What Will the Harvest Be?

It’s been a pretty good year in the garden here at Midkiff Manor. Nobody got snake-bit, in spite of two close encounters with copperheads, and thanks to the electric fence the horses didn’t steal any produce except that one bell pepper from the basket I mistakenly left in the shed. The horses did eat the weeds we tossed outside the fence, which was a win-win. And though I didn’t keep track of the volume of the harvest, I know we ate a lot of oven-fried summer squash and tomato-basil-mozzarella salad. The kitchen freezer is crammed with frozen crooknecks and zucchinis, the laundry room fridge with butternut squash, and I have more butternuts curing on a rack outside. The cherry tomatoes are still producing, and before long the tomato seedlings I started some weeks back will be ready to set out for fall.

There are many reasons for our success, and I’ll gladly take credit for as many of them as I can. I’m particularly proud of our homemade squash trellises, which have been well worth the T-posts, cattle panels, and hours spent in assembly. By keeping fruit and foliage off the ground, we protected the plants from disease and reduced weeding to a fraction of what it would have been with a bunch of sprawling vines. Also, sprawling vines would have meant more hiding places for copperheads.

squash trellis 2

Early in the season Greg did something clever with trenching and PVC pipe, and the end result was a hydrant in the shed providing us with easy water access for garden and horses. I was almost giddy with delight. I loathe dealing with water hoses—hauling them from here to there, tugging them through tall weeds, laboriously untangling a mass of deceptive coils only to realize the hose I’ve been wrestling isn’t the one that’s screwed into the hydrant, or has been taken apart somewhere in the middle for I know not what reason, or has a nozzle attachment on the end that I don’t need and can’t get off. The whole thing is exhausting and demoralizing. Just knowing I don’t have to deal with all that has made me a lot more eager to work in the garden than in years past.

The garden site itself is a good one, with a rich sandy loam—Bermuda grass and weedy taproots just pop right out of it—and a slight slope that helps the water flow down. We can’t take credit for the soil, but we can for being smart; the main reason we chose to build on this site is because of the successful gardens of people who lived here decades ago. One of these, a former hired man, declared that this location was the best site on the whole farm for gardening.

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Some crops were more successful than others. The Black Cherry tomatoes did pretty well, the Jaspers did great, and the Tycoons bugged out early without producing a single fully ripe fruit. The okra seedlings got devoured by grasshoppers almost as soon as they sprouted. The first round of sweet potato slips did too, but we replanted and put on some row cover and are hoping for the best. We would have foiled the grasshoppers altogether if we’d set out the slips earlier in the season, but we couldn’t find any at local feed stores and ended up mail-ordering some from Tennessee. Even if the sweet potatoes do their darnedest from here out, their yield won’t be half of what it should be, but next year we’ll know better. The butternuts and crooknecks had a terrific output; the zucchinis just did okay.

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In the garden as in life, the reasons for failure are sometimes clear and sometimes not. Pests, disease, and lack of water produce predictable results, but often things go wrong and you really don’t know why. Why did some of our tomato plants produce so much better than others? The high-performing Jaspers were at the head of the row; the ill-faring Tycoons were at the end; the Black Cherries were somewhere in between, both in location and in yield. Were the Jaspers getting more water than the others, or less? Was the water pooling at the end of the rows or not flowing down enough? Are the Jaspers just better performers? Were the Tycoons devoured by an incredibly selective tomato hornworm?

The climate here in South Central Texas is harsh. Having the right varieties helps a lot but doesn’t guarantee success. Six years ago, when we first started scoping out possible building sites for our future home, we found a little tree surrounded by brush, weeds, and old house wreckage. With help from a Neil Sperry guide, I identified it as a Texas mountain laurel: small, tough, evergreen, drought-tolerant. It produces fragrant purple blossoms in springtime and actually prefers slightly alkaline soil. How awesome is that? Greg’s mom said the tree was probably planted decades back by a former resident, a lady whose house later burned down. This lady had a lot of trouble in her life but she always had a beautiful garden. We took this as a good sign, and I named my blog for the tree long before we started construction.

