Simmering Sun; Glorious Naps

I was walking back to the white truck after dropping off a roll of irrigation t-tape at the Land Connection barn at around 5:15 Thursday morning when I caught Kazami staring into space behind the wheel. This is a regular occurrence with my always-in-his-own-little-world little brother, but I noticed with concern that his eyes did not blink even after I plopped myself down next to him in the cab of the truck.

I knew the reason – we were both exhausted and our minds were not quite awake yet. The night before, we had watched the simmering sunset out of the corner of our eyes as we moved drip tape, taking care to tuck the tape close behind the beautiful broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower heads as we moved steadily down the rows. When we had first arrived in the truck, the darkening purplish-blue sky had turned the wisps of almost translucent clouds a lighter shade of blue. It was as if someone had taken bits of blue cotton candy and spread them randomly, the pieces almost touching each other, all over the darkening sky. An hour later, when we finally finished moving all of the black tapes one row over to the left, the bright slice of orange moon was playing peekaboo with us behind the clouds and the stars were glowing against the black sky.

Now, the next morning, as we drove down the road from the Land Connection barn to the field, Kazami (hopefully) wide awake, we listened to the radio announcer say that the heat index for today was going to be 106 degrees. I sighed internally, worrying that since I woke up too late and missed breakfast, my energy would plummet as the sun rose.

Luckily, I had packed a water bottle and some chocolate chips to snack on, and I ate hungrily in between catching the large, glossy lettuce heads that Daddy and Kazami were picking, cleaning and tossing at me. I pressed a button on the number clicker to keep track of how many we had picked and placed the lettuce neatly into one of the six boxes that were set up on the flat wheelbarrow. “325…326…327…” The pink sun was blazing into view at the corner of the sky, surrounding itself with a bright hue of red.

“Hai (here),” Daddy called out, tossing me a Green Boston. I looked up and was readying myself for the one-handed catch when Kazami also said, “Hai!” and without waiting for a response, tossed his lettuce at me as well. I caught Daddy’s successfully, while Kazami’s hit me hard in the stomach. “Kaami, really,” I glared, thinking that he was definitely out of it. I noticed then that Kazami was wearing one of my work shirts, which was obviously too tight on him. The long-sleeve button-up had a deep neckline for him and the collar had popped up, making him look like he had deliberately styled a preppy look – a wannabe farm model. The thought made me laugh and the fatigue overload made it difficult to stop giggling like a maniac, causing Daddy and Kazami to peer at me with curiosity.

Though we usually picked the lettuces early on Friday morning, Daddy had decided to do it Thursday morning because he feared that the heat would cause the lettuces to wilt beyond recovery by the time Friday rolled around. As we gathered more than 600 heads, moving the wheelbarrow from time to time and carrying the boxes on either side of the beds to the shade of the big and little trucks, I looked out across the field to where garlic stalks were waving.

Less than half of the beds of garlic remain standing, since on Monday morning, with the help of twenty or so students from a class at Illinois State University, and two friends from Chicago, Mary and Bea, we had pulled all of the soft-necks and some beds of the hard neck garlic from the field in record-breaking time. It was strange to see so many people in Daddy’s field at once, but we were all grateful for the help. It took all of Monday afternoon and until 8 at night to sort the soft-neck garlic into four categories, tie them and hang them up in the barn, as well as sort and cut the hard-neck garlic. Viki and Hannah, two good friends of mine from Northwestern who were visiting me for the weekend, helped gather 50-head bunches of small and 20-head bunches of extra-large garlic, lining up the tops for Daddy to wrap with twine. They went home covered with garlic incense and full of memories of watching the fireflies dance in the dark treetops of the Bottomfield on a midnight walk, playing hide-and-go-seek with a red moon, and weaving wildflower crowns and frolicking as the sun set.

The exhaustion that all of us were feeling by Thursday–even Daddy had forgotten to put on his belt before leaving the house before dawn – made sense, for Wednesday was also a strenuous day of scuffle-hoeing all of the remaining rows of summer squash, melons and cucumbers, as well as catch-up hand-weeding the sweet potatoes and okra. The sun seemed to rise ever so slowly that day, as my lower back muscles began to shoot up in pain from bending over to rip out the weeds with powerful strokes of my scuffle hoe.

