A Harmony of Earth and Sky

With July came the heat.  It came in a birthday shower of colored sparks and decided to stick around for a while.

It was there when we picked the sweet cherries.  Heavy branches of plump, red, purple, juicy, beautiful goodness hung low over the cherry shaker.  The rumble of the shaker thrummed in my ears as I picked through the wooden boxes of cherries; sorting sticks, leaves, bits of bird’s nests, bad cherries, and even a little field mouse uncertain of where this world had landed him out of the cherries.  I turned up my Worktunes to try to drown out the noise of the shaker with something more agreeable:  music.  I followed the shaker down the orchard rows and plucked a deserted cherry or two from the branches to snack on (by the way – don’t let them fool you – the white sweets are better than the darks!) while the sun beat down.  My hands and fingernails turned a deeper shade of purple with each box of cherries that I sorted.  As we finished shaking the orchard, I couldn’t help but notice that the leaves of the corn in the nearby field were beginning to curl and turn brown – the corn had plenty of heat – but what it really needed was some rain.

But the rain didn’t come.

cherries

The July heat was there when the sweets were done and we moved on to the sour cherries.  Smaller, rounder, softer, and more of an orange-red, they were shook into tanks of water rather than wooden boxes.  I dipped my hands and arms into the cherry-speckled water to ward off the humidity and tried to avoid getting my feet soaked by the water that splashed over the edge of the tank.   I decided that if sweet cherries were all about sticky purple hands, then sour cherries were definitely all about soggy wet feet.  An occasional pop-up rain cloud didn’t make my quest for dry feet any easier, but it didn’t help the corn either.  We checked the rain gauge after each cloud, only to see that the water had barely reached a quarter of an inch.  The heat was still winning the battle.  The sweat still came in beads on my forehead, the corn still curled, and the sun still turned both of our skins more brown.

But the cherry tanks were full.  And the heat had to break soon.

And it did.  One Sunday morning, with the close of the cherry season, the rain rolled in.  I ran out to the car in my blue shirt-dress raincoat free.  If the rain was going to come, I wasn’t going to shut it out – I was going to embrace it.  It started to pour as I sat and listened to a sermon from a stuffy church pew.  I couldn’t help but look out the window in longing, imagining the feeling of a cool rain on my skin.  As we drove home, the windshield wipers waving, a breath of fresh air in our lungs, we passed a corn field.  The corn plants opened their curled leaves to the rain and welcomed it with joy.  It was a joy that I couldn’t help but share because, in that moment of thankfulness for a break in the heat, for the revival of an important crop, I knew that (despite dark clouds, despite soggy feet, despite rumbles of thunder, despite spoiled outdoor plans), in reality –

A rain shower

kissed by wind

is a pretty thing;

a harmony

of earth and sky.

 

The House on the Hill, Part 2

I like to imagine the history behind things – I always have.  This fondness led me to write a post entitled The House on the Hill two years ago.  Recently, I heard a story that inspired me to write a new chapter for the house on the hill (because, let’s face it, most houses have multiple stories to tell).  So I wrote this fictional little tale.  But after I wrote it, I realized that (especially in the light of recent tragedies) this story might be misconstrued.  I thought about not posting it – but this story has been hovering in the corners of my mind for a while now – so I felt that it wanted to be shared. 

So, to preface my story, I will just say this:  This story is not about guns.  It is not about prejudice.  It is about fear – that feeling that all of us have multiple times in our lives – some of us every day.  It is about how we can let fear control our lives – and the peace that can come when these fears are released.  And, yes, fear is often behind prejudice.  It is often behind anger.  It is when we cling to these things that our troubles begin.  But we can let go of them.  There is always hope.

And so my story begins…   

This was after the man with the mile-wide smile and the woman with the laugh that could climb hills.  This was after the little girl with the curls just like her mother’s.  This was after the daffodil tea parties.

Years after.

By this time, the house on the hill had started to weather.  It’s walls were in need of paint, it’s living room window had a badly patched hole in the center where the neighbor kid had thrown a poorly aimed baseball, and the once carefully tended flower beds were choked with knee-high grass.  But it was still perched proudly atop the hill.

That’s why he came – the man with the dark hair that never would lie flat and the beard that framed a crooked, unsure smile.  He stood at the bottom of the driveway next to the mailbox, tall and lithe, arms crossed and head tilted.  This was it.  This was what he had been looking for.

A safe place.  A place where his fears would not take him unawares.  A place where he could hole himself up in an emergency.  A place where he would see them coming way before they saw him.  And this house, seated tall and sturdy upon the hill, looking down over all of its neighbors, fit the bill.  So he bought it.

They all laughed at his so-called “conspiracy” theories.  But he felt that he had read the signs – and he knew it was coming – an uprising, riots, a civil war of the minority against the majority.  The fear of The Other was upon him and he wasn’t going to be taken by surprise.  When it happened – this war – he would be ready.

So he moved into this house – a simple, somewhat rundown family home to the everyday passerby – but a fortress to him.  He put as little furniture in the rooms as possible, partly because he didn’t need much, and partly because less furniture meant less places for intruders to hide.  He moved his gun safe into his bedroom and placed a weapon ready in every room.

In the morning, he sipped coffee while reading a paper speckled with what he saw as evidence of what was to come – a race riot in Chicago; a shooting in L.A.  That kind of tension couldn’t exist without producing some results.  War was coming.  And he would be ready.

During the day, he went to work, where he smiled his unsure smile as he greeted his coworkers and debated about the state of the country with his boss at lunch over bologna sandwiches and barbecue chips.

At night, he sat with his recliner pointed toward the front window that looked out on the road and watched television.  The light from the T.V. set flickered off the barrel of his rifle leaning against the wall behind him and the hum of the voices of Andy and Barney Fife, Ben Cartwright and Little Joe, and the Skipper and Gilligan lured him to sleep.

He lived this way for years – waiting…waiting.  He knew that it was coming.  It didn’t matter what anyone else said.  The dark hair and the beard that framed the unsure smile steadily turned more gray.  He had to put on his reading glasses to read his morning paper and the people that he shared his uprising theories with began to chalk his paranoia up to a mind enfeebled by old age.

He took to spending long periods of time sitting out on his front lawn, the ever-ready rifle in his lap, looking down at the road.  The neighbors paid him no heed.  The old man may be a little off, but he was harmless.

He was sitting there at sunrise one morning, cradling his fears, when everything changed.   As he watched the light coming up over the horizon and peering over the dew-drenched grass, and felt the house on the hill leaning over him protectively, suddenly he knew –

There was nothing to fear.

His neighbor found him that afternoon, sitting motionless in his chair, his never-used rifle discarded on the ground, the breath gone from his body.  And as his neighbor looked into his face, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something different there, something besides the cold assurance of death –

There was a smile on the old man’s face.

And it had ceased to be unsure.