.

Where did I go from here? Wherever the road went, I decided.

Farther up, the land changed and the road wound into a tall pine forest—which probably explained the logging trucks. As I craned my head out the window to glance up at the tree tops, the car wheels thumped off the edge of the pavement and scuttled into deep ruts and loose rock. I realized the yellow and black sign I’d seen a few yards back, and which my less than fluent Spanish had failed to translate, had been a caution warning.

I braked. The car rolled to a stop nose to nose with a loaded logging truck. Two young men stopped tying down ropes to watch me get out of the car.

“Buenas dias.”

            “Buenas dias,” they said in unison. Caution shielded their faces.

“Donde está Mezquital?”

“Allá,” they said, in unison, waving vaguely across the mountains to the east. Everything is allá in Mexico. First rule broken. I had wandered off the main highway.

There were no shortcuts across the mountains to allá. I drove down the winding highway and found the road to Mezquital branching off from the busy traffic circle I’d escaped from earlier. This flatter road ran straight, bordered on each side with cultivated fields. In one field, a farmer walked behind a horse and plow, the plow no different from the one I’d used in the movie. Someone should have been filming him: the freshly turned furrows uncovered a feast and a flock of black birds wheeled, settled, stalked, pecked, and rose again to circle the farmer’s head, wings glittering in the sun.

I slowed behind a horse drawn cart piled high with firewood where two small children perched. They waved. I passed burros grazing loose and another that resembled a stack of firewood propelled by spindly legs. A boy followed it. Cars and pickup trucks filled the road on the other side, heading for Durango. What an odd juxtaposition of 19th and 20th Century living.

My musing ended abruptly. A burro stood crosswise in the middle of the road, his head turned to stare at my approaching car. I slowed, honked, stopped. He wasn’t moving.

I honked again, bleating the horn in short bursts. The burro stared. A showdown between a burro and a car and the burro was winning. As I inched around his head, the burro turned his head to watch me. I left him behind and in the review mirror, saw his head turned to watch my receding car.

Passing a sign I recognized, a black zigzag line against yellow, I slowed. It warned of a tope ahead, a concrete hump across the road and high enough to scrape off the underpinnings of a too-fast vehicle. Low adobe buildings straggled alongside the road, the overhead sun cast deep shadows under an open portal roofed with poles. At one end hung a battered Coca-Cola sign. A glaringly white church, white steeple jutting into a cloudless sky, stood along the road. Villagers huddled in the sparse shade cast by church walls and watched the circle of dancers shuffling in the dusty yard. I pulled off the road and got out of the car to watch.

The dancers, strips of red and white fabric fluttering from their waists, moved in a circle. Shells, wrapped around their ankles, sounded a slow rattling cadence like a field of crickets on an August evening. A solitary dancer erupted from the circle, a blur of color from multi-colored ribbons around arms and legs. This dancer wore a mask and probed and taunted the others, who ignored him, and continued their slow measured tread.

The dance ended. Spectators drifted in and out of the church; the dancers gathered under a lone tree and wiped at sweat. The one in the mask sauntered across the yard and leaned against the front fender. I matched his casual stance, but mines was fake. His mask, covering his head, lent him anonymity. I felt bare.

“Buenas dias,” he said with customary politeness.

            “Buenas dias.” The impersonality of the ritual a protection. He was slim, no taller than me. “El baile estaba bien.” Oh, ugh. What an inspired thing to say—the dance was good. His eyes measured me. What else could I say? I could ask his name.

“Comó te llama?”

“Hule.”

“Hule?”

“Hule,” he repeated and kicked the car tire. “El Dios.” He said something about trees, and waved his arm toward the mountains.

Trees? Car tires? He was the god of rubber? Here?

“Bueno,” I said. “Y el pueblo. Comó se llama?”

“Santa Gertruda.” Each time he spoke, his eyes laughed. If his job was to disrupt a placid, stamp, move, shuffle, he did a great job with me.

Villagers, made brave by their devil’s approach, crowed around. They knew Hule, weren’t intimidated; he was the gate for their curiosity. The interrogation began: who was I; where was I going; was I from the United States; why was I in Mexico? I answered in stammering, broken sentences. The clamor of questions was suddenly drowned by the insistent clamor of church bells. Words shifted. Come to church; come to the special service; a feast day for the pueblo. In the confusion of questions, invitations, and church bells, Hule disappeared. The flock urged me toward the church doors, but once inside, I was on my own. The villagers hurried forward.

There weren’t any pews except for two small ones near the front. I leaned against the back wall. A simple church, whitewashed plaster and washed stone floor. Pink and white streamers hung from the walls, the same twisted crepe paper we used in grade school. These had paper flowers spaced along the loops, the streamers draping to a peak above the altar. A blood red bouquet of fresh flowers lay at the feet of a statue of The Virgin set into a back niche. Sandals whispered across stone.

Stillness slid past the barrier of my skin. Layers of memory woke as if my cells were expanding into something familiar. What could be familiar in a little whitewashed church in a dusty little town where I’d never been? I was Hannah and Anna and Janet standing there.

More villagers entered and divided as they came in: men and boys on one side, women on the other. I’d stood on the men’s side so crossed the room to join the women. A black-cassocked priest entered from the door near the altar.

As the service began, I knelt and stood with others on the cold, stone floor. A girl brought a chair, but I smiled and shook my head. The girl took it to an old woman standing ahead of me. Women glanced at me and nodded.