As I remembered this, Kazami and I harvested the last of the lettuce out of the old lettuce patch, now overgrown in weeds, and I could feel the temperature of the dirt below my feet start to rise. Sweat began to form on my forehead and I drank all of the water left in my bottle.

Later, when I sat down in the beet patch to pull out only the largest beets, the ground burned through the seat of my pants. Thankfully, though, the intense rays of sunlight were defrayed by the almost constant wind, which made the heat manageable.

After the last golden beet bunch was made, it was already time for our three-hour lunch break. We all sat down in the large cab of the gigantic red truck and Kazami drove us back to the barn. Koko greeted us, wagging her tail with more energy than usual – probably because Aunt Beth and I had recently shaved her belly, a summer cut that was effective in cooling her down and giving her more energy.

Koko promptly rolled over to show me her bare belly when I neared her, so I gave her a belly rub, a hug and a kiss, then bid her goodbye to make my way up to the house. I knew it was time for all of us to rid ourselves of the ever-increasing fatigue – a direct result of the Garlic Harvest, scuffle-hoeing, the heat wave, and nightly water-moving – by taking glorious naps.

When We are One

This week I want to capture and share with you some of the memorable moments of the Brockman Barn Dance that took place on the occasion of the 100th birthday of our family’s barn, built by my great-great-grandfather in 1912. But before getting into that, here’s a brief update about the happenings on Henry’s Farm this week: We’ve had a series of sweltering 90 degree days, when time ticks by more slowly than ever. Wednesday night we planted beds and beds of lettuce, basil, summer spinaches, etc., and are hoping for more rain soon. And we are gearing up for our annual Garlic Harvest that will occur next week!

Our farmhand Val’s goal for the Brockman Barn Dance, held last Saturday at my Aunt Jill and Uncle Will’s farm in Danforth, Illinois (the Brockman Centennial Farm where my grandfather and great-grandfather were born), was to see “Dancing Brockmans,” and to get every single Brockman to dance. I did not see how this could be possible, since I had never seen my brothers, let alone Mommy, ever dance in public before.

Yet I felt my hope steadily rise as, after hundreds of Brockman family and friends alike ate, mingled, listened to Grandpa’s rousing speech on the Barn origins, toured the barn and listened to snippets of bluegrass bands, we all made our way up the steep ladder-stairs and into the hay loft. Then, as I started to feel the music of the band, Ten Feet Tall, enticing my bones to dance, out of the corner of my eye I saw Grandma begin to move. Soon she was on fire–basking in the orange sunlight streaming in from the windows and smiling, eyes closed, as she waved her arms and stepped to the quick music. Aunt Terra, Daddy, and I all looked at each other in wonder, then fixed our gaze on this joyful 77-year-old woman in all her dancing glory once more. When the song ended, Grandma laughed and said, “It’s just so fun to dance!”

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you do that,” Aunt Terra told Grandma, with awe in her voice. I looked at Grandma, now shimmying to the next tune, and grinning, filled my heart with music. It was time to dance.

The next song was a slow, sweet ballad so the dance floor began to clear. Some couples braved the attention of the crowd of onlookers sitting on hay bales that had been set up all around the large loft and began to sway lovingly. My feet pulled my body to be centered in front of the band and I started to do turns, feeling the music ripple up through my toes and up through my legs and arms, and up to the top of my head. I moved slowly, letting my body follow my heart. This was a private dance, a raw form of self-expression that I usually performed to an imaginary audience at home. Yet I knew that this time, eyes were fixed on my movements – and my whole family was watching. There was a moment of embarrassment and losing my focus, my dance turned choppy. But I could not stop, and as I kept improvising, I finally lost myself in the music, wrenching out my emotions. Later, I watched my Aunt Beth move in the same way, eyes closed, movements graceful. I had never seen her dance before, yet our movements were so much alike – connected by the Brockman bond.

