Friday July 18, 2014 – Sunday July 20, 2014
It’s been a long summer waiting to drop our hay, waiting for four days straight of dry weather, and every week, the rains have come. Finally, this week, we dropped it, this polar vortex, which isn’t so polar, sank across the midwest, allowing us five days of 0% chance of rain, at least according to the weathermen. Each day clouds have bunched up in the sky, and I am uneasy. A thin film of smoke from the fires in the Northwest has cloaked the drying sun.
We haven’t quite known what to do with harvest around here. Our chickens have laid enough eggs that they clutter our refrigerator and go bad. We don’t pull them off the nests in time to put in boxes and give away. Our neighbor didn’t even want them for his pigs. Bruce would as soon sell the flock, good for nothing, but I tell him they keep the flies down. I picked up a dozen, left in the barn a week, and tossed them in the muck bucket, ashamed of the abundance I’m throwing out.
When the hay comes trundling up the elevator and my arms itch and ache for hauling it into the barn, when I stumble between cracks of bales, as the pile gets higher, I think of Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple Picking:” “For I have had too much/ of apple picking/of the harvest I myself have desired.” Every year I think about Frost’s handling apples as I pick each bale off the elevator and carry it to the back of the barn.
Every year Bruce and I are exhausted, beat up before we even start. We worry about the hay heating up and burning down the barn and leave the doors open for several days. Harvest, bounty. It’s hard, dangerous work. Just standing on the back of the wagon as it rocks over the field, my feet swaying as I reach to pull a bale off the bailer feels shaky. This summer it will be at least a 1,000 bales worth.
This summer two dreams came true. For both my desire had pretty much faded. As with the hay I’ve found it hard, grinding work, things not exactly falling place.
Bruce and I have dreamed of driving our horse around the neighborhood ever since we saw the big drafters at the Boone County Fair, and Morgen is now pulling our carriage down the road, only there’s one hitch, I’m not Klaus or Jake and I’m the one who responds wrong when things go wrong. I know when I stopped her to look at the deer bounding across the road, I taught her to stop instead of to keep moving forward when she’s looking, so now Morgen stops. Bruce has gone to her head and she’s become dependent on Bruce showing her the way, so she stops whenever she might be insecure. She looks back, wondering where he is. Bruce has said he is disappointed we spent all this money, and what do we have?
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Today she wove a drunken sailor at the cows, sidestepping to the left and to the right to avoid forward. I tried some things; finally we let her look. Bruce fed her the hay she had been afraid of and she slipped her tongue over the bit. I got out, stuck my finger into her mouth and pulled it right. I told her it was all right. I gave her some grain to show her good things can come in the presence of cows. (This is our language, Morgen’s and mine.) Bruce lead her past finally. We turned around past the tracks because it’s so hot and came back. I made her walk instead of trot. She shook her head, still tense. Since I’d seen Jake take her back to look at the cows several times I thought we might try that. (I was terrified because the combines and semis were running back last fall, so don’t blame her for her fear now, though she’s been afraid of cows ever since they showed up in the pasture across the road, after the crops were picked.)
A trainer friend encouraged me to use Morgen’s desire to get away from the cows to relax her. Go to the other side of the road or reward her relaxation by giving her distance from her fear. (You can’t always power through fear. I think it’s small steps, you take, or you give it more power. Someone told me this when I was afraid of riding Tessie.) If Klaus or Jake came, she’d probably draw on their confidence and behave perfectly. I would draw confidence from them. It’s on me, on my instincts, to sort this out, because I’m here.
“There’s no traffic. Let’s try it,” I said.
So I turned her around and asked her to walk back by, only this time Bruce stayed in the carriage while she and I worked it out. She took one step, then another and another. We repeated this a couple times until she walked relaxed–going towards home and going away, past cows. She could smell our pleasure.
The other dream, to publish my novel, The River Caught Sunlight, a dream I worked and yearned toward for years, until the desire blew out of me, came true this summer. Oprah has said that you have to let go the desire, for dreams to arrive, but I don’t think she meant as deeply as I let go of writing. (Well, I let go of publishing my novel, living in the country, horses–all of it, and now here–those are all part of my life.)
But when a dream has died that dead, it’s hard to work up enthusiasm. It’s hard to sit down and do the work when you’re frozen, when you just plain don’t want it any more, when all you can think of is the pain and humiliation of workshops, and those polite little slips of paper, “We’re sorry but your piece does not fit our needs at this time” that included that dangly bit of hope, “please try us again.” When all you can think of is the work of it, as Frost said, “I have had too much of…this harvest I have desired.” The work like hay bales trundling up the elevator, bale after bale after bale, the mailing the book, the traveling to readings, the ground down exhaustion of it, along with teaching and driving Morgen and riding Tessie and tending the farm and loving Bruce, who should come first, and loving God before him, and, and…I can feel my life shifting and I don’t want it to shift, though the wise people say that’s the only thing you can expect is that your life will change.
I was most afraid of what my friends would say, stopping, frozen, leaving the box of books by the door, ignoring it. People told me to be happy, enjoy this moment. Nope. My life has shifted and it hurts. I’ve been alone with this novel for years, learning from it, healing–well now I’m not alone with it. It’s not mine any longer. I can’t go back and fix it. Now, it’s my readers’ book. What if they say, “You spent thirty years writing that? Really?”
But my friends posted pictures of the book’s arriving. They were excited for me. I was grateful but not ready for the party.
When Chris turned around on her horse and said, “I read your book.” I swallowed hard, remembering workshops–the subtle, cruel remarks. But she read my book well, telling me it was about my character finding her voice. She gave it a five star rating on Amazon.
I thought about this when we put up the hay, as the wagon rocked under my feet and I pulled hay out of the baler and stacked it onto the wagon. I thought about how dangerous this work really is, how a friend got his hand mangled in a baler. The string jerked up into the machine like thread on a sewing machine, the plungers pumping a beat any rapper could make something of. I thought about how sometimes when harvest comes it’s just plain hard work, and you have to throw yourself into hauling those bales until the field is cleared because rain will come. It’s the same with this book, I need to just get to it–kind of like driving my pony past cows, those terrifying cows, again and again and again, and it doesn’t take long for her see they mean no harm, to relax and walk on by.
This is linked at Kelli Woodford’s Place.