I thought about the church I attended in New York, High Anglican Episcopal, swirling vestments, incense, ritual. I wondered if ritual defined a boundary or opened a pathway.

A dog wandered in at the back and flopped on the cool floor. Children meandered from one side to another.

In the middle of opening ceremonies, the dancers filed in, ankle shells rattling in counterpoint to bless us for we have sinned. The dancers carried baskets or clay pots or an armful of flowers. The two end dancers carried staffs of corn stalks. They arranged their offerings around the altar, the service continued. The priest raised his hands in blessing. The dancers filed out. You looked for Hule but didn’t see him. He had remained anonymous, refusing the safety of belonging.

A young couple stood in front of the altar, the woman’s arms filled with white lace and baby. The long trail of the christening gown streamed over the woman’s arm. Another couple joined them and the priest blessed the baby. Maria de la Luz they named her: Maria of the Light.

A boy and a girl replaced the adults at the altar, the boy dressed in a starched white shirt and black pants while the girl wore a miniature wedding dress and veil. All this white lace in a dusty town, treasures wrapped in tissue paper and stored in some corner of a small adobe house, treasures of anticipation and dreams. We buy the dreams. I’d married young in a white dress and veil, leaving high school, leaving the farm. And after fifteen years, left the marriage. But I hadn’t left the dream of being swept into the saddle of a true one.

If the boy dreamed of rescuing a fair maiden, at least he didn’t have to do it encumbered by yards of skirt. A starched white shirt and new black pants would do.

I felt a pressure on my leg and glanced down. A small boy leaned against me. The mother stood behind, holding a baby. I didn’t move. It didn’t matter who I was; I was a safe leg to lean against.

The service ended and I followed the others into the hard, bright light. The villagers wanted to talk again, their conversation fast and the words slipped from my grasp like weeds in a murky pond. I rescued myself by pulling out my camera.

“Por favor?” I said, showing the camera to the mother of Maria de las Luz. The woman nodded, stood formal and stiff, displaying the baby like a trophy. I took photos of the new communicants, expecting childish delight, but they, too, stood in unsmiling formality. I moved on to two old ladies wearing lace mantillas.

“Que bella,” I said, and they giggled.

Families left and I followed the old women back into the church. They began cleaning around the altar, re-propping flowers with square, sure hands, smoothing a corner of the altar cloth. Their bodies swayed under layers of heavy skirts. The petals on the paper flowers, formed of layered pink and white tissue, grew twisted paper stamens from the center. I remembered a Joseph Campbell line I’d hung above my desk in New York: “Divinity is pleased to regard its own glory and this pleasure is inducement to the act of creation.”

I recalled women sitting around a quilting frame in Grandma Sunderland’s living room, the rise and fall of needles punctuating conversations and stories. When I’d married at seventeen, no one approved, but Grandma didn’t say anything. She gave me a quilt as a wedding present, the pieced squares bordered in pink, the same pink as these Mexican paper flowers.

An old woman joined me.

“Muy bonita,” I said. The old woman smiled and touched a flower, trickling gnarled fingers through the stamen.

“Venga,” she said. She led me to a little niche on a side wall. Inside, a doll, a male child, dressed in purple velvet and lace collar sat on a throne. The doll’s velvet gown embroidered in tiny fine stitches.

“El Niῆo,” she said.

We moved down the wall to another tiny niche and a dark faced woman doll, dressed in white satin, enclosed in a glass box. I smiled. That was one way to stay safe: become a saint and live in a glass box.

“Tengo que ir,” I told her. I really had to go if I was to have any time swimming.

“Vaya bien,” she said, probably used to people leaving: children grew up; people came and went.

“Que le vaya bien,” she repeated.

As you drove out of the village, you wondered if you’d become part of another story: the day of celebration when the gringa came. At least, that’s what you’d call it. But the villagers wouldn’t know about a pink quilt, or about the dreams you kept packing away in invisible tissue paper.

The mountains edged closer to the road. From the map, I knew the road ended in Mezquital so when the car wheels bumped off pavement and onto a cobblestone road, I figured I’d arrived. I stopped and read Franco’s directions for the road to the balneario. Spotting the turn ahead, I drove onto a rough and rocky road, rising in switchbacks across the mountain face, Mezquital far below. Making another turn, the road topped the edge of a plateau and stretched out flat, losing itself in an expanse of brush. The far mountain peaks were almost at eye level. No sign of habitation, just wide, dry, empty space. I had no idea where the road led, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

An old pattern, following a road to nowhere. I used to follow cow trails in farm pastures the same way, not paying attention, my head filled with dreams. Nothing much has changed.

I spotted a hand-lettered sign nailed to a fence post: BALNEARIO. I turned onto a narrower track and stopped at the edge of a gorge. I got out to look. Far below, spread along the bottom of the gorge, five swimming pools stared back at me like round blue eyes fringed with trees. Flat-topped roofs crouched beneath the branches. A bigger building sat on slightly higher ground, its peaked and gabled roof resembling a misplaced Swiss chalet. Ragged red mountains cupped the site in an incongruous dream quality as if the collection of odd bits and pieces were meant to mean something else.