When the Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band came on and the singer began to croon, “I’m going to Jackson…” Daddy finally joined me on the floor. I watched as he crouched low and started to pound the hundred-year-old boards of the Brockman Barn loft with such powerful stomps that I became fearful that he would break through, crashing down to land in one of the goat pens. Aunt Terra and I joined him, stamping our feet to the beat of the music, laughing. Soon the dance floor was filled with moving bodies, all energetically banging their feet in unison. Aunt Odette danced with my baby cousin Chenoa, Aunt Jill and Aunt Teresa danced together, and my cousins joined us, as well.

The Golden Horse Ranch Band’s main vocalist and square dance caller–a dark-haired young woman in a polka-dotted blue dress named Annie Coleman – began to teach us some square dances. She arranged us first into couples and told us to make two circles, one within the other. Couples in each circle faced each other. Next, Coleman showed us how to do a series of high-fives – right, left, and both hands – then clap our thighs, swing elbows, and finally move on to the next partner. I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I clapped hands with people I had never met before, making my way around the circle. I was burning up from all of the dancing and the high temperature of the loft, but as sweat rolled down my face, I kept on dancing with my adorable partner, my little cousin Celeste who is half my size, learning how to promenade, make a right-hand-star, and jive to the sound of the fiddle.

By the time it was Peter Adriel’s turn to take the stage, I had to lay down to rest. The rain was starting to pour down outside, making a rush of noise on the barn roof. I felt the cool wood beneath my sweaty back and closed my eyes, drinking in the sound of Peter’s deep, soothing voice, coupled with the Bob Dylan-esque pitch of the harmonica, strong strumming of the guitar and the tapping of his feet on the wood. When the rain began to dump down halfway through his set, adding another dimension of musicality, I lost myself in the simple splendor of his words.

“That was beautiful,” Coleman commented, as the room of people, once so filled with laughter and noise, was silent, pensive. To get us back into dancing mode, her band played a polka tune, and we all stomped once more. Then she taught us a series of square dances, including one where the girls were twirled around the circle, one that partners sashayed through the entirety of the barn, the Virginia Reel, and one in which we grabbed hands of people, spelling out BINGO, and then hugged the O person.

I decided to force my younger brother Kazami, who had been reading a book on his Kindle most of the night, to get up and dance with me. Once on the floor, he was a dancing machine – and I was filled with joy, remembering dancing to Bob Marley together in the living room when we were little. I knew he could dance. My older brother Asa, though, was more difficult to force to dance. However, Val succeeded in pulling him to the dance floor and Henry’s apprentice Janaki and I also made an attempt to stop him from fingering his phone and enjoy the night with us.

At one point, we were in dire need of another partner set for a group to have enough people, so the caller kept begging for a duo to stand up from the hay bales. No one would volunteer, though, so Daddy grabbed Mommy’s hand and pulled her to the floor. I could see the words “But I’m too tired…” on Mommy’s lips. I looked at Val, excited. Mommy was going to dance! Later, after the dance was over, I looked over at her. She was smiling, clearly having fun. I was filled with a feeling of family, and of gratitude to the art of dance, which has the power to bring us all together.

As the night came to a close, Coleman kept repeating, “Can we join your family? You guys are awesome!” My cousin Halley’s boyfriend stomped so hard that one of the floor planks broke, but we covered it with wood and kept on dancing the night away. Every dance, there seemed to be fewer people sitting on the hay bales in the back, and by the time the last song came around, every single person was dancing, including Grandpa. We sang along as the band played “May the circle be unbroken…” and held hands, walking in one big and one small circle around the center of the barn loft. Aunt Beth broke off of her circle, grabbed my hand, and we formed a conga line, producing cheers from our dancing friends and family. We were one.

Making my way down the ladder from the loft, I went outside, drenching myself with the rain. It washed the sweat from my face and cooled me down, an instant, natural shower. Every Brockman had danced that night. It was an amazing feat that filled me with so much joy.

The next day, I learned that the rain that fell in Danforth also drenched our farm, reviving our seeds and wilted plants. It was the perfect Father’s Day present for Daddy.

