After pulling through to the farm’s gravel road, let your car idle as you close the gate behind you. Tuck the lock into the wire loop hanging behind the post, wrapping its heavy chain around the gate. As the story goes, an old Dodge truck will be idling under the pecan trees. Turn off the ignition and climb onto the truck bed. Scramble over the cattle prods, shovels, and buckets to take a seat on the long metal toolbox built onto the back of the cab. Dangle your feet over the side and tap the window to signal that you’re ready to go. Hold on as the truck lurches across the front pasture. When you reach the cattle, greet them enthusiastically. “Here, pretty girls!” You’ll count the herd, scratch the calf feed, and restock the salt licks before the truck drives on. Watch out for snakes. And for the bull.
When the truck turns toward the middle pasture, you’ll come to a gate. Jump off the back and take a close look at the lock – you’ll be in charge of reproducing the intricate knots on the way out. One day, others will navigate the locks and keys you leave behind. For now, you can leave the gate open. Raise your hand in salute as the truck pulls through. It will wait for you to climb back up and tap “all clear” before driving on. To your left is the front pond; to your right, the site of the old homeplace. The house is no longer standing, but you’ll know the spot by the chuppah that marries old and new near the flagstones of the old homestead long ago returned to earth. Stand under the sky-filled canopy and you might find yourself transported, breathing the past into present and future.
At the top of the hill, check the rain gauge before heading into the hills. From here, you can see the metal structure trying to replace the old barn that fell in years ago. Your eyes still look for what is no longer there. Beyond, the garden beckons. If it’s the right time of year, your feet will graze thigh-high Johnson grass and fescue as the truck climbs to the back pastures. The ride will get rough as you head up a steep hill. As the truck rounds the back pond, lie down across the tool box, bracing your toes against the edge of the truck. The cattle are out front and there’s no work to do; just a vista to take in, a hillside so familiar you could lose yourself in its description. This is where you sing a medley that sounds like home.
How Firm a Foundation. Precious Memories. I’ll Fly Away.
You won’t be ready, but the truck will start heading back to the road. You’ll attempt to lock the gates you opened along the way, taking your place alongside those hoping to leave no trace of their handiwork. When you get it right, remember that mastery is learned, not inborn. When you don’t, consider the possibility that some gates are not meant to be closed. Either way, the truck bears witness as it passes by, moving forward while you grapple with what’s left behind.
Sometimes wild turkey and deer will cross your path. You’ll wonder whether glimpsing the fullness of creation is the same as honoring all creatures great and small. Cringe when you shoot the armadillos whose burrows cause the cattle to stumble and fall, but pull the trigger anyway. When you heave the carcass across the neighbor’s fence, consider what you lose by making death and decay someone else’s domain. Checking the electric fence is your final task. Even though you know it might hurt, touch the wire directly. The voltage isn’t high and the light shock will remind you of something you already know. Hidden currents are best tackled with bare hands, eyes wide open.
When you’re back at the front gate, take a long drink of water from the thermos and pull your car through to the road. As you fasten the gate, you’ll look up to see the truck driving back across the fields, fading into the dusk.
The closer you look, the harder it is to know what you are seeing.
Perhaps you imagined the truck altogether, but the ground under you looks solid, even as you wonder whether you’re coming or going. As you drive off, you’re humming songs whose words you no longer remember.