The tree is still there in what is now our back yard; I can see it from my study window. But some months back it started looking sickly and dropping leaves. I’m always sorry to see a good tree die, and this one has been a sort of symbol to me—not quite on the order of the White Tree of Gondor, but a reminder of God’s goodness and our purpose in being here on the farm in the first place.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House books, writes in The First Four Years about a beloved young cottonwood tree planted by her husband in a sheltered spot north of the house where Laura can see it from her pantry window. A drought ruins that year’s wheat and oat crop, but the little cottonwood survives…only to die later in a fire that destroys the house while Laura is suffering from depression following the death of her second child. This is pretty much par for the course for the Ingalls and Wilder families, as anyone who’s read the Little House books knows. Grasshoppers, blackbirds, bad weather—their farm troubles are legion, and throughout the series wild hope and crushing disappointment follow each other in a heartbreaking loop. The first year of Laura and Almanzo’s marriage, they grow a beautiful field of wheat which, if harvested, will pay all they owe and leave them so well off that when Laura first does the math she thinks she must have made a mistake. One August day, Almanzo goes out to start harvesting, then comes back to the house and says the wheat still needs another day or two to be perfectly ripe. That very afternoon, a hail storm wipes out the entire crop.

Throughout the Little House books there is this sense that if they just hang in there, if they find the right land and the right crop and dig in and work hard and go without new shoes, they will succeed. Those who fail at farming do so because they give up too soon or don’t know what they’re doing or don’t have enough heart. The Ingallses and the Wilders have plenty of heart; their determination and good cheer in the face of overwhelming setbacks, their pure grit, just astound me. Long after the events described in the series, the Wilders did indeed have a successful, prosperous farm in Missouri, with an orchard, dairy cows, grain fields, and poultry. But Laura’s father, Charles Ingalls, with all his energy, optimism, and hard work, ended up packing it in and moving to town, where he supported the family with carpentry jobs. That must have stung.

Farmers live pretty close to the edge, but really all economic ventures are speculative. Some livelihoods appear more stable than others in the short run, but ultimately times change, new markets emerge, and old industries collapse. The early American turpentine orchards of the Eastern Seaboard thrived for a time and then failed, leaving acres and acres of devastated land where virgin forest had once stood. Silk manufacture took a nosedive when polyester became a thing. Some of the most adored actors in silent films couldn’t make the transition to talkies because their voices were untrained or heavily accented, and so their careers ended. Disco flashed and died; within a few years its stars went from adulation to hot scorn. For a few years in 1990s Texas, ostrich farming looked like it might take off, but the market soon cratered, leaving newcomers with birds purchased at too high a price to ever be recouped. Many owners abandoned their birds to the wild, and for a while rural Texans worried about ecological disaster in the form of flocks of well-adapted seven-foot feral birds with powerful legs and four-inch claws capable of killing a lion, or a man, with a single kick. Non-Texans, I did not make that up.

Sowing the seed by the wayside high,
Sowing the seed on the rocks to die,
Sowing the seed where the thorns will spoil,
Sowing the seed in the fertile soil:
Oh, what shall the harvest be?
Oh, what shall the harvest be?

There’s something almost ominous in the repeated line at the end. What indeed shall the harvest be? Who can say? In the words of the teacher, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Witchcraft and idolatry, both forbidden by God in the Bible, are really methods of manipulating time and chance. The kind of medieval European folk magic that Westerners associate with witchcraft doesn’t put in an appearance in Biblical accounts. Witchcraft in the Bible is about telling the future. Even the necromancy in 1 Samuel 28, where Saul gets a witch with a familiar spirit to call up the spirit of the prophet and kingmaker Samuel, is done for the purpose of asking the outcome of Saul’s upcoming battle. Idolatry is about influencing the future, performing prescribed rituals so the gods will grant what you want, with the usual example being good crops. (Farming has been chancy business ever since Adam and Eve left the garden.) Maybe anxiety is just the witchcraft and idolatry of a rationalistic age. We are fooling ourselves, messing around with worry and fruitless activity that exhausts us without actually qualifying as work.

