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



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.