At 7:00 in the morning, with whippoorwills calling, dew on the grass, hot coffee on my desk and ideas in my head, whether to go for a walk or to continue writing is no easy decision to make. I weigh my options.
Two days ago, about this same time of morning, a light rain falling, I walked the farm to assess the condition of the land post nine inches of tropical depression rain—a gift from the gulf delivered by a storm called “Lee.” On that morning, drainages dry for months surged heavy from overflowing ponds, low spots in the meadows held ankle-deep water, cattle troughs I had not filled in two days sat brimming and untouched. Four large bucks, not yet driven apart by the scents of ready does and still sporting velvet only the largest of the four had begun to scrape, bedded together in the thicket east of the far pond, and bolted at my approach to the shallow ravine and shelter amid the young willows. A kingfisher cackled and hovered over the pond. These things I remember as I sip my cup.
On my computer screen three new documents vie for attention as my thoughts skip and jump: Jeffersonian revolution, my beloved whippoorwills, and random thoughts about late summer crops await coalescence and molding into something resembling a farm newsletter… Precious are these moments when the ideas, plentiful, find words that flow into streams rare and coveted. How easy and luxurious to spend the morning at my little writing desk next to the open window!
The whippoorwill calls again, making my decision. I reach for my jeans, dig for wool not worn in months, and don my hat. Even through my sweater, a slight chill not felt for months greets me at the porch where I sit to lace my boots prompting a smile and silent thanks for the wise counsel of the mysterious, unseen birds.
John, the owner of the seventy acres I temporarily inhabit, having been away during the storm returned last night and joins me on the porch. Glad for his company (and for his early morning coffee making) I am also a little sad that this walk will include conversation certain to be at the same time stimulating and distracting. We begin our walk with a look at recently seeded gardens, now soaked, germinated and sprouting—greens, the great fall harbinger on the southern farm!
Through a paddock heavily rooted by pigs then heavily packed by two horses and a donkey we enter the woods to survey the two large oaks fallen victim to Lee and are pleased to find among the inoculated logs once leaning on the great trunk but now strewn about or pinned beneath the uprooted giant, a single shiitake. I cut free the harvest and pass it to my companion for safekeeping in his vest pocket. We express our gratitude that the trees missed the small cabin nearby and for the season’s firewood so conveniently presented for saw to section and maul to rend before the season turns.
Down the fencerow, a third victim either missed on my previous stroll or having fallen in the day since, rests on stretched but unbroken barbed wire—a gift from the neighbor’s forest to our fuel coffers—more to cut and split and with it fence repairs that must be done before moving the cattle. Noted. We move on.
As we emerge from the canopy at the dam below the shallow east pond, the gentle curve of a horn turning up from leaf litter beneath a young tree catches my attention. I point and John confirms. He put it there, and it is ready. I push aside low branches to retrieve the perfect skull and long horns of Connor, one of his bulls. I shoulder the weighty remains and we cross the dam, stopping to admire the high water and question how long it will last.
Following deer trails around the pond, we stop at the old coyote den. It is impossible for me to visit this part of the farm without a stop here, always with hope of fresh digging or tracks to signal the presence of a new pack. As with other recent examinations, the dirt is untouched and still littered with the curled shells from long-hatched and emerged turtles whose opportunistic mother took advantage of the already disturbed ground for her own purposes. I chuckle but keep to myself thoughts of coyote pups cocking their heads sideways at newborn sliders, as foreign as any alien, appearing at their threshold.
Above the pond, we cross a spongy marsh that last week felt as solid underfoot as the old horse paddock where our walk began. We look for water bubbling from the ground as we climb the other side of the shallow draw that feeds the pond but find none. I pause to shift my load from left shoulder to right, prompting the emergence of long stored information from my Yellowstone days decades ago, that the head of a large male bison can weigh up to three hundred pounds, and wonder the weight of these remains which grow heavier with every step.
It is now a short walk across a pasture with pauses to appreciate abundant emerging clover