Pain and Beauty

Dragging my heavy body into the house Monday evening after my first full day of farm work since coming home from college, it took all of my remaining strength to form the phrase “back massage please” and voice it in a barely audible whisper. Every part of my body seemed to be inflamed with pain – from my neck all the way down to the soles of my feet.

Thankfully, Mommy is an expert shiatsu masseuse, a talent desperately needed on a family farm. She placed the palms of her hands on either side of my spine and pressed her weight onto me, gradually flattening out my tight and aching muscles.

I closed my eyes, and as I focused on breathing deeply, in and out, I remembered the smell of mulch and rain mingling as I shoved hay up against Jerusalem artichoke plants in the dark morning. The sky was a blackish blue, the color of a bruise, threatening to pour down at any moment. But except for a few teasing drops, it never did. Yet I kept sending pleas up to the rainclouds as they passed, saying “please rain, please!” over and over in my head, knowing that no rain would mean irrigating would be necessary for the entire week to follow.

Daddy never stopped hoping for rain as well, so Val, Janaki, Sydney and I hurriedly dropped summer squash, okra, edamame and dry bean seeds into trenches, covering and tamping. We all pretended that we were racing against the rain, trying to plant as many seeds as possible before water rushed down from the sky, making planting impossible. But by two in the afternoon, the sight of the sky clearing and sunlight sheepishly peeking out from under the clouds made our hearts drop, and fatigue hit me like a wall.

The rest of the day was spent setting up drip tape lines, running to drag them out over bed after bed, fixing leaks, connecting the black drip tapes to the main hose, and sprinting to put the lines over the rows, back bent and hand close to the ground. This we did every three hours, in between jobs of weeding.

After a particularly difficult episode of drip tape running that had us all panting, out of breath and energy, Daddy had told the interns to go scuffle hoe the melons to eliminate the weeds that threatened to strangle them. My brothers looked at Daddy with an expression that clearly said, “Do we have to do that, too?” Daddy looked down, his expression sympathetic, knowing that Asa needed to study for his medical school examination, to be taken in August. Then he looked up and playfully said, “Who wants to eat watermelon?” I instantly brightened and raised my hand excitedly while my brothers, not easily tricked, looked on with suspicion. “Then go scuffle hoe!” Daddy answered with a smile. Asa, Kazami and I erupted into laughter, and continued to chuckle as we walked, long scuffle hoes in hand, to rip away weeds from melon plants.

Remembering this, I laughed, and Mommy asked me if my back felt better. I rolled over, and amazingly, her shiatsu magic had worked – the ache was rapidly disappearing. I ate a quick dinner, showered, and rested until it was time to get into the truck with Daddy to head back to the field.

The sun was setting as we ran down those beds once more before sleep. I took the last drip tape that needed to be moved in my hand and took off into a sprint, running and running, faster and faster, until I reached the end. I collapsed onto the ground and lay on my back, out of breath. When I opened my eyes, I saw that deep royal purple had been brushed across the sky. The beds and beds of vegetables were a dark silhouette against the bright, fiery sky. I drank it all in with my eyes and watched sparks of lightning bugs from my place in the grass. I smiled, realizing that this beautiful place, this gorgeous sunset – this was my home. And summer was just beginning.

City to Country Girl

The first two things I saw when I arrived home, eyes red from exhaustion and coughing from a miserable cold, were Koko’s sweet, chocolate-colored eyes peering into my face as I leaned down to scratch her belly, and then as I looked up, the full array of glittering stars, splattered across the night sky. I realized then, as warmth flooded my chest, that a significant part of my heart had been waiting with increasing impatience and nostalgia to see this all throughout winter quarter at Northwestern.

Of course, at college my mind was always occupied with a million thoughts and experiences, and I loved every minute of it. Every meeting seemed fateful and every thought seemed life changing – sometimes I wished college life would go on forever. But the Evanston air never was quite as fresh as I wished it to be, and the food was always too bland. Some nights, even after a day filled with joy and laughter, I would lie awake and think of home – reliving moments from summer harvests when all of us, punchy from the sun, would laugh and laugh at the hilarity of each other, and at life.
At the same time, though, I was being gradually molded into a city girl – navigating the Chicago neighborhoods by bus and train with my deep red, long coat, pink silk scarf from Florence and knee-high boots. No one ever pegged me as a farm girl at first glance, to be sure.