In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’s science fiction novel set on an Edenic planet Venus, the activity forbidden to the unfallen inhabitants—the forbidden fruit of the realm—is staying overnight on dry land. Ransom, the Earthman protagonist, thinks this is odd at first, but after mulling it over realizes it makes a lot of sense. The planet is oceanic with an unknown number of floating islands. Go to sleep on one of these and you have no idea where you’ll wake in the morning. You might find your plans sidelined and yourself inconvenienced, separated from someone you long for. God wants the Perelandrans to trust his providence and not try to snatch sovereignty for themselves. They couldn’t anyway, any more than we can, but they could sure mess themselves up trying. We none of us can secure the future.

perelandra floating island

Sowing the seed with an aching heart,
Sowing the seed while the teardrops start…

Throughout the created world laws of cause and effect are always at work, whether we plan and labor with thoughtful diligence or just allow ourselves to be directed by outside forces. But the system is broader than we realize, and things happen that we don’t foresee and can’t account for. Plans go agley; friendships fail; and early promise falls short in execution. Likewise, boons and blessings come unlooked-for from unexpected places, and people emerge from years of sin and sorrow to walk in the light and thrive. Not all surprises are disappointments.

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Bell peppers were among the middling performers in this year’s garden. The foliage looked good, but the fruit was small and scarce. And again, we didn’t know why. Online sources suggested fertilizer, but we didn’t want to use the synthetic stuff, and anyway we thought it shouldn’t be necessary on such fresh ground where other plants were doing so well. We talked about adding compost or organic soil amendments, but other things demanded our attention, and we let the peppers go.

Then about a week ago two of the plants suddenly started producing decent-sized fruits of bright yellow and red. I have no idea why. In the words of Lord Robert Crawley upon learning of his wife’s unexpected pregnancy, “I don’t understand what we’re doing differently.” In both cases, there are mysteries involved far beyond human agency.

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

Mark 4:26-9

The Bible abounds with agricultural illustrations and parables. Much as our modern world disguises the fact, agriculture is ground zero for human sustenance, economics at its most basic.

A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

Luke 13: 6-9

And that’s the end of the parable. Jesus doesn’t say whether the remedial treatment works or whether the owner of the vineyard even agrees to give it a go. He just leaves off with the possibility that this isn’t the end of the tree’s life, and that just because it hasn’t borne for three years doesn’t mean it never will. And this is good to hear, because people go through years of unfruitfulness as well, and we can’t just conclude after a certain amount of time that if they’ve gone so long in a certain state, they’ll remain that way always, any more than you can be sure that those who start well will end well. Where there is life there is hope, and uncertainty too. Whatever happens, it won’t be something we can take much credit for.

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A few mornings back, I looked out the window and saw four of the family dogs standing around the mountain laurel tree, pawing it and giving it funny looks. By now the leaf canopy was so thin that I could tell they hadn’t treed any cats, but something had caught their interest, maybe a snake. I went outside to investigate.

I never did figure out what the dogs were so worked up about, but I did see this.

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Clumps of glossy baby-green leaves. New growth.

Will the tree continue to leaf out and bless and cheer me? Who can say? I hope so. And whether it does or no, God has good things in store for me, in this life and the life to come. The one who gives chance after chance to a fruit-stingy fig tree can be trusted with my future.

Sown in the darkness or sown in the light,
Sown in our weakness or sown in our might,
Gathered in time or eternity,
Sure, ah, sure will the harvest be.

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Mumford’s Meow

As we were leaving Greg’s mom’s house one afternoon, Greg said, “Listen to that weird bird call. Almost sounds like a cat, doesn’t it?” It was an intermittent call, raucous and raw, and we didn’t know what kind of bird made it. It wasn’t like anything we’d ever heard before, except a cat, sort of, but not really.

Next morning Greg went to his mom’s again to do some yard work for her, and when he came home he had a tiny black-and-white kitten in his mom’s cat carrier along with a can of cat food and a towel. He’d heard the noise again, decided it had to be a cat because it was coming from ground level, and searched until he found it huddled close to the fence. Greg’s mom said it had made that weird sound all night long.

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It was a young kitten—old enough to survive away from its mother, but not without some help. There was no sign of a mother cat or other kittens in the area. How did it get to Greg’s mom’s? It was too young to walk far on its own and there was no place close enough for it to toddle from. Did someone really drive it to the country, find a likely-looking house, and just drop it off? I know such things happen but the idea is just too much. I’ve never really been able to wrap my mind around it.

The kitten was still meowing its bizarre meow in the cat carrier. Now that we knew it was a cat, the sound seemed urgent and scared rather than just weird, but still, we figured something must be wrong with its meower for it to sound like that. I held the kitten, and it quieted down. What sort of night had it passed, a baby, hungry and alone in a strange place?