I plucked my sweaty shirt from my chest, shaking it a little, and got back in the car to drive down a track and through an open gate. One lone man worked alongside the road, piling up brush with a font-end scoop. He paused long enough to accept the pesos I offered from the car window, pointed to a parking lot, turned back to work. Mine the only car in the lot.

The swimming pools, graduated in size, were separated by narrow bridged walkways. The last pool the largest and on the other side, I saw a stone building that might be a dressing room, reached by a concrete bridge. Inside the huge building, my footsteps echoed in the emptiness. As I changed, I pictured young girls, preening at the bank of mirrors, flipping long hair over perfect shoulders.

The day played itself back as I swam in the pool’s warm water, a kaleidoscope of disjointed images. So many new scenes that seemed so familiar. I stopped at the far end and propped my elbows on the rim. A short waterfall bubbled from a cleft in the canyon wall, sending puffs of steam into the dry air. I pushed back from the wall to float on my back like a cork in the mineral water. A hawk circled overhead, riding the air currents as I rode the water. Why did Mexico feel so familiar? What was holding me, spinning me in a web as surely as a spider spins a fly? I’d be returning to New York the next day. That’s where my future lay. Stretching my arms sideways, I prepared to swoop them down through the water and propel myself, but instead, they rested idly as I tickled the water with my fingertips. Would I be different, now, in New York? Why did I feel I was leaving something unfinished in a land that did not belong to me? Flipping my body, I swam hard, pushing at the water.

The Farm….again

This is what the farm looks like, looking west from the little house. You may have seen this photo before. It is not, however, what the land looks like at this moment when I’m writing. Now it looks black. So here’s the story.

Actually, it’s this story because I can’t yet add to the memoir in the last couple of posts. That’s because said memoir wasn’t working with the I/you bit and I’ve had to revise. In the meantime, I’ve been reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Banville’s new memoir, Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, to see how other writers have dealt with the past/present conundrum.

At any rate: the burned farm story. Actually, the farm has been much in my consciousness, phone calls, thinking, and doing for the past several months. It began in January with the taxes. That was the easy part. Okay, done. And then, since the farm is in a conservation reserve program (CRP) and has been lo these past forty years since Dad retired from farming, I had to follow up the taxes with more pressing farm demands. The FSA (farm service agency) rules are such that every few years, I need to get the prairie burned off, all one-hundred-twenty-acres. I recently posted an old story on burning the prairie which adventure convinced me not to try to do it myself again. The other piece of FSA rules was that I needed to get someone to cut trees out of said prairie because once trees get hold, they prosper, and the prairie is no longer prairie. And then one takes these invoices, which we’ve paid, to the FSA and have them logged in so the fall payment for CRP, which supports the farm, will be paid.

So. It has taken me countless hours on the phone to find someone to burn and to cut. Hours and hours. For months and months. Keep in mind, I began the search in mid-January and only now is it done. We had the local fire department do the burn the past few times and gave them a donation of around $1,000 (having a farm in conservation is a pricey business) but they can no longer do it. 1. the men are too old; 2. Kansas law now prohibits fire departments from doing it.

After many many calls and just as many estimates, I found a man who would cut out the trees for around $1100. It turned out to be closer to $1200 but it was done. And at the same time, I was calling leads to find someone to burn off the prairie. One estimate was $5,000. I mean, really???? I finally found a guy with whom I’d been in high school, but he was across the state line at the Liberty Fire Dept. and had several ahead of me in Nebraska and they had to come first but he’d do what he could. Keep in mind the farm is 1/2 mile from Nebraska.

And then, by a happenstance I can’t really remember, I found the Linn, Kansas, American Legion who were burning prairie to raise funds for the Legion. Whew! Linn is about 45 miles from the farm, so I sweetened the pot by adding $400 for a total of $1400. And they burned it and did a great job.

Now, after all that backstory, Stephen, my son, and I went to the farm over the weekend. Cliff had school papers to catch up on so he stayed home, did laundry, and had a good dinner ready for us when we returned on Monday evening. Which, all in all, is a fair trade. Our primary goal was to plant grass and put straw over said grass in the hopes that it would keep away critters and birds until it sprouts.

I’ve no idea where the essay is stored in this copious record of my life on WordPress, but there is an essay, perhaps the one where I pumped out the basement, on what a mess the area around the house became after construction. I’ve been struggling with the five feet times 90 feet of ground around it since. Earlier this year, I guess over spring break, Cliff and I went up, cleared out all the weed stalks/sunflower stalks/weird red berry something or another that seems determined to root, and left bare ground. Which Stephen and I covered copiously with grass seed. A neighbor brought up two bales of straw which we then used to cover said seed. No doubt, at some point in the future, I will update the story on whether or not I finally have grass instead of very tall weeds around the house. In the nonce (doncha love that word) it’s done.

And Stephen and I drove into Marysville, turned in papers to the FSA, re-certified the CRP for the next three years….and learned that the end of 2020 may be our last year in the program as the government has cut funding for conservation and instead is buying bombs and airplanes. I have no idea what we will do then, but as Scarlett O’Hara said, I’ll think about it tomorrow. What I know is that prairie roots are 12-14 and more deep and it’s hard to put it back in cultivation. (Which I don’t want to do anyway. It’s one half section of wild in the midst of corporate farming.) Stephen and I had lunch at the Wagon Wheel Cafe which has done steady business since I was a kid, and then we drove the three hours back to Kansas City.