Thus, the realizations that I had missed home terribly, and that I was still such a farm girl at heart made a significant impact. The air at home was fresher than I remembered, and the well water (“glacier water”, as we call it, that bubbles and fizzes for a few minutes, fresh from the faucet) I drank with relish, savoring the taste. I went to sleep that night feeling ambiguous. In my mind, I was still in the hallway between city and country.

But after spending an entire day lolling lazily around the house, napping, reading, trying in vain to solve a “super hard” Sudoku, basking in the bright sunlight on the deck, and guiltily watching too many episodes of Japanese and Korean melodramas, on Wednesday I pulled on my all-white farm uniform once more and joined Daddy, Mommy and Asa in digging a six-inch wide trench around two rectangular plots that will be where one of our soon to be relocated hoophouse will stand. We are moving three of our hoophouses from up near to the house to our new field located a short drive away from our house. Daddy wants to allow our other fields – the Bottomland and the upper fields – more time to rest and rejuvenate, so for the first time in Henry’s Farm history, he has decided to farm on this new plot of land.

I admit that I have yet to develop a liking for this land – the location makes it so that I will not be able to take a short walk down to the field to work during the summer, as I have always done. I will now have to either catch a ride with Daddy in the morning, or somehow get ahold of a bike. Although the soil looks fertile – the plot, which we are renting from The Land Connection, has been farmed by an organic farmer and was in clover last year – the field is right next to a county road, and cars always seem to be whizzing by at top speed. Unlike the Bottomland, which is our little haven of a field that is hidden away from the rest of civilization by a ring of grand, beautiful trees, this plot is out in the open and thus has no gentle presence of shading trees. Because of this, the whip-like wind is a constant presence. To make matters worse, Koko will und oubtedly be a lonely dog this summer, since she is not allowed to come to this field. We fear that the nearby road will be dangerous for our car-chaser puppy and that the neighbor’s dogs and horses will not react well to Koko. Still, Daddy is insistent on using this field this year, so we shall see if time will create lasting bonds between me and this plot of earth.

Shoveling dirt for a few hours gave me a few blisters and a back-ache, but as the warm wind blasted my face on the back of the truck while Asa drove our way back to the house, I could not help but smile. My summer life was coming back to me and with that, I was gradually beginning to remember the simple joys of farm work. I could not wait to see how that windy, barren plot would be transformed into a field with vegetables of every variety, color, taste, and texture by the middle of the summer.

That night, I realized my cough was gone. The fresh, warm spring air had seemingly blown away my cold.

The following day, Asa, Daddy, Val, our two new apprentices – Janaki and Sydney– and I spent a couple hours during the afternoon digging out burdock. The sun was surprisingly harsh for a spring afternoon and my throat soon became parched. For me, it already felt like summer – I sure was sweating like it was. We dug a trench about three to four feet in depth in between each of the three rows, so that the middle burdock row had both sides dug around it, but the two outside rows only had one. It takes three cuts with the spade to get down that deep, so we end up with a series of three steps that take us down into the earth. I dug out the steps with a long spade, throwing out dirt as I did to a huge mound beside the burdock bed, while Sydney shoveled out the remaining loose dirt with a crumb-scoop shovel. At the bottom of the pit, Val was digging around each long burdock root so that she could extract it carefully without snapping it.

After the farm helpers left for their hour-long break, my job switched to shoveling loose dirt and I found myself clenching my teeth in effort to stay motivated. Each succeeding load of dirt on my shovel weighed down heavily on my weak arm muscles and I found myself throwing the soil too close to the hole, so that it would just sprinkle down into the ditch once again. Thankfully, Asa noticed my drop in spirit and offered to switch jobs with me. Thus, until Daddy proclaimed it was time for our lunch break, I happily rubbed off the dirt that was hugging the harvested burdock and put them into a wooden box to take up to the wash area.

