Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Stones of Winter

Winter has brought its leaden skies to Birdland. In the winter I can find plenty inside to occupy me. The Christmas cactus has burst with flowers on the window, with a bright pink that seems to glow despite the overcast day; the teakettle sings on the wood stove, which fills the center of the house with a cozy warmth. But the wood box needs filling, the dogs need walking, and I can't stay inside forever. It will be dark soon, so I bundle up, and the dogs and I head out to trek across the back field. I can walk them there without leashes. They run ahead of me as I follow the dotted line of bean stubble back to the hedgerow. I appreciate the austerity of a winter field. The gray stalks, the dry earth, broken by the occasional patch of green—weeds that will be plowed up in the spring to make way for planting of the corn. Don't get me wrong. I'm not so into the monoculture of our Midwestern corn and bean fields; I don't think it's healthy for the land. But something about the starkness speaks to me in winter, as much as the lush greenery of April articulates spring for me.

Today we head out and before I’ve gone 50 yards I start eying the stones that lie on top of the soil. I have forgotten to bring a cloth bag to carry them home for my various rocky projects, and anyway, I don’t want to pick them up until I’m on my way back. Ahead, Ursula begins to dig. She has found the den of a field mouse or perhaps a mole. She works busily, throwing a splash of dirt up behind her. The wind picks up, and I dig my hands deeper into my pockets. I have forgotten my gloves, too.

My grandmother used to tell a story about how she went out into the corn as a child and got turned around. Eventually she found a big boulder in the corner of the field and climbed on top of it to wait for her father. He saw her and came for her on horseback. I must have heard that story 10 times before it hit me that it happened right here on this very farm.

“Grandma,” I asked. “Where is that boulder now?” The story happened in that magical pre-automobile country; where the roads were paved with mud; where corn was seeded with a foot between each plant; where the fields were fenced with hedgerows of Osage Orange and Multiflora Rose; where the barn was full of animals: a dairy cow, a horse named Bunker and his Billy goat friend, some chickens. To suddenly realize that this story happened in my own back yard was to connect that magical country with the present, that little girl waiting on the boulder with my own grandmother. But I’ve never seen a boulder on the farm.

Grandma waved vaguely. “Over there,” she said. “In the corner by the Benson Timber.”

“But Grandma,” I persisted. “There’s no boulder there.”

She looked surprised. “Why, this whole country hereabouts was filled with boulders when I was a girl.”
“Then, what happened to them?” I asked.

She leaned back and looked over her glasses at me. “Dynamite,” she said, as if it were obvious.

Of course. What else? She told me that a man made his living driving all over the county blowing up boulders.

Now I am crossing the grass waterway. Soon I’ll turn back and pick up a few stray rocks from that long ago explosion. I pick up a sand colored shot put, and then see a small piece of flint. I put that in my pocket. I pick up a few more stones to cradle in my arms, muddying my coat, but then discard one for a lovely, brownish burgundy stone. In this way, I make my way back to the yard, shoulders aching, and finally dump the stones in a pile next to my spiral rock garden. The sky is getting heavier, and a few tiny snowflakes swirl down around me. I call the dogs, and go inside to cuddle with a kitten until time to start supper.

Gather Beauty; Ignite Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland, near White Heath. She is interested in issues of ecology and her own back yard

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