However, I have to tell you one more story which Cliff said I should tell. Cliff, a city boy from Baltimore, is somewhat tool challenged, in a kind way of putting it. He also began wearing a C-Pap a few months ago which, as all C-Paps do, has a harness. It has strong magnets on the harness which tend to clasp onto themselves and usually, I help him get the harness adjusted. Well. I was on the farm. He had to do it himself. He said it took a while as the harness kept tangling and at one point it was in a knot on top of his head and he said, “I looked like a Polish grandmother with a babushka on my head!”

He was glad I was home.

…..

 

 

Waking Up in Mexico, part 1

For my friend Brian who says, “write the Mexico book.” This is the story of how I was called to live in Mexico, at least the first part, but it’s long form, so prepare.

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It began with rain. Well, no, of course it didn’t begin with rain unless it was raining when my parents conceived me, but that addendum added to all my other life addendums may be over-complicating things. If we stick to the day in question, the day when my life unexpectedly and unknowingly turned ninety degrees, more or less, depending on wind and the force of water, it began with rain. A desert rain, sheets of rain, pouring off the balcony roof, sealing me inside the motel room where I’d lived for several weeks while making the movie that took me to Mexico. The shoot was on hold. That call, the call waking me to tell me I didn’t have to get up, arrived at the same moment a crash of lightening coupled with shattering thunder jarred me from a deep sleep. I grabbed at the phone and sent a pen skittering off the edge of the night table.

“Janet, right now, the shoots on hold. I’ll let you know if it’s cancelled.” I hung up the phone and peered over the bed’s side. The pen remained hidden.

Groggy and deep down weary, I dragged a blanket around me and slumped to a chair, facing the balcony’s open French doors. A whisper of mist brushed my face. I was too close to the edge. I waited, emotionally unresponsive as the rain shuddered and spit lightening.

The day before, I’d plowed. With a horse and a single-blade plow, steadying the handles, holding the reins, stumbling over clods, and mindful of the child actor clutching my skirt. Before I arrived on the set, wranglers did the hard work and plowed several rows. I only had to follow the furrow. With a horse, and a plow, and a boy hanging onto my long skirt. No problem. Yeah. Right. I knew how to plow, too much of my childhood was spent plowing, row after row after row, my hands on the wheel adjusting to the tractor’s dip and pull. But on foot,  I stumbled and wobbled. After a few flubbed takes, I learned guiding a horse was about the same as guiding a tractor. It didn’t take much pressure. The horse knew what it was doing. The boy and I were simply moveable props. Stumbling props, but nonetheless, props.

My arms were tired. Legs stiff. I flexed my fingers. The muscles in my forearms ached. I dropped my hands into my lap and curled them into the blanket’s folds.

The phone rang. I hobbled to the phone with the blanket wrapped around me.

“Hi Janet. We had to reschedule. You’re off. We’re doing the night scene.”

When I hung up, reprieved, I fell across the bed in a tangle of blanket and tossed sheets, an open script, a shirt I’d worn the night before at dinner, and towels from the previous night’s shower. I slept immediately.

 

Sunlight inched through the open balcony door when I woke. The storm was over. No sound came from the garden except for a regular lap of water at pool’s edge. Disentangling myself from the blanket, I rolled over to look at the clock: 11:40. I’d slept almost five hours. With the unexpected luxury of a whole, unstructured day ahead of me, I stared at the ceiling—what to do—swim, lie in the sun, study my script. None of that sounded particularly enticing. The image of a magic corner in the downtown market slid into my memory. The Saturday before, several of us had gone souvenir shopping and I’d seen it but hadn’t stopped—something about the shadowy corner called to a solitary journey. Open burlap bags spilled herbs or bark and hidden shelves begged discovery. I showered and dressed and left the motel through a side door.

Thick green leaves stooped over the sidewalk. My passage disturbed some fine balance and water drops slid from leaf tip. The sidewalk bent and hunched over tree roots. In some places it disappeared altogether and reappeared with no more reason than it had disappeared. I passed a farm implement shop ringed with new, bright-green John Deere farm equipment, the same machinery Dad bought. Fresh bread smells, home smells, pulled me into a bakery. I bought a still warm roll stuffed with thick chocolate. Returning to the sidewalk and staring toward the center of town, I ate, smearing my fingers with chocolate. After licking off what I could, I wiped my fingers on my pants. I’m always wiping something on my pants.

A bell in some church tower rang once. But not yet the long two-hour break in the middle of the afternoon when everything stopped. I hurried down the street until crowds filled the sidewalk and dodged a hand-cart piled high with firewood. My abrupt move bumped into a woman carrying two full buckets of tomatoes. I apologized. She smiled and nodded. Cars honked in the street. Across the street, the market stretched down the block, and sunlight slapped against the tin roof.

The sun’s hot beat dissolved as I stepped across the threshold. As my eyes adjusted and shadowy forms became more distinct, I noticed a woman staring at me. I nodded. A blond gringa probably wasn’t a common sight, especially one wandering in Durango, far from the tourist trails. I passed bridles and saddles hung on partitions between stalls and smelled the heavy scent of oil and leather. The scent followed me past the harness section and I stopped, pretending to know where I was, as I examined a stall full of huaraches, wide strips of interlaced leather attached to rubber soles made from car tires. Ahead an aisle crossing. To the left, stacks of fruit and food stalls of cheeses and bacon and unfamiliar vegetables. But if I went that way, I would be mired in food. My memory placed the magic corner off to one side, opposite the food, and my Kansas-farmer sense of direction rarely let me down. I turned right, walked past plastics to a juncture of familiar-looking pottery and turned left. Stalls held hammers and wrenches and mysterious bits of metal.