Following lunch and a nap, Asa and I went down to the Bottomland to join the farm helpers in harvesting scallions that had survived the warm winter. We dug, knifed off the long, tangled roots, cleaned and bunched until the sun began to fade into the horizon – all the while discussing Hawaii’s complicated history, laughing about Koko’s experience of barking at a rock for nearly a half hour earlier that day because it was too heavy for her to retrieve, and debating what bookstores were “the best” in Evanston.

While finishing up cleaning the last of the scallions for the day, Daddy explained that tomorrow –Friday – will be a harvest day starting at seven. He warned that depending on the weather, we might end up planting, which will mean a short rest period. Then on Saturday, Val will be driving up with some chives, leek, burdock and other produce to sell at the Market.

Later, while filling my mouth with the sugary taste of beets and chowing down on Mommy’s homemade pizza that seemed to melt in my mouth, I thought of how many people could say that they ate such delicious food on a regular basis. My friends at Northwestern certainly could not…

I looked down at my already beaten-down hands. My fingernails were black, dirt stains were beginning to form, and my blister count was now up to four. I was morphing into a farm girl once more – but I did not regret it one bit.

Ode to a Beaver

I spotted you from the back of the truck, as Daddy
Backed it up over brambles and poison ivy
 
As we came closer and closer to the irrigation pump by Walnut Creek
My eyes were wide and unwavering as I watched
The slow movement of you
Wading away in the water
A short branch with glossy emerald leaves
Hanging deftly from your mouth.
 
I became entranced by the sight of your flat, long tail
Making a straight trail in the water as
You drifted by effortlessly and soundlessly
Like you had all the time in the world…
 
You were disappearing behind trees when
Finally, the truck halted and I jumped
Out the back and straight towards the overhang
 
I searched for you frantically but
You had disappeared like a dream.
 
As we moved the pump and got it running I kept
Thinking of you creating your dam
Wading back and forth, again and again – and
I wanted to ask you then,
How you held time so gracefully
While I was letting it all slip away
 
I waited for you to appear once more but
You were long gone, and I knew that you
Were my first “Goodbye”
 

A Shared Smile

Bleary-eyed to the point of sleepwalking – I make my way down the long bed, pausing from time to time to reassure myself that the drip tape is landing perfectly on top of the middle row. I know Daddy is at the pump, unclogging the filter and refilling the gasoline, but he is impossible to make out in the still-dark bottomland.

The night before, Daddy had asked me to join him in moving the tapes at 10pm, but later he came to my room, coughing painfully. I stared worriedly at the dark circles around his weary eyes as he told me that we would move the tapes early the next morning instead.

Irrigating had stolen both my father’s mental and physical energy – sprinting time and time again each day down beds with a tape in hand was hard on his legs and lungs, and deciding just how to arrange the pump and various hoses so that every plant or seed that needed water was granted their share was emotionally draining.

As I lay the drip tape, I wonder how many more times we will have to move the tapes and hoses to irrigate. Daddy had told me that until the rains came, there was no choice but to keep on watering, and though we longed for the sky to open and pour down rain, almost a month had gone by without a single drop. “Forty percent chance” might as well mean “zero percent chance,” since the rainstorms kept missing us, instead dumping rain just north of our farm.

But as the sun drifts up and Daddy and I, joined by the farm hands, begin the Tuesday CSA harvest, black rain clouds start to gather in the corners of the sky. We all doubt that rain will fall, though – too let down by the latest weather to gather hope in our hearts. Even as the skies darken, clouds smolder, wind picks up, and Koko starts to whimper, I am afraid to believe that a rainstorm will actually hit us.

As Val and I pick heirloom tomatoes in the field, I hear a sudden crack of thunder and hope strikes inside of me. Daddy feels it, too, and even though we are not yet done picking the row, he rushes us to the truck and up to the shed.

We all hold our breaths as we see the first sprinkles of water splatter on the ground outside the shed, and suddenly, like a great sigh of relief, the sky breaks open. The sound of smacking water against the metal roof of the shed is so loud that our shouts of joy are muffled.

