“I didn’t mean to startle you,’’ he said, “but I need some directions.’’
He had come at an exceedingly awkward movement -- I had been singing along with the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’’ while picking up in the shed.
Some people sing beautifully while others’ voices resemble a screech owl’s call. It was a second embarrassment of the week -- though one ought not be embarrassed by talk over coffee. The first came after I volunteered to mow someone’s lawn after he had surgery.
“You are the only guy I know who blows grass against the side of the house,’’ the offended party said. “And you never want to blow grass into the street because it can clog the sewer system.’’
I’ll have to read up on lawn-mowing etiquette, although I doubt Emily Post dwelt on it. In any case, the mowing season has come to a merciful end.
“What are you going to do with your leaves?’’ asked someone else.
I think letting the wind and snow handle them is adequate. However, the general opinion is that leaves ought to be mulched or raked away. I’ve always thought dead leaves help renew the lawn come spring.
I retreated to a more agreeable environment where thoughts and actions aren’t challenged.
Swamp grass, flattened by flood water earlier in the summer, provided a soft mattress near the creek’s embankment. October’s pleasant warmth had given new life to non-stinging German bees, a few butterflies and less welcome pests in the pasture.
Hulking red and green combines kicked up dust in fields across the highway while farm trucks passed along the gravel road.
The water’s reassuring voice -– gentle as a girlfriend’s kiss -– spoke. The bark from a cottonwood felled by lightning had fallen away to reveal its white belly.
I had come to the pasture to get away from silly talk and all the things that don’t amount to much more than a hill of beans. Life at times gets far too cluttered with things that don’t matter.
I had also come with the intention of carving my initials in the dead tree’s trunk. It would be a non-pompous act, given that only two of us would know. It would nonetheless prove that this 14.5 acres of land was mine.
The American Indians who once fished the close-by shallow mud lake and hunted deer in the swamp might think the carving silly.
The concept of land ownership was foreign to many tribes, which explains why non-natives were able to acquire great tracts for trinkets. An Indian prayer explains it best: “When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, it is you who belong to the land.’’
“So, did you make your mark?" a friend asked after I returned to what passes as civilization. I hadn’t because the pocketknife didn’t make much of an impression. “You could borrow my chainsaw if you want to.’’
I didn’t because it was no longer necessary. A grass mattress is an ideal spot to consider what endures and what is no more lasting than badly cut grass. The children’s voices carried by the wind was heard again. Their dandelion dreams involved tiny dinosaurs in flight, tooth fairies and fireflies.
The pasture is hard to walk through. It has become a tangled mess of scrub willows, tall weeds and matted grass. Great work would be necessary to return it to the time when cattle grazed, and four-strand barbed wire fencing was straight and true.
It is better now in its current condition than it was before. So, too, am I. The sun started its rapid descent before the pasture is left. Squirrels stop gathering walnuts and acorns to watch me make my way.
The radio plays another hit from the 1960s. I remember hearing it long ago while sitting beside a girl as she struggled to understand her friend’s primitive poetry.