An old man, grizzled white hair curling between the tops of his ears and hat brim, watched me. His hands looked like they’d held more plow handles than I ever would but his bent fingers moved lightly, rearranging a tray of nails. I nodded.

Buenas tardes, señor.”

 “Buenas tardes, señorita.”

“Donde están las yerbas?” My halting Spanish worked most of the time for “where is…” “how much is…..” standard phrased I’d learned from the Argentinians who taught Spanish in New York as they passed around steaming cups of yerba mate—although I was pretty sure the “mate” part came from Argentina.

The man tossed a gesture over his shoulder. “Allá,” he said. Over there. I nodded and smiled. “Bueno. Gracias.”

Para servirle, señorita.”

The approaching mid-day break had pulled shoppers home and a dim stillness grew in the market aisles. Silence breathed in my ears. Two rows past the nail man, I again turned left. Ahead, light shafted from a roof opening into a yellow pool on the floor. I made out the twisted form of a tree trunk from my earlier visit and knew it marked the boundary of the magic corner. Four feet tall, the sentinel stood carved and sanded by an artist’s gentle hand. Near the bottom, a face looked up from the natural creases, its beard formed by roots.

What would it be like to have a face uncovered? Not the face shown to the world or to lovers, but the one molded to who I really was? Maybe the first task was to figure out who I was. I ran my fingers through rough leaves in an open burlap bag. What was this stuff? It seemed like all I did was question and wonder. What is this? How does that work? I looked up. A boy with deep brown eyes stared back at me from the edge of shadows.

Buenas tardes,” I said.

Buenas tardes,” he answered, ducking his head, not meeting my eyes.

But I’d lifted mine and the head chatter stopped. Candlelight glittered on a shelf. A votive candle burned at the base of a ceramic Virgin and highlighted the blue robe’s drape, leaving her face in shadow. Two shelves filled with virgins—statues of all sizes and tall glass candle jars painted with her image. She was everywhere: calendars, statues and necklace medallions, painted on a wall, on stray slips of paper. A large painting of the Virgin standing on a crescent moon hung behind the hotel’s front desk. I knew the story of Juan Diego—how he’d gathered roses in his cloak and how the image of the Virgin remained on the cloth. The Lady watched from a hundred gentle eyes. Whose face lay behind the face of Guadalupe?

Beyond the candle shelf, I spotted a tray of plastic pouches about two inches long. A colored paper picture covered the front of each, on one, a man on horseback reached down to help a man on the ground. I picked it up and saw the title, Martin Cáballo. Layers of pine needles interspersed colored powder. I picked up another and read San Miguel. A warrior angel, holding aloft his sword above the scaly tail circling his legs. That powder layered with bright red pebble-sized chunks. The pictures reminded me of my old children’s Bible, one person tormented and the holy person kind and generous. At the base of the images I deciphered words for luck and money and family. Beyond that shelf lay another shelf filled with Buddhas, all sizes, all grinning, hands folded in a satisfying gesture over fat bellies. One tiny Buddha sat alone, a tiny smile, tiny red stone at his navel where the robe draped open. A Buddha to fit in the cupped palm of my hand.

 

Late afternoon sun bounced off windshields as I stepped out of the market. A line of taxis parked at the corner, so I tapped a window, roused the napping driver. He nodded when I told him the hotel’s name, said nothing all the way back on deserted streets, and accepted my pesos with a nod. The hotel was as quiet; the garden deserted. Everyone must have gone to the set. The costumer emerged from the far wing, a loop of dun-colored clothes over one arm.

“Carmen, what are these?” Fishing the packets of incense packets out of my pocket, I held them on my palm. Carmen glanced over her arm in passing. “Ask Gloria. She knows.” She hurried on to a waiting car.

Water lapped at the end of the pool. I felt suspended, the world breathing in and out, turning its own way, rolling in no-time, while I held two packets of powder. I unglued myself abruptly and went to my room. The maid had cleaned; nothing for me to do. Left behind, my sense of humor dissolved into abandonment.

“Snap out of it!” I said aloud. “Go do something.”

I called the front desk, ordered a rental car, and drove out of town, north on the highway leading to the set, watching for the unmarked turnoff to the road leading into the mountains, a road pitted by ruts worn into the trail and marking the boundary between one century and another: tarmac to dirt and city to pueblo. I found the turn. The road looked dry. Loosening my grip on the steering wheel, the car nosed its way over the bumps. At the crest of a ridge, I stopped. Ahead, the road forked into two down-slanting tracks: sometimes the drivers took the left one and forded a rocky creek, and sometimes they crossed on the narrow, wobbly, plank bridge to the right. Some choice. Risk a punctured oil pan by driving over rocks or brave the spindly bridge and risk falling in. The rain made a difference in the creek even if it hadn’t on the road and deep water tumbled around the rocks. I chose the bridge.

“Bridge over troubled waters,” I sang to bolster my courage, inching the car forward. Simon and Garfunkel probably hadn’t known about this bridge.