The kitten was male. I called him Mumford after someone else I knew of with a raw, anguished cry.

mumford and mumford

Mumford came at an opportune time. A few weeks earlier Emilie had brought home an orange kitten whom I’d named Bucky (that’s Winter Soldier Bucky, not Get Fuzzy Bucky), and a few days later she brought home Winky, a solid black female, so Mumford had a foster brother and sister right away. Bucky is the biggest and likes to wrestle the other two, giving Mumford fresh cause for yowling.

bucky

Winky is a bit older than Mumford, a bit more graceful and poised on her feet, and a bit more reserved. When Bucky wrestles Winky, she doesn’t yowl; she gibbers and fights back. At night, when Bucky and Mumford curl up close, Winky beds down about a hand’s breadth away—near, but not so near.

winky

It turns out that Mumford has a normal meow after all. There’s nothing wrong with his meower; he was just so frantic that first couple of days, so frightened out of his senses, that he couldn’t sound like a regular cat. Emilie said he was using his mama-meow, and I think she’s right. It’s an urgent, piercing, strident cry, with the sole purpose of catching the mother cat’s attention and bringing her running. The cry of a human newborn in distress has a similar quality; any mother knows instinctively the difference between a fussy or tired cry and the cry of a baby that’s frightened or in pain. Mumford’s mother, if she’d been around, would have responded right away. We are humans and it took us a little longer to figure it out.

We heard the mama-meow off and on again for a few days, whenever Mumford couldn’t find us or was suddenly startled awake. This little animal’s first waking thought was that he was alone again. Now that he’s settled in and seems to feel safe, he doesn’t do it anymore. He does follow me around a lot, put his little front paws on my ankle, and urgently meow up at me, wanting to be held—he’s needier than the other kittens—but now he just uses a regular meow.

The thing about the mama-meow is that it is absolutely useless for any purpose other than summoning the mother cat (or a sympathetic human, or the occasional dog with cross-species maternal instincts). It is the ultimate admission of vulnerability. It sure wouldn’t frighten predators; in fact it would draw them. In the short run it would seem safer to keep quiet. But what good is that really? Hiding from danger is no use for a kitten that young. It’ll die on its own, if not from predation then from hunger or exposure. The mama-meow is its only chance.

There are times when your best and only hope is to cry out for mercy. Don’t try to be clever or cautious or defensive; don’t hide; don’t rely on your own resource. Put all your heart and hunger and loneliness and poverty and need into your cry, and pray it falls on sympathetic ears.

Sometimes mercy is all that can save you.

mumford bucky

Skydrop

We have a fair amount of cactus at our place. The prickly pears are easy to spot and easy to stay away from, unlike the spindly, many-branched icicle cactus, which will break off in one-inch segments, transport itself telekinetically through the air,  and adhere to your person if you so much as pass within three feet of it. But cactus of any kind is problematic. All the animals get into it; the horses get quills stuck in their mouths while grazing, and they are not real keen on letting you pull these out. So Greg declared that any cactus within our yard, horse paddock, garden, and future chicken enclosure would have to go.

You cannot simply plow this stuff under and expect it to go away. It will sprout and regenerate and multiply like the vengeful undead from any remaining tissue fragments, as we learned to our sorrow the first year we had a garden out here. Well do I remember the repeated painful shock of reaching into the soil to pull up a weed by the roots, only to wrap my hand around a mass of underground zombie quills with an ambitious new root system. The determination of these plants is wonderful, as is their abundance of unspecialized cells, but I would prefer to admire them theoretically and from afar.

A few days ago I noticed a small cactus plant not far from the back porch steps and decided to dig it up. It was a prickly pear cactus, with a total surface area less than that of my hand; I figured a small garden trowel would suffice to uproot it. The trowel sufficed, all right, but one of the fronds grazed the backs of my fingers, leaving about a dozen little quills. I dropped the cactus into a bucket, went inside, and tweezed the quills out of my fingers. Then I got a shovel from the shed and went back outside. I’d noticed another, larger cactus plant and thought I might as well dig it up too.

A shovel may not be the best tool for this job, but it worked for me. Daniel has been going at them with a pick-axe and, more recently, with Greg’s new Father’s Day hoe, which shears off the roots just below the surface of the soil.