I smile to myself as I help Grandma sort the ripe and unripe, good and bad tomatoes onto trays. I listen, in awe and thanks, to the continuous drumroll of rain on the roof as I gently place blushing red tomatoes on straw-covered trays.

When the rain finally lets up, Grandma looks around and asks me, “Do you think that’s the end?” But Mother Nature answers before I can open my mouth. Suddenly, the rain goes from peaceful dripping to full out dumping and the bombardment of water on the roof reminds me of waves crashing in the sea. Stunned and surprised, the farm hands rush to the opening of the shed to watch the sheets of rain come down.

But I am more mesmerized by the sight near the trays of tomatoes before me – Grandpa and Grandma are standing close together, looking out away from me. Grandpa is leaning down towards Grandma, who is pointing excitedly at the phenomenon outside. Both are grinning, lost in the moment.

I wish then, to remember those smiles forever.

Goodbyes of Summer

We used to scamper down to the fields
Our giggles the sound of the burbles of the little stream
Where we searched for tiny minnows and crawdads and
Watched insects walk across the rippling waters…
 
When we explored the “big and dangerous” Walnut Creek
Grandma, with her worried brown eyes, always warned us
Of blood-sucking creatures lurking on the bottom
Who would latch on to our toes to feed…
 
I believed her, but –
The thrill of adventure beat the terror and
So we would roll up our pants
And wade far…
 
I miss playing hide and seek in the grass –
Tall enough to get lost in – and when
We lost ourselves in Gabby’s imagination
We were aliens, vampires, or ten years older and
Living in a twine hammock together…
 
I miss how much I was content
With that emerald field of beauty always
Surrounding me, like it was the whole world…
 
I wish we could have all stayed
Young – children – together
Always close by – living, laughing, playing
 
Yet here we are, ten years later and
We are not living in a twine hammock together, we are
Going to college, graduating college,
Working, learning, leaving home –
Trying to make a difference
In a world much larger than the Bottomfield…
 
It breaks my heart to watch you depart because
I feel the strings that hold us all together
Starting to untwist – pull apart –
So that you can have your adventures
And I can, too…
 
Maybe someday we will watch
Our own children frolic
Catch minnows in homemade Twist-tie baskets and
Giggle – burble – up at us.

Mysterious Tree Fallings

“Is that thunder?” I wondered. 
 
I was dazedly mulching underneath the clear blue sky and penetrating sun when a sudden ripping and crashing sound pounded out from the direction of the gravel hill up to the house. Val and I looked up, and so did everyone else – from their hand-weeding, mulching and push-hoeing – to stare, all together, at the wooded hillside where the great sound had come from.  
 
I did not spot the tree then, but later, driving up, sitting in the bed of the truck, the wind in my face, I saw the aged, giant tree, lying at rest in the woods.
 
Grandpa, puzzled, said, “I just don’t understand the physics of it – a great tree always seems to fall not during a wind storm, but when the air is hardly moving.”
 
I thought perhaps after surviving tremulous wind and havoc and holding tight to life, that tree had chosen a peaceful, beautiful afternoon to finally let go and fall to the ground – to decompose and join the Earth once again.

Harvest Soakings

The small heads of lettuce I am harvesting are lit by an eerie, neon-like light when I look up to catch sight of Aunt Terra, dressed in bright blue rain pants, at the bottom of the twisting gravel lane. I call out a greeting and point to the black, brewing storm clouds in the western sky. “The rains are coming!” I say in anticipation as the wind nips at the end of my long-sleeved shirt and Koko cowers, tense and expectant.
 
When the first drops come – dripping here and there, splat, splat, full of foreboding – and a great thunder boom crashes in our ears, everyone rushes from their places in the field to the truck to hurriedly put on their rain gear and boots.  Kazami and I look on enviously, still rooted to our job of harvesting lettuce, for we did not bring down any protection from this unexpected rain.
 
