Thursday, July 29, 2004

I couldn't be more honored. Peter at Slow Reads has put up the interview he did with me earlier this month, as well as - ahem - an insightful review of The Big Book of Ben Zen.  I didn't know, when he asked, that Peter would throw me the kind of fat pitch questions a writer loves to answer. And then let me answer them at great length. Maybe he had said something about doing a review, too, but I forgot that, I guess, in the excitement of doing the interview. I didn't know that Peter's review would teach me things I hadn't known about my own book.

The whole of it takes my breath away. I couldn't be more pleased by the results.

Thank you, Peter! I appreciate the attention. And I appreciate the care with which you've provided it.

I have driven out into the country west of Smith Center, through Athol, and I'm just south of Athol now, pulled over to the side of the road, watching a couple combines out in the wheatfields. These are two different farmers, two different fields. Both are harvesting their wheat, bringing it in. There are tractors and wagons in the fields, fellows on them waiting to take the wheat from the combine and load it into storage bins on a farmstead hereabouts, or into a semi that will take the wheat to town.
A combine harvesting wheat moves forward into a stand of the golden ripeness. The stalks of wheat get cut off somewhere above ground level, leaving stubble; the heads and stalks fall into the combine's header and get moved into the innards of the machine where the kernel of the wheat is separated from the stalk and from the chaff. The kernels go up into the combine's three-hundred bushel storage bin; the straw and chaff and a lot of wheat dust get blown out the back end of the combine, to be scattered on the ground. Wheat mounds up in the bin.
When the bin of the combine gets full, that's nearly enough to fill a wagon. One operator jumps down out of his combine as wheat unloads into a wagon parked beside his machine. He walks over to talk with a fellow at a truck near the field's edge. He lights a cigarette.
The other combine in the other field on the other farm reaches the end of the field at the road, turns around and starts the long drive in the other direction. The dust he throws out doesn't know what to do with itself so it hangs like a fog.
Some of the roads out here are a clay and gravel combination that has been baked hard as concrete. Some of the roads look like roads, some of the roads do not; some look like lanes, and some look like less than lanes. All the wheatfields look like wheatfields - either wheat that is heavy-headed and waiting to be taken, or bare stems where the combine has been. And there is the occasional field where it seems the harvest was taken last year.
The fields are great rectangles - some of them a mile wide by a mile long, maybe; some of them with windbreaks, maybe, to mark the half mile. The wheat waiting for harvest shimmers in the heat like the surface of the ocean; the wind smoothes at the waves, pushes, pulls. The trees wave their branches. The air is incredibly warm all of a sudden. The road is baked, I mean baked, and the heat rises.

I come back past the combines on my way back to Athol; I see the bin of one of them is being unloaded into the white semi I'd met coming into town as I was going out. I can see wheat heaped in the truck box already. The other combine in the other field is unloading into a wagon again.

I drive back into Athol and find a place to park in the shade. I want to make some notes and take a moment's nap; or nap and make some notes, to put first things first.
Here's a big building that says it's the "First Congregational Church," according to stonework above the door. Yet to me it looks more like a school than a church - big, square, brick, like an old public school.
Then I'm driving backroads in the country again. Some roads are just dirt with the grass scraped off, wide enough for a semi, yeah, but not much wider than that. I'm out a mile north of Athol now. The wind is playing with the wheat. The wheat is nearly at eye level where I'm sitting in the car. If I had a passenger perhaps he could reach out and grab a handful of wheat stalks. You look at the wheat waving in the breeze; it looks as if the field is saying No, No, No.

To be continued....

JULY 29, 1998

A place is not a place without time. Place exists in time - in geologic time, in the time of the year, in the time of day. Think that this place used to be at the bottom of a great inland sea. Think that there is ice and snow in winter, the great heat of summer, the color of autumn. Think of the bird chatter at sunrise, of the stillness at high noon. We cannot really know where we are, then, if we don't know when. When and where are a banded pair.
And time, I think, is linked to people. In the great universe, there is no before and after, only the great eternal NOW. For an animal - all is now. For a rock. We are the critter who insists on such distinctions as yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Guilty.
Blue sky, still pond, planes rumble overhead, winging towards Oshkosh.
The corn pack has started. The sweet stink of the canning factory has changed from peas to corn silage. If you know nothing else, your nose will tell you that the sour smell where waste water is being sprayed is almost - dare I say it - almost the smell of pigs.
It could be Iowa - the green of corn stretching for miles. This could be home. Well - no - I guess it couldn't. I know about the pea fields that were here. There were never pea fields in my Iowa.
At Five Corners, the truck driver appreciates that I've given him room to make his wide turn. He waves. A load of sweet corn bound for Fairwater's canning factory.
On Watson Street in Ripon, long shadows. A quiet morning. The woman walking to work, as she does every morning, as she has as long as I have been driving the morning. She looks a little older today, and so do I.
I suppose there are things we put up with, but we don't have to like 'em.

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