I ended up filling four buckets with cactus. I kept seeing another little patch, and another, and another. It was satisfying work; even though I knew there was plenty more cactus eradication left to be done, the individual plants were easy to uproot. I used the shovel to pack them tight in the buckets. A black widow spider came crawling out of one displaced plant; I quickly dispatched it with the shovel’s blade.

I dug up all the cactus patches in the immediate area and emptied the buckets onto the burn pile. Last winter was nice and wet, good for burning, and I hope this winter will be too. Burn bans are solemn law, and we respect them. Nobody wants to be the moron that burns the county down. But on days when the ban is lifted, Greg makes a delightful blaze of all the mesquite limbs and old weed stalks and such, and there is much rejoicing. In the morning only a layer of ash remains where once was a pile of unsightly, clothes-snagging, tire-puncturing, skin-scratching vegetative debris. It feels so restful to walk freely through areas that used to be choked with tangles of brush and thorns.

After dumping the cactus, I put the shovel away in the shed, because that’s how you do it. And as I was walking back to the yard gate I saw a glint of blue in the dirt near the collapsed remains of the old barn, commonly called the Shack.

We have found all kinds of stuff near the Shack–bits of glass, scraps of wire, pieces of rusted metal. Sometimes we find nice things, like an old plowshare, usable hand tools, a weathervane topper shaped like a horse, and a random letter E. None of the rest of the alphabet has ever turned up, but the E is now adorning Emilie’s room, along with the little metal horse. Sometimes we find baffling or terrifying things, like disembodied dead-eyed doll heads (many of these). The various items just surface from time to time, especially after rain, like some bizarre volunteer crop. We never know what interesting/useless/creepy thing we’re going to find next.

You're welcome.

You’re welcome.

What I found that day was a marble, clear and blue as a drop of June sky. I brought it inside, washed it up, and rubbed some oil on it to smooth out any surface imperfections. If I hadn’t dug up any cactus that day, maybe I never would have found it. Maybe a horse would have stepped on it and pushed it back into the ground, or knocked it over to the trash bin a few feet away.

And maybe God sent it to me as a bit of encouragement, a drop of sky in a broader sense. I tend to place great metaphysical significance in found objects–metaphysical in the sense of that which comes after the physical. That might be silly of me, but we are not strictly rational beings. And God knows the importance I place on my various rocks and sticks and bits of lichen and such, and I believe he has used them to gladden and encourage me before.

There’s a lot more cactus to be dug up, and a lot more mesquite to be chainsawed and weeds to be pulled and fence to be built. The work just goes on and on, and the land is constantly trying to take back what we’ve tamed. But we are making progress–good, substantial, satisfying progress. And the skydrop is in my study now, nestled against a white candle on a cut-glass saucer, reminding me of the gentian-colored bluebonnets we get at our place every spring and of the blue-eyed grass I loved in North Texas and still miss. There is disorder and sorrow and trouble in the world, but God has not abandoned his creation. He will restore all things beautifully in his time.

skydrop

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

Isaiah 45:8

 

Small Talk at the Feed Store

The two bags of horse feed had been loaded into the trunk of my daughter’s Honda Accord at the drive-through feed store, and there was nothing left for the employee to do but take my payment and give me my hand-written receipt. But I had chosen to write a check, and this threw a kink into the works by drawing the transaction out longer than expected. The employee struck me as a taciturn fellow but seemed to consider it his duty to break up the prolonged silence.

He ventured a remark on the weather. I believe his exact wording was, “Hot.”

It was an abrupt, hasty little syllable, and I was a bit surprised at being addressed, but I readily agreed. It was indeed hot.

Another silence fell. I said, “Scorpions been comin’ into the house.”

He agreed in turn. Hot, dry weather makes the scorpions head indoors, and everyone around here knows it.

After another pause, he said, “Demon.”

“What’s that?” I asked. For a moment I thought he was suggesting that scorpions were of demonic origin, which is an idea of some merit, but not one I personally hold to.

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Revelation 9:10–“And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.” Well, well.

“Spray ’em with Demon,” he elaborated. In an intuitive flash I inferred that Demon must be the name of an insecticide.

“I just step on ’em,” I said. I may or may not have felt a bit smug. Scorpions, snakes, spiders, they just don’t scare me like they do some people.

The guy nodded admiringly.

“Or let the cats catch ’em and eat ’em,” I added.

“Tough cats,” he said.