I hope with all my might that the rains will not be heavy and will pass quickly – only to come back later (we need this rain) when it’s so sweltering that the rains would serve as a cooling shower. As I wish this, I feel the giant, loud drops of rain start to pelt down harder. I try to concentrate on cutting and cleaning lettuce, but it proves difficult when my back is being hit, again and again, by freezing drops. I shiver – for it is morning and the sun has not risen over the horizon yet – and goosebumps cover my body.
 
I start to scream as the heavy clouds fully let loose and soak me instantly. I am in the middle of an unplanned, freezing cold shower, unable to turn the water off. Kazami, though he seems unfazed by the cold rain, takes off with the truck to go up to the shed and grab our rain gear. I am trying to keep the rain out of my face so that I can see, bending low to the ground and letting my back side get drenched. My shoes are rapidly sopping up water and my knife is slippery and covered in mud, making the cutting difficult.
 
Suddenly, there is another smash of lightning and thunder – very near – and I hear Daddy shouting above the thrashing of wind and rain for us all to run to the machine shed. So I grab my knife and sprint, rain in my face, splashing through puddles, following Koko’s lead.
 
I am soon joined by Aunt Terra and Val – Val is soaked to the bone, too, and her glasses are all fogged up – and Matt, Mustard and Daddy soon after that. “We’ll wait here until it clears up a bit,” Daddy says and we all nod, bedraggled and dripping. Koko looks smaller with her puffy hair wet down and looks up at us with her big brown eyes, seemingly relieved that we are all safe.
 
I shiver again as Aunt Terra moves closer to the side of the shed to watch “waves and waves” – as she perfectly describes it – of pounding rain as it blows across the field. Rain dumps onto the plastic roof so loudly that it is difficult to hear Daddy say the next command: “Once Kazami returns with the truck grab the ten or so lettuce boxes from the side of the bed and run them to the truck. Then hop on the truck and go up to the shed to wait the rain out up there.”
 
The rain is coming down so hard that I hear the truck before I see it. We ready ourselves, as if for a race, crouching down–until we see the nose of the truck. Then, all at once, we take off. Daddy sprints toward Kazami, waving at him to stop at the foot of the gravel hill so that he will not get stuck in the ever increasing mud, and everyone else shoots toward the boxes. Mustard gets there before me and heaves three boxes up. I decide to carry two – one full of the cilantro Kazami and I harvested, and the other half full of lettuce. Then I am running again, through the mud, blinded by the rain – and when I am halfway to the truck, I go through a puddle and suddenly I am slipping and falling. The boxes crash onto my legs and cilantro bunches and lettuce heads fly up into the air. The next moment I am up again and Matt is beside me, helping me pick up all the veggies – and I am laughing hilariously.
 
I am still giggling as I run – in last place, everyone else is already on the truck – and set the boxes on the back of the truck to then jump on. Kazami backs up and turns the truck around, then hurtles the truck up the wet gravel, and I close my mouth and eyes as water hits my face. I feel as if I am underwater and rain is rushing into my ears, so I keep wiping off my face with my hands, only to get sprayed again and again.
 
 I wish with all my might that we will make it up the steep hill and thankfully, one last push of the gas and we are at the top – roller coaster ride survived. We all heave a sigh of relief and someone says, “This rain will be perfect for all the seeds we planted last night,” and I smile, knowing that this is true.

Deep Breaths

We wake when the sun is beginning to light the trees
Aflame with deep hues of red, purple and orange, and
As the moon fades into brightening blue I count
The chickens as they jump – one, two, three at a time –
Spreading their wings to flap to the ground and scurry
To peck at feed and gurgle – swallow – water.
 
It’s the calm before the storm –
Before sunlight moves to cover everything and
Sombreros are thrown on to shade eyes that are
Stinging with salty perspiration falling from foreheads as we
Wrap green twist-ties tight
Around chard, kale, basil, parsley –
And bend to twist summer squash off spikey stems.
 
Before the raging battle between humid air and body
Before mental and physical fatigue causes punchy laughter to
Flow out of our mouths and echo throughout the Bottom Field –
 
I am watching that last chicken twist her little head – peer down
At the ground, contemplating –
And I smile at her, waiting, waiting, until –
She finally squats –
Then propels herself through the morning air.