On the other side, at the top of a ridge, a pueblo sat with its back to the sky. In the mornings when our caravan came through, young goats, giddy, budding horns pushing through tousled white heads, pranced the stone walls circling the pueblo. Laughing children ran to open gates. We were a traveling circus come to town. But now, as evening pressed across the land, no one came to greet my solitary car. The shuttered pueblo allowed no gleam of life. The gates wide—the goats somewhere else for the night. Were families eating supper? The road opened onto an arid range. Home and family. Running toward freedom and wanting it to look like family. “Freedom isn’t free,” Bob Dylan said, but sometimes the cost wearied me.

Beyond the pueblo, the road widened across a plain, and I passed the ruins of an old adobe fort. The fort another movie set although I wasn’t sure which movie or how many. One of the rovers who spoke English told me The Tall Man. I’d smiled and nodded. I didn’t remember much more about it than the name. At one time, a lot of westerns shot in Durango.

Around one last curve, I saw the cabin. Nothing said “movie set.” The trucks with generators, wardrobe, makeup, missing. Just a brown cabin on the brown plains that dropped away to a creek. Usually I looked forward to this view, felt like I was coming home, but today too many ghosts followed and I needed people. A quarter mile down the road I found the vehicles and pulled in behind them.

“Juanita!” a driver shouted as I walked into the camp. I grinned and waved, feeling safe again. Home.

Unlike the cabin, this location looked slapped-together with trailers scattered along the base of a prickly hill. I saw Miguel halfway up the side, guiding Holly Lynne around stunted trees. She could be my daughter—same blond hair, same cheekbones, wide smile. Rehearsals must be starting. Sharp streaks of red and gold spiked the sky. A flare of campfire appeared beyond the trees on the ridge. My hairdresser Gloria stood outside the makeup trailer. The rocky, uneven ground made for treacherous footing, but Gloria wore her usual high platform shoes. She still barely came up to my shoulder. I pulled the incense packets from my jacket pocket and showed her. “Gloria, qué es?”

She glanced at the packets and then at my face, tipping her head as if measuring me for a new hairdo, or listening. “Momento,” she said, turning to put down the brush she held. Another woman joined us and spoke to Gloria. The woman worked in costuming with Carmen but their conversation in Spanish went too fast for me to follow. She pointed to a spot below her thumb. Gloria held the woman’s hand, pressed her fingers into the spot and her voice rose in a soft chant. The woman nodded her thanks and left. Gloria picked up a plastic bottle and motioned me to follow. A back corner of my mind put together another puzzle…the times between takes, sitting at Gloria’s table, a crew member would come to her, hold out a hand, an arm, point to a leg, and I’d hear the same chant. Absorbed in script’s pages, I hadn’t paid attention, but I did remembered quick conversations and the soft roll of words.

We walked west into the crimson-spiked sky and around a tumble of boulders as high as a house. The horizon poured blood while behind us, darkness settled like soot. My doubt quotient was high. What had I gotten myself into? I’d followed her when she’d motioned, turned, and stepped precisely over the rocky ground as lightly as the village goats pranced along stone walls. My feet felt unsteady and the rest of me felt like a six-year-old being led to school. Ask Gloria, Carmen said. So I did. And now I was wandering into the night with a woman carrying a water bottle.

Gloria turned to face me. A halo of red-setting light brushed her shoulders. “Aqui,” she said, motioning for me to kneel. “Agua sagrada,” she said, showing me the bottle. Sacred water? Where’d she get holy water? I knelt, holding the packets in my outstretched hands. Shadows hid her eyes in the folds of night.

“El Señor,” the whispered chant began. She walked in a wide circle, sprinkling water, closing us inside, stopped in front of me. Her chant lifted. Stars woke. The night listened. The words shaped meaning but slipped away, eluding my understanding. She dampened her finger with water and traced a cross on my forehead; one hand hovered above my head while the other slipped the water bottle into a side pocket. Freed from its burden the second hand took wing and floated across my face before joining the other above my head. It felt as though she molded air—an energy field grew between her hands and my body. The energy moved as Gloria’s hands moved and came to rest over the packets. Her chant curled inside my ears; wonder paused in the silence between words. A night bird flew overhead—then another and another—long wings slow-flapping in the night. Heat grew in my palms. Gloria folded my fingers over the packets and passed her hands once more in blessing.

Guardelos,” she said.

“Keep them,” I heard. Keep them. Holding the packets, I struggled to my feet. Black sky cupped the last stain at the horizon and stars shone overhead. How long had I been kneeling? Shoving my curled fists into my jacket pockets, I followed Gloria back to camp. I thanked her. She returned to her trailer. I climbed the hill toward the beacon of campfire, feeling her eyes on my back but not knowing what else to say. I didn’t even know what had happened. I passed a ledge of rocks and saw the set ahead, dark figures moving beyond the circle of fire. Balancing one hip against the ledge, I studied the hill. I could climb above and watch unseen.

The desert night grew cold. The figures gathered around the campfire looked unreal, the murmur of voices muted as if the night pinned sound to the earth. The packets stayed warm; that was real. I sat on a rock and watched.

Below, lights came on and I heard “Action.” I didn’t move.

Stars flooded the sky – the moon not yet up. A deeper lightless black shaped the broken edges of mountains. Orion lay a bit farther north here and the Fish nearly overhead, but still, the same sky as over my childhood’s farmland. This sky an autumn sky: not yet hard, but not hazy either. The Milky Way like a big spider web sprinkled with dew flung from an unseen hand across the sky. Since very young I’d known there was a power bigger than any of us really understood, but I didn’t understand what had happened to me or why the packets stayed warm.

