With the fall harvest nearly complete and winter just around the corner, I sat by wood stove in my kitchen. A cold wind blew from the northwest all day, tearing leaves from the aspens and oaks and sending them scurrying. As the sun set, the wind died down and a great calm settled over the land. That which had been disturbed the entire day now had a chance to rest and recover from the relentless wind. I marveled at the contrast from the roar of the wind in the treetops and the silence when there was no wind at all. Like all of life with its periods of turmoil and agitation followed by quiet and calm — at least we hoped.
On a cloudy, quiet, late afternoon I hiked by the old white pine windbreak and listened to the sound of a woodpecker working on a dead tree, but not just an ordinary woodpecker. It was 17-inch tall Pileated woodpecker that has a long neck and a bright red crest on the top of its head. It is the largest woodpecker in our area and the loudest as it chisels 2-inch deep rectangular holes 6-inches long in a dead white pine. Called by some a “Logcock,” it chisels out wood chips often as large as an axman’s. It is a shy bird, usually heard and not seen. But today I saw it and I quietly watched it work.
On one of my hikes, I found a boulder deep in the woods to the north of the pond. It was as large as a compact car and has likely sat in this place for 10,000 years since the last great glacier receded leaving behind these enormous stones and steep hills that defied the plow. The boulder was iron gray and covered with greenish lichens. I stood by it for a long time, realizing that not often do I have a chance to be near something so old and yet so massively sturdy and so little touched by the passing years.
Near my farm are the remnants of an old, abandoned farmstead. All that remains is an old barn wall, the kind that was built a hundred years ago by stonemasons who took the stones from the fields and fashioned them into sturdy walls that were more than two feet thick. Besides holding up a barn, the walls were artistic creations of color and shape blending together like abstract art. I mentioned to an old stonemason that I thought he was an artist. “Nope, not an artist, just a stone mason,” he answered.
The other day I got to thinking about what a farmer has to understand — animals, crops, machinery, weather, marketing, financing, long-term planning, and more. He is a lawyer, a veterinarian, an accountant, a meteorologist, an agronomist, an engineer, a carpenter, a plumber, a market prognosticator, and a philosopher who is continually asking why, how and what is the meaning of it all. Consider all the wisdom that is lost when a farmer is forced off the land and moved to a minimum wage job where his vast knowledge is neither wanted nor cared about.
Sometimes when I watch a brilliant sunset, with pinks and reds and purples spreading across the sky, I think about what is most important in my life, and what I can buy with money and what I cannot. I cannot buy a sunset, the love of a child, birdsong, wildflowers spreading across a hillside, the quiet of a dark night in the country, family, neighbors and good friends. And I wonder about why it is that accumulating money is so vital for so many people.
I was considering the other day that everyone is of the land, related directly to it. It is the land that provides food, materials for our buildings, fiber for our clothing and a spiritual foundation for our souls. When we take the land for granted, or even worse ignore it, we are challenging humanity itself, and its continued existence on this planet.
As winter approaches, it is a time for waiting, a time beyond celebrating autumn with its vivid colors. Now all is brown and drab. The leaves have tumbled from the trees that stand naked and the wind moans as it moves through the bare branches. Winter is out there, waiting its turn. But until it arrives, we wait. All of nature’s creature’s wait.
To learn more about Jerry’s writing and TV work, go to www.jerryapps.com.