“Yep,” I said. It’s true. One cat in particular, a three-legged fellow we had years ago, was the scorpion-eatingest cat I ever saw. His energy and industry were really admirable, and much appreciated, as he was providing a valuable service to the family.

This guy.

This guy.

I considered mentioning this cat now but decided not to. A three-legged cat who catches and eats scorpions isn’t something you just toss into the conversation and move on. A cat like that requires explanation, exclamation, counter-remarks, and so on. It’s all very tiring and time-consuming.

“Well, I have to spray for ’em,” the guy said. He sounded almost apologetic, bested in valor by my cats. “I’m allergic to ’em.”

“Mmm,” I said sympathetically.

And with that, my check was written. I handed it over, the guy gave me my receipt, and we were good to go. The social contract had been fulfilled.

The guy scuttled off, and I got back in the Honda. The driver’s side window was down. No sooner had I shut the door than a second employee appeared from I know not where.

“Sorry, you sorta sneaked up on me,” he said sheepishly through the open driver’s side window. “What can I get for you?”

“Oh, I’m already taken care of,” I said. “You’re good.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. He walked off, then said over his shoulder as an afterthought, “Thank you.”

I did not reply with an automatic-but-inappropriate “Thank you!” I started the car and drove off, feeling successful on the whole, and took the feed home where we both belonged.

Times of Refreshment, With Quacks of Joy

The specter of drought is always present in Texas, even when we’re having plenty of rain. During those rare times when it rains to the point of inconvenience, and we comment on it, we’re always quick to add, “Not that I’m complaining!” A rural Texan being swept off in a torrent of floodwaters would probably feel compelled to say, “Well, we did need the rain.”

Lately we’ve been dealing with not just the specter but the reality of drought. Even the oak trees, stalwart and hardy, are showing signs of stress. There’s not much grass for the horses or cattle, and the big stock pond, which Greg filled with catfish and perch a few months back, has gotten low.

Weather is cyclical, but not in the sense of things repeating themselves in strict and tidy patterns. Averages are just averages, not some sort of natural law, and things deviate farther and more frequently from the expected norm than we’d like. When Greg was a boy that big stock tank never went dry; now it frequently does. It’s sad to see the water receding from dry banks and getting dark and scummy in the low center before vanishing altogether in a damp bit of cracked black clay.

This morning I woke at 4:30 to let the dogs out. I stood a moment with the front door open, wondering what that sound was. When a drought goes on long enough you actually forget the sound of rain.

We had no social plans for Memorial Day, no cookouts to be rained out. I had knitting projects and plenty of yarn; Greg had a number of jobs around the place that could be accomplished just as well in rainy weather. His big outbuilding has become a catchall for tools, horse tack, gardening supplies, random trash, and cats. With a fresh breeze and plenty of animals for company, he knocked out some repair projects and tidied up. It’s now possible to reach the feed bin without first performing a contortionist’s act around the four-wheeler.

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And we like for feed to be easy to reach.

I decided I’d had enough of knitting directly from twisty yarn skeins and dealing with the resulting tangles. I looked online, found instructions for how to make a center-pull yarn ball, and got to it. One of the skeins was already pretty messed up; untangling it took a lot longer than getting it into ball form. Well, that’s a lesson for next time: wind the yarn right away. We don’t start out knowing everything in any discipline. We learn as we go.

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Mmm, yes. Quite.

I, too, had plenty of animal company. Dogs and cats contribute little of a positive nature to the process of winding yarn, but they are willing and enthusiastic participants. Ginny the Chihuahua stayed especially close. Rain worries her; she likes to be snug against a person, preferably under a blanket, during storms. She would have liked it if I had settled down on the sofa with my knitting, but I had to get my yarn in shape first. I put two chairs back to back, spread out the tangled yarn on the dining table, worked some out, wound some it around the chairs, stopped to untangle again, and wound some more. Wanting to be as near me as possible, Ginny sat on one of the chairs. Later, when Daniel came home, he saw the whole set-up from across the room and thought for a moment that I was lashing Ginny to the chair like a little prisoner.

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From that angle, an easy mistake.

I worked with the windows open, and what sounded at first like quacks of delight coming from the direction of the creek turned out to be exactly that. The ducks were glad of the rain too. They quacked steadily for hours. Once I had my yarn taken care of I stood outside on the back porch a while and just listened.