….

On Fire and Family, an essay

Here’s an essay from a collection of essays titled Kansas Chronicles which I mentioned in The Quest, a previous post, and which an international blogger friend, Rambling Rose, read. She asked about conservation and the farm I mentioned. Here ’tis. It’s a long form post, but I hope you will all get a larger understanding of the farm — about which I seem to write often as it turns out.

*******

   The roaring crash at my back spins me like an out-of-balance top as the old corn crib crumples, sparks spewing a halo of destruction.
“Come on!” I grab at my grandson’s wrist and pull him after me. At thirteen, he’s too young to battle this blaze. “If something happens to you, your dad’ll kill me!”
We sprint a wide curve around the dying corn crib, head for safety.
“See that field?” I point to the spring green of wheat across the fence line. “That won’t burn. Get out there!”
I run back to the prairie, panting, but the men are gone. I’d whirled from one crisis to the next since tallgrass flared beyond the corn crib. I glance at the March sun, slanting in from the southern sky. How long since we’d set the fire? I didn’t know. Now the corn crib sags into smoldering rage and a towering whirlwind marches west, flame tips flicking ash debris from its edges. Mute, I watch the Old Testament image of God’s saving guidance threaten destruction to any animal not fast enough to flee. Hawks circle. A vulture mounts the vortex, wheels, his dark wingtips limned in sun.
I should have known burning the corn crib was a dicey idea at the least—¬-a catastrophe at its worse. But it seemed a good idea. There were men, you see, whose opinion I respected: my son and nephew, both grown and practical men, and two neighbor farmers who understood things like farms and fires and prairie.
The morning began simply enough. My son, nephew, grandson, and I picked away at the old corn crib, testing the strength of rusty nails frozen in timber, dragging out bent pieces of tin, and debating how, exactly, we might dismember the building enough to push it into a backhoe dug trench—¬-a trench the cousins had begun to fill over the weekend with dead trees and old machinery bits. And then the neighbor brothers drove up, Gary and Dave, and suggested we just burn it down. Dry timber and left-over straw exploded into an inferno, sparks flew over treetops into prairie, and the spirit of the land, dormant for so many years, crackled into freedom.
“You wanted to burn the prairie. We got enough here to watch. I’d say let her go!” So yelled my farm neighbor, Dave.
“Jump on!” Gary said, motioning for my son Stephen to straddle the front of his four-wheeler, and Stephen jumped on—¬-two men on a headless horse to outrun a prairie fire.
Dave grabbed a handful of tallgrass, twisted it into a torch, and began dragging the fire off to the south. My nephew David, the fourth grown man in this, “we got enough here,” grabbed a shovel and followed.
Some instinct beyond my knowing had whipped four men into action while I stood stunned—¬-until the crash of the collapsing corn crib spurred me and I’d dragged my grandson to the safety of an open wheat field.
Sure, I’d set it up, called our wide, multitude of family home for Mom’s 85th birthday, pleaded for help before they all scattered—¬-and for three days, they’d hauled and cleaned on a farm that hadn’t seen much attention since Dad died ten years ago. But some other Master Plan added the themes of death and resurrection and spun them through a family’s legacy with the land.
The four oldest grandsons, grown men, claimed their patrimony on the legacy of memory. They remembered their grandfather, and the farm, alive and working, and they guided the younger ones on forays across the land. Then, like seed, the family scattered, leaving only Stephen and David to come to the farm today.
I feel useless; mostly I feel a fear knot in my chest. Prairie fires become their own force, dangerous and unpredictable. Twisting up a grass torch, I begin inching fire toward the north fence line.
So, Prometheus, was this how it all started, the good idea to set fire free? Fire as gift and curse, creator and destroyer. Was there some mitigating detail you forgot, some invisible silver cord to unite good with evil and keep destruction at bay? As it was, this fire, on this particular farm, stirred ancient echoes of a call I didn’t know I had sounded.
When we were growing up, Dad rarely burned. We mowed, plowed under the stubble, harrowed and disked. A youngster during the Dust Bowl days, he’d been one of the first to build a series of terraces across the land to control erosion; Dad was a careful man, so maybe burning felt too chancy.
I’d thought it romantic and exciting. Springtime smoke towers on the horizon flipped book pages on the winds of imagination: a nighttime’s menacing horizon; Zane Grey’s cowboys outrunning fire; settlers frantically plowing breaks around sod houses, fire storms herding buffalo for Native Americans.
This fire didn’t feel romantic.
Except fire is a natural part of the prairie’s evolution. Some 8,000 years ago, receding glaciers left the central plains rich in top-soil, grass, animals, and enough wide space for really spectacular storms. In those far-off days, lightening set fires, so the prairie hid its tubers and seeds beneath the surface, while grass roots ran twelve-feet deep. Burning rids the matted buildup and renews the land—¬-a symbiosis that allows each to live. But symbiosis needs to be done with care or you risk disaster: humans plus fire minus silver cord.
I hadn’t set a firebreak around the old corn crib; the sparks jumped, and wind wove the fire. With a little luck, the elements have come together of their own accord: fire, wind, earth, and enough men to guard against disaster.
