Late In The Day

A lane in our woods.

The sun hovers on the western horizon, an hour left on its time clock, as I walk out the back door and up the wooded lane beyond the pasture gates. The walk is quiet, muffled by deep leaves of countless seasons on this land. My destination, as it often is, a pile of boulders at the base of a half-dozen oaks. I climb onto the largest and use a smaller, four-foot stone as a footrest.

A cairn of rocks six feet tall and 20 across lies at the edge of the pasture. Another stands illuminated across the field like a treasure hoard in the curious light of a low sun through a leafless deciduous forest in November. The rocky groupings are seated on the sidelines of all our pastures. They are hard evidence of generations of boys who spent their youth in farm chores, among them, picking up the endlessly erupting rocks and stacking them in mounds.

Behind me lie two oaks felled by storms decades past and decades apart, one now nearly buried in leaf litter, its long cycle of decay almost complete. Ten yards away a limb as big around as my waist dangles 40 feet up. Broken off from a parent white oak, it hangs like Damocles’ sword above we mortals who dare imagine the world as our throne.

The sound of Cedar Creek is barely audible as it channels under the bridge at Possum Trot. Another quarter-mile and it will narrow at the decaying Cook’s Mill, where elder neighbors recall as children hauling mule-driven wagonloads of corn for milling.

A leaf spirals into my view, released from a seasonal contract to land at the foot of a massive shagbark hickory. Nearby, a deep-rooted sourwood, contorted in the last ice storm, refuses to submit to gravity. At its base a large stone is covered with the debauched remains of a dinner by the resident squirrels: bits of hickory and acorns piled in the center of the table.

A small flock of wild turkeys, feeling safe a couple of days after Thanksgiving, ambles across a lower pasture and enters my wood. On the far side of the road beyond lies the expanse of pastures that marks our neighbor’s cattle farm. From there comes the nervous bawling of dozens of cows, as they discover their new home after an auction in a nearby town.

Their disquiet competes with the sound of distant chainsaws from all points of the compass, chewing on wood. And then, unexpectedly, another intrusion. A neighbor beyond the eastern ridge and half a mile away fires up his ATV to begin what is an early start to his habitual late-night motorized rambles.

Toward the house, I can just hear Cindy in the woods as she clangs the lid off the feed barrel. An overeager hog squeals as he hits the single strand of hot wire. I smile: I can check the task of determining if the current is pulsing off my to-do list for the next day.

I rise from my perch and head home. Not down the lane, but at an angle that leads me into the heart of the woods. I note a likely Charlie Brown Christmas tree along the way. I then pause, as is my wont, at the base of a sentinel white oak. Its circumference is all of 15 feet, its trunk reaches 40 straight feet before the first branches erupt, and the fissures in the bark are two inches deep. I lay hands on it, hoping to receive a blessing of sorts.

Now, on the edge of the main woods, I traverse a pig paddock not in use. In the middle is a tall pile of fallen limbs. It provides a sometime shelter for the hogs and, more often, a haven for the red fox that ventures out to make raids on errant hens.

By the time I exit the woods, Cindy is trudging up the drive in her bee suit, fresh from checking that her charges are well-fed and secured for the cool night to come.

The sun has set, the light fades, and I head into the house, pleased to call it another good day.

rock cairn

the dining table

The old oak.


8 thoughts on “Late In The Day

  1. You have a keenly developed sense of observation, Brian. My Dad used to say, “Open your eyes and SEE things.” In other words, appreciate your history and surroundings. Thanks for the reminder.

      • He was definitely a wise person, as I quote him often. Also, impossible to please, along with a few other things that made living in his house difficult.

        I find that 35 years after his death I can appreciate the good and push the bad stuff into a corner. He taught me how not to relate to my kids, and I consider that a gift now.

        • Interesting how the people in our lives, if we “open our eyes and see things”, teach us by example. Whether the example is good or bad, doesn’t matter to the observant. There used to be an old drunk who slept it off in the alley behind my old used bookstore in Knoxville. He taught me, if nothing else, the possible outcomes of immoderation.

          • Hmmm… an old drunk chooses the alley behind an old used book store to sleep it off…

            I sense a poem in the ether. Maybe a cross between Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. [hopefully more quickly to the point as Frost]…

            Is there a certain Karma exuded from a good used book store that can provide a certain comfort – even to the uncomfortable? Even to such as who would not even scan a title??

            A book is a powerful thing. But then, so is alcohol.

            To go a different direction [perhaps down the other road?] – do you have any idea what sort of business occupies your old bookstore these days? If not, I do know someone who works downtown and might be able to find an answer for us.

  2. The ether must be palpable today… this just came to me:

    Old bricks
    In my youth, we refit a quarrelsome old shop
    Such scrubbing and scrubbing, it never did stop
    Past the plaster and lath, we endeavored to brick
    After weeks of such work I eventually got sick

    New wiring and wallboard were placed all about
    A new beginning, one might hear the walls shout
    The business began as such things often do
    Customers came, at times more than a few

    As time marches on, such a space must be kept fresh
    Remembering such times becomes part of one’s flesh
    After years of this labor time called for work changings
    Restarting the efforts at whole scale rearrangings

    Once more past the framing and onto the brick
    I wondered aloud if some memories might stick
    Then at a pause I could sense something prescient
    Could these old walls be stirring and possibly sentient?

    What had they held onto over all this long time
    And what would they offer, and would they rhyme?
    Good times and bad, fair weather and foul
    All kind of story eked out slowly with a growl

    Perhaps one must treasure the realm of the ear
    And take on new meanings without any fear
    Old bricks share their memories given half a chance
    Our imaginings come round and share in the dance.

  3. Clem,

    Firstly, you have clearly thrown down the gauntlet and challenged Michael for the spot of resident bard at the SRA. Nicely done.

    Secondly, I’m reminded of a story, a short one. In 8th grade I begged my dad to buy me a trumpet, so I could play in band. He did. By 9th grade I loathed it, told my dad I was going to do something else. He said, no, you asked for the trumpet, you will keep playing the trumpet. I behaved like a modern teenager and said, (being bitterly wronged) I bet your dad didn’t make you go to band practice each day after school! He replied, that no he didn’t. Because between 8th and 11th grade, after school, he went to the local brick factory and cleaned old bricks for a penny a dozen.

    Oh, yeah, I said (being clever with the devastating comeback).

    • A wonderful remembrance. Dad’s have a way. But Mom’s do too; each leading us up where we’ll eventually need to be. Somewhere there must be an incredible intelligence bemused by our slow reckoning of how it all works.

Any thoughts or questions?