Today is Memorial Day. The whole idea behind memorial, behind memory, is calling to mind things that aren’t happening anymore, things that ought to be remembered. Like the weather, life has its cycles: loss and renewal, dearth and plenty, sacrifice and reward. And as with weather, the patterns aren’t predictable or tidy. Sometimes the one doing the sacrificing doesn’t get to reap the reward. Sometimes your allotted days don’t allow you to hear the dissonance resolved or to see the purpose and beauty emerge in a design that looks like chaos. Hope is what bridges the gap—the hope that God is good and will make all things right, in this life or in the life to come.

The young nation of Israel that wandered through the wilderness in the book of Exodus gets a lot of flack from modern churchgoers, but I wonder which of us in the same circumstances would do better or as well. They didn’t know how the story would end; the God of Abraham was still largely an unknown quantity to them. They had a promise and the testimony of some compelling miracles, yes, but the future was still the future, not an accomplished fact. God allowed them to run out of water, to experience genuine privation, to have real cause for fear and doubt. If he hadn’t, they’d have had no opportunity to demonstrate faith.

Faith is a challenge by definition. It means hanging in there on the strength of a promise, often when everything around you looks like a reason to give up. I know a lot of people right now who are clinging to faith and longing for times of refreshment. I pray that those times will come, and soon, for all of us.

The rain came down steadily for most of the day, and more is expected for the rest of the week. Greg drove by the stock tank and said it’s looking good. He may get to go fishing in October after all.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

~Genesis 8:22

 Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

~Isaiah 45:8

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It’s a Wild Ride, so Hang On

What you see here is a 1979 Chevy Super Six truck, formerly owned by Greg’s grandfather, and given to Greg by his mom in 2008 or so when we decided to move to the farm. It’s not old enough to look like a classic; it’s just old enough to look old. Its lines are plain and spare, lacking the truck-on-steroids look of modern designs. Even the color is an understated slate grey. But all that is gold does not glitter, and people who know about trucks find this one strangely exciting. Older men see it and spout fond recollections of trucks they owned once and wish they owned still. Our trusted mechanic back in Krum, who restored the truck to good running condition, praised it in glowing terms I didn’t understand in the slightest. Greg’s friend Joey enthusiastically pressed on the hood, demonstrating the strength and durability of the steel body. Apparently they don’t make them like this anymore.

After sitting inert in our driveway for the past several months, the truck is now fully operational again, thanks to a new starter installed by Greg. Course, the windows are now stuck in a halfway down position, leaving the interior exposed to precipitation and cats, but that’s a repair for another day.

I’m not sure what that drill’s doing there, but Greg knows what he’s doing.

Today I needed to take Emilie to the equine center to work with her horse, and the truck was the only vehicle available to me, so I got to renew my acquaintance with its “three-on-a-tree” transmission. The layout of the gear-shifting scenario is something like a capital H, and after three years it’s still not exactly second nature to me. The bench seat doesn’t come up far enough to accommodate my five feet, two inches. The first time I drove the truck, I started out perched on the edge of the seat so my feet could reach the pedals, but the mammoth effort required to push in the clutch caused my rear to slide backwards. For a while I tried to stay at the edge of the seat by clinging for dear life to the steering wheel while shifting gears, but this proved too exhausting. I ended up in a semi-recumbent posture, with my upper back pressed against the seat back to provide necessary stability, and my head so low I could barely see over the dash. Once in a while the gear-shift knob came off in my hand.

But that was long ago and I’m now pretty well used to the truck’s vagaries. A throw pillow behind my back keeps me from sliding or reclining, and I manage to get from Point A to Point B without too much trouble. Occasionally a man in a truck of comparable vintage will raise his hand to me in the laconic salute of country people. We understand each other, he seems to say. We drive old trucks.

There was a time when the thought of driving a vehicle like this would have paralyzed me with fright. By nature I am not a risk-taker. I am not quick on my feet. I don’t like embarking on any course of action without feeling reasonably certain what the outcome will be. Also I don’t like doing things I don’t already rock at. But that’s sort of limiting, isn’t it? We can’t all rock at everything, especially when we’re just starting out. And security is just an illusion anyway. Life is risk. Sooner or later you have to take the gear shift in your hand, press down on the clutch with all your might and main, and go for it.

Another function for the truck: providing an outdoor perch for Emilie.