When I was young, my solitary wanderings took me beyond the fields through the pastured woods. I became adept at listening for the crack of a twig, a rustle of leaves from some small animal’s hunting story. I’d hear a meadowlark mother scrabbling, crying pitifully, as she lured my feet from her nest. Perhaps five hundred years ago, as second daughter with little dowry, I’d have walked my life inside a convent’s stone walls and prayer and found my place and reason. There, then, the questions that fill all the silent spaces: Who am I? What defines me?
How is it that this farm, now owned by our far-flung family, defines me more than my accomplishments or my years in New York or Mexico or Hawaii or any of the other places I’ve lived? Most of us evolve from our story of origin, for good or ill, but why this farm, this family?
Below these burning grasses, burrowed into the black dirt, hides life that blooms with each spring’s rain. Maybe that’s what the farm, the family, cultivates: deep roots that allow me to bloom with each changing season.
While I ruminate on my own connection to the land, nephew David returns to check in, tell me Dave drove over to the west side. He asks if I’ve seen Stephen.
“No. I haven’t.” The knot tightens in my chest. I glance at the sun. It’s lower.
I don’t tell him how worried I am, how useless I feel, but I know my nephew as well as he knows me. We’re both worried. Stephen could be trapped anywhere – the tree stand, the plumb thicket.
“The fire jumped the draw—¬-started up the west side. That’s why Dave took off. I think I’ll go on down and see if I can find Steve,” David says.
“Okay. Thanks.”
I watch him go, turn back to the work I’ve been allotted, wonder at the uncountable hours I’ve spent in my head as I drove a tractor along a furrow, daydreaming stories. The same impulse arises now to distract myself.
The fire is fierce and I am afraid for my son.
A matted clump of tallgrass flares and I jump aside. Michael is picking a path down the waterway toward me.
“You okay, Grandma?” A frown etches his forehead—-the same kind of frown my sons make when I do something less than sensible.
“Yeah, Michael, I’m okay. You want to learn how to do this?”
He nods—¬-so brief I could have missed it if I didn’t know him. An only child, he’s well-protected, hasn’t yet learned risk. Yesterday when his parents left, he struggled in deciding whether to stay with me or leave with them.
“You’ll be okay. The wind’s behind us and these are the clean-up fires—¬-not so big. Look, turn this way.”
I shift my body so the wind blows at my back. Michael follows.
“Can you feel the wind on your neck?”
Michael nods.
“And the fire’s in front of you?”
He nods again.
“That means the fire will blow away from you toward the field already burned. You’re okay. Now watch what I do.”
The worried look disappears as he watches me twist a torch, light it from a burning clump, and drag it along the base of unburned grasses.
“See? Think you can do that?”
A one-shoulder shrug accompanies his nod.
“Yeah.” He walks beyond me. As his torch catches, he flinches and drops it. Tearing off another handful of grass, he repeats his actions. This time, the tallgrass flares.
I watch him inch the fire northward. With each spent torch, he creates another sentence in his own fire story.
“That’s pretty cool.” Soot, rather than frown, streaks his forehead.
I measure our progress—-about twenty yards from the north fence, I guess. I turn to survey the burned grass behind us. A Kansas homestead—-a quarter of a mile wide, north to south, and a mile long, east to west: one hundred and sixty acres—¬¬-this much is ours, down through five generations, down through roots running deep.
Chill catches in the sweat of my neck. The wind has shifted to the northeast—-a good sign, blowing the fire back from the north fence line and away from jumping into the neighbor’s pasture.
I grunt as I bend to resume working. My mother gives these same little grunts, both as she lands herself in a chair and as she gets up. On her, it’s charming; on me it sounds old.
“Grams!”
I look up. My nephew strides back along the fence line, a shovel riding his shoulder. The sun hangs a hand’s breadth from the horizon.
“Hey, Auntie!” he calls.
“Hey, David. Where’s Stephen?”
He chin-points in the direction he’d come. “They’re heading this way.”
He trades his shovel for my torch and begins pushing the burn north. I lean on the shovel, stretch my back. The fear knot relaxes.
Stephen tops the rise, walking along the fence line. He swings a length of wire with something burning at the end, lighting grass. Gary follows on his four-wheeler and Dave in his truck.
The sound of calves bawling for feeding time drifts across the fields; the evening call of wild turkey comes from the cedars in the east pasture. Stephen reaches the end of the fence line and turns to meet his cousin. Their fire lines meet at the tip of a V, smolder into ash.
Two men face the west and the burned off land, watch as the last strip of grass withers to smoke.
Michael and I walk over; Gary and Dave join us. We stand as farmers do at the end of a day, talking, reliving the story.
“You see how that wind shifted?” Dave said. He shakes his head. We grin.
“Couldn’t beat the timing,” Gary agrees.
Stephen demonstrates his bailing wire tool—¬-an old leather glove soaked in kerosene, wrapped in wire.
“I gave it to him when I drove around to the west side,” Dave says. “Saves your back.”
Night creeps into our quiet conversation and erases our shadows. Yard lights blink across the countryside. We linger, reluctant to leave, to break the spell that holds us.
But the world demands action: Michael and I to travel east to our Kansas City homes; Stephen and David to begin their drives west; Gary and Dave to evening chores. We nod farewell. We’d done our work and reclaimed the farm.
And the spirit that bound us in a ritual of fire stretches, sighs, flows back into the land.