He drove the grubbing hoe into open ground and looked back down the fencerow towards the house, back in the direction he had come.  The fence was sagging and soft; the wires were stretched, rusted and bent and the wooden posts leaned at odd angles like a loose set of bad teeth, but but across the distance he had worked the cedars and mulberrys were gone, allowing the fenceline to re-emerge.  And instead of feeling tired or sore, he discovered that he felt younger, as though the act of removing the scrub and weeds between each post was removing years off his age and returning him to his youth, when the fence was new and bright and straight.

Fencerow in Summer

Fencerow in Summer


Good Friday

From April 22, 2011

…What does it mean to go “all in?”

In his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Michael Shaara writes of the Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee, on the last day of Gettysburg, speaking to his trusted friend General Longstreet.  It is early in the morning, the fields are quiet, and as the two ride together Lee in his soft, dignified voice makes clear that, to be a good officer, a man must love the army above and beyond any other earthly thing.

That’s difficult, Lee explains, because in battle an officer may be forced to order the death of that one thing he loves the most.

“We expect an occasional empty chair, a toast to dear departed comrades,” Lee says, “We are prepared to lose some of us … but never ALL of us. Surely not all of us. But…that is the trap. You can hold nothing back … you must commit yourself totally.”

“That is one reason why there are so very few good officers.  Although there are many good men.”[1]

What Lee was stressing to Longstreet was that on this day Lee was requiring of him to go “all in; ” Lee couldn’t afford to have anything held back.  Reason and logic would provide no comfort, and no explanation.

The crucifixion scene on Golgotha comes down to this:  Here is God going all in, holding nothing back.  At the Baptism and again at the Transfiguration, the voice of God is heard declaring, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and there is no earthly rationalization or logic that would make sense out of this day’s scenario, the same Son of God suffering and dying on a cross, so that the human race which placed him there might receive salvation.

For the apostles, the loss is more personal than any of us can imagine.  Jesus told his followers it was important to work while there is light, because the light would not be with them always.  The clear, brilliant wisdom of Jesus when he debated the Pharisees, the parables he told, simple and yet complex; the miraculous moments, the incredible healings and walking on water; the smiles for children and the human fellowship with the Son of God – for the apostles, it is all gone.  Christ’s earthly ministry is complete, finished.

Judas and Peter feel the guilt and loss – Judas is unable to deal with his life and commits suicide.  Peter weeps, disgraced and ashamed, but he will come back with resolve to serve.  All of the apostles, all of them who earlier had seen Jesus slip away from the murderous crowds in the Temple and who must have thought that somehow it would not really end this way, all of them will feel that sickening weight of guilt and loss in the pit of their stomach.  They will feel as a child might after having lost a balloon at the county fair – a balloon they wanted so badly, a balloon purchased and given to them at no cost – so beautiful and light and cherished so much – but with just an instant’s distraction it slips loose and floats out of grasp, and the child, turning back, realizing that all the admonitions have come true, that the thing most beautiful and wonderful and cherished is gone, floating away, and they are helpless to bring it back ever again…

[1]Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels  (Philadelphia, PA: David McKay Publishing 1974)



A Stormy Friday Evening

The freakish warm weather that has wiped out Southern Indiana’s late winter and early spring is still here.  Today it was almost eighty degrees by late afternoon, and by contrast S___ in Grawn, MI told me over the phone that he’d been watching snow fall all day.

For those of us addicted to working the ground, living with this weather is like waking up each morning with a sweating fever.  Two weeks ago I transplanted my grandmother’s old rhubarb patch to a new, sunny plot.  Today as I stopped by my favorite hardware store to purchase two calculator batteries,  I paused in front of the building to admire the garden plants already on display.

“They’re ‘Honeoyes’,” the gal at the hardware store said when she saw me eying a container of dark green strawberry plants.  “They come bunched up in that pot, then you separate them and plant them in your rows or hills.”  The name “Honeoye”  meant nothing to me, but it sounded impressive (the word is Native American.)  I decided they’d fit in right next to the rhubarb, and so when I left the the store I held the batteries in one hand and the pot of strawberry plants in the other.

It was 6:15 when I made it home and told Wendy about the Honeoyes.  The air was hazy with a stiff southern breeze, but when I turned on the radio I heard “Severe Thunderstorm Warning” for our county until 7pm.  By 6:30 the sky north of our house was dark.

“You’d better hurry,” Wendy said, but the air was still warm and strong from the south.

“I think it’ll pass,” I said over my shoulder as I hurried to get a turning spade from the barn.  “It’s moving off to the northeast.”

It did pass – for another ten minutes – but this storm was a slow sidewinder that from a distance was reminding me of the one that took  the roof off of Flat Rock Methodist Church one week after Good Friday in 2006. By 6:45 the air was dead calm.  Five minutes later the sky was even darker and the first cool scent of rain wafted in from the north.

There were 16 starts in the pot – maybe enough to produce a quart or two of berries once the runners spread out.  I set the last plant with the storm kicking dust up into my eyes, and as I put the spade away I heard the first drops of rain splatter hard against the barn’s metal roof.

It wasn’t a violent storm.  The lightning was constant but not close – most of it seemed to stay in the clouds.  The wind slacked off once the rain arrived.

But I’ll say this – when the rain arrived, it was full-dress.   Big, heavy drops rushing to hit the ground in a downpour that whited out the fields like a fog.  Twice we heard the telltale “peck..peck” that always makes me hold my breath…hail…but each time the hail tapered off after a minute or so, and the hailstones were too small to ruin the Honeoyes, the rhubarb or anything else exposed to the storm.

A final tally: 1 storm.  1.8+ inches of rain.  The forecast for April 1 – April Fool’s Day – is a high temperature of 84 degrees.




Farm Bureau Song Book

Farm Bureau Song Book

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker; a working class trio that might have defined the Everyman through a century or more of British villages and early Americana.  I tried to think of an appropriate Rockcreek trio – maybe “the farmer, the painter, the grain elevator?”

That’s not good poetry, but from my adolescence through my early salad years I knew a lot of Rockcreek Everymen and women – a well driller, a mechanic, the drunk who would drive off the road and through my father’s fence every few years.  The man in the ’62 Chevy pickup who dug graves by hand.  The owners and their wives at the grain elevator/ feed stores at Grammer and Elizabethtown and the general stores in Grammer and Burnsville.  Grammer had a post office in the store.

These Everymen and women populated the general stores, the grain elevators, the churches and the roads.

And then there were the fraternal organizations.  The Freemasons in E’town and Alert.  The Odd Fellows Lodge in E’town.  The Red Man’s Lodge in Grammer.  They each had their own hall, and in every hall was a piano, and at every meeting of lodge or church or Farm Bureau someone would play the piano and lead the assembled Everymen and women through a song or two.

I knew these people.  Some of them I only knew as a boy knows the adults in his life, but I knew them, and they knew each other.  They knew each other’s cars and and trucks and what was sitting in each other’s back yards.

I knew them, but I didn’t like all of them.  They weren’t always nice.  They knew each other without everyone liking one another, and yet they would come together in meetings and sing.  No American Idols here, no solos or karaokes.  When they sang, they sang together.

One year my grandfather’s old Grammer Greys baseball team held a reunion.  Over three hundred people came, and my grandfather lead them through the song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”  I think of that now and I’m amazed; three hundred people gathered in a little grassy ex-schoolyard with really nothing in common except a loose association with a local baseball team forty years gone.

Today’s society encourages us to “like” one another.  We don’t know each other, but we’re urged to like each other.  We “like” our friends on facebook.  If our “friends” do something we don’t like, we “unfriend” them, it’s as simple as a tap of the keys.

Let me say this; “Like” is overrated.  A community stitched together with “likes” will blow apart in a light breeze  because “like” is so ephemeral.  It’s better to know someone, even if in knowing them you learn they have certain traits you don’t like.  Even if the people you know aren’t always nice.  The fabric of a community is woven together by knowing people, and that’s a difficult task in this day and age.  The general stores have been replaced with convenience stores where gas is “pay at the pump.”  The lodge halls and churches with their pianos are almost all gone.  Where can we go to meet and sing?


Slogging Towards Spring

Ash Wednesday arrived this week, although the Indiana term could be “Mud Wednesday.”  Several years ago, I was working in Ohio on Ash Wednesday.  There wasn’t time to drive home, change clothes, and still make the church service, so that year my muddy work shoes stayed at the church door while I worshiped in socks.  People may return to dust in the arid Holy Land, but the clay loam of Southern Indiana cleaves its own with more permanence.

Sheep in the barn

This year the day finds our back barnlot slick and dark grey, crisscrossed with ruts and hoofprint pockmarks half full of water.  The ewes in the barn are at their stoutest – carrying their lambs and covered with nearly a year’s growth of wool.  Yesterday morning, sometime close to 3:30, a flash of light arced into the bedroom, and as my pulse revved up towards conciousness, a long rumble of thunder rolled in from the fields.  The first thunderstorm of the year.  A weak little storm, born and gone in an hour’s time before the first hint of dawn.  Now is the beginning of the end of winter.


The peace of the earth

An Old Disc in the Back Barnlot

An old disc gang in the back barnlot

While the earth remains,

Seedtime and harvest,

And cold and heat,

And summer and winter,

And day and night

Shall not cease.

All of my life I’ve been close to people who have tilled the soil.  My father, uncle and both grandfathers lived off of the harvests of their land.

Some people find profit in the earth.  Some find only burdens and toil.  I found a sense of amity and peace, as though the pebbles of granite and chert scouring my plow were God’s Urim and Thummim.