The crickets sing gently outside the half-opened windows, while the gentlecountry breeze delicately caresses the blue and yellow flowered curtains. The smells of wooden floors, bedding linens, fresh homemade pancakes, ripening corn, hay in the barn loft, cut grass, and country clean soap greet my nose within the first moments and hours after waking from rest in the small attic room where I have spent the night. All Angels emanates sweetlyfrom the computer, and acts like a string upon which the gems of a cicada's song, a cricket's ballad, a bird's chirp, and a dog's fractious back are hung in a pleasing balance. The sun, softened by the clouds, nonetheless illumines the room with a quiet, subdued, and settled light, casting mellow shadows as it subtly enhances the colous and shapes of an attic bedroom.
A wiry garland of greenand pink berries is wound into the wooden headrail of the small bed on whichI sit. Outside, a small tree fort is nestled into a grand old tree. Two little boys, one in full gypsy regalia---complete with fake bucked teeth, the other decked in knee-high gum boots, led a group of five eager young women to watch them climb the orange metal ladder, then swing off the second story on their homemade zipline. I had to join the fun. There is something deep and mythic evoked in the simple playtime of a young child. Henry and Sam welcomed me in, as though it were the most natural thing in the world for a23-year-old gal to jump off a tree house. Do they know the power of their welcome? Do they recognize the grandeur of the world they live in? Do they see the glory and wonder of being a boy in the country, with a dog to play with, four rabbits to raise, a go-cart to fix, a paper route to upkeep, a helmet from an authentic costume company that they are waiting for in the mail? No, they don't need to. Their liberty is like the land they live on, the air they breathe, the water they drink. It is their life. It seems the only life fit for a boy. Not every boy has such liberty, but every boy, every man, must find a place in their heart and life to live an adventure.
The pure joys and pleasurable, rewarding labour of life in the country instill the authenticity of manhood in the heart of a boy. Where better to be alive as a Daniel Boone, a DaveyCrockett, a cowboy, or an Indian? Where better to adventure, traveling into the depths of a neighbour's cornfield and finding your way home; where better to dream than an old wooden swing set; where better to fight than in a field, where all the barricades, hiding places, foxholes, and rendezvous can be imagined or made by hand? Where better to rescue a troubled soul; where better to express robust and tender affection to a mother or sister? Where better to receive the badge of manhood, and be affirmed by your hardworking father? Where better to see and know God than in the wide open spaces, with the sounds of a pure and unadulterated environment to awaken the heart, stimulate the mind, embrace and soothe the soul, and free the spirit?
After living in the country, and growing familiar with "the working peopleand their ways" to quote George Elliot, receiving a respite back to the country helps me understand how my father can find contentment, adventure, battles, and beauty sufficient in the prairies east of the Rocky Mountains. There is something pure, wild, untamed, and robustly alive in the soil of a field. The unpredictability of the rains in a growing season, the dangers of hail, wind, heat, locusts, sawflies, Russian thistles, cheat grass, wildoats, and salinity is sufficient to give man ineffable pleasure or inexplicable pain. The blessing of a good crop-year makes a man broad and give him a deep and welcoming smile. He breathes a full and satisfying breath, humbly contented, as the year was a prosperous adventure. The pain of disappointed potential in a field ruined by hail, attacked by locusts, or battered by the unrelenting beatings of the hot dry wind, is deep, and can be fully experienced because of the hope of next year.
A man living from the earth or sea knows that there is a God. A man on the sea or in a field has to know that he is not alone, and he is not self-made. A man thus situated can be at rest, though always working. He can be at peace, though troubled by forces that dwarf the most powerful corporation man can devise. He can be always adventuring, though never having to travel far to find the wild. Hec an be always learning, though it seems he does the same things year after year. He will never retire, because his heart has been trained and awakened by the wild, and its pulse continues, even when the man is alone in a dim hospital room, far from the land he loves. My step-grandfather sits there now, awaiting death in a body that is not ready to die, but a mind that no longer recognizes the faces of his dearest loved ones.
The crickets and cicadas continue their ballads, relentless in their drive to do what they were created to do. I thought I heard a horse whinny. The music has changed. The sun has moved, the breeze still refreshes the quiet stagnant air of the room as the day wears on. The corn ripens, and will soon be harvested, as the community prepares for the long hard winter. The beauty is breathtaking, the pain harsh, the work unrelenting, the sorrows seem merciless in their severity, the storms wild and fierce, and sometimes the story does not end in glory. Every story comes to an end, even those poorly told.
Victor Hugo's words seem to echo in the breeze, "It is not so bad to die. What is truly tragic is to have never really lived."Oh God help us live. Show us life in You. Give us unrelenting desire so that we hunger for nothing less, and are satisfied only with Your glory. ThankYou for deepening our desire through pain. Let the hunger pain drive us toYou, and not to the synthetic, barbarous, futile fare of this passing world.
"When this passing world is done, when has set yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ on high, looking ore life's history
Then Lord, shall I fully know; not till then how much I owe."