Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Grass Harp (The Last of the Summer Series Essays)

A friend of mine and his wife raise horses on a farm in Bowdoinham and in his emails he paints vivid pictures of the hay fields that keep the feeding troughs filled, the livestock sustained and the rolling pasturage coiffed in gold. Through it all, he keeps time with the seasons, this man, remaining acutely aware of the pull and tug of the weather, of its imperatives and mandates, and its challenges. Sometimes, I feel that I can actually see him amongst the bales, guiding the tractor, forking and piling the fragrant grains, bending with them, ever at their mercy...

Haying season was one of the my mother's favorites times of year, as she herself had spent time as a girl involved in that hot prickly work, which hasn't evolved, technologically speaking, as far as other things have in this our complex world. It still involves interacting with the grasses, listening to their song (I am reminded of Capote's "The Grass Harp"), sweating and heaving and going from earth to mow and loft and as my friend proclaims, in preparation for the cold dark stripped and demanding days of winter.

It was a good thing when people had to get ready for winter, for the great drawing in, the wrapping up of things, the narrowing of vision and heightening of a thousand sensibilities and sharpening of ancient instincts in tune to nature's rhythm. Reading about the state of Alaska recently, I was pulled for the span of those 800 or so pages into a world where nature so often turns on a whim and plunges that part of the earth into deep and unforgiving cold or house-high snow, where natives have no choice BUT to be ready for all of that, or die. We have grown so complacent in other parts of the world, too much so, in our air-conditioned leaf and snow-blown comfort here in "civilization," where the advent of winter for many of us means nothing more than plopping a pair of boots down by the back door and remembering at the first snowfall that we forgot to bring a shovel inside. The weather, and all it portends, has become nothing more than a tweaking of our imaginations, to the point of lucratively warranting its own 24/7 televised coverage complete with all the drama and sensationalism that only nature can provide when other inane programming falls flat (which most does nowadays).

Fields dotted with bales, round or rectangular, flash by as I make my way through here in York County in an area once primarily devoted to generational farming and a firmly established way of life. Vestiges remain-a useful barn here, a few cows grazing there, a vegetable stand by the side of the road-thrilling and encouraging reminders that the practice is still alive and well in the minds and daily existences of a few at least who still maintain a direct connection to the earth and her processes.

The annual late-summer blackbird ballet also informs the watchful eye this time of year, as vast flocks of grackles and blackbirds cackle and swoop from place to place, decimating what little is left from the treetops and tall shrubbery before moving on in a great dark undulating cloud, a black lace curtain billowing in the great open window that is the sky. Though unrelated (or is it) to the grass harvest, it, too, is part of the cycle that folds over and over upon itself, leaving little untouched, unaffected.

It is September once again here in our little corner of the earth, and there is still time before the days shorten perceptibly, time to revel in what is not entirely summer nor entirely autumn but something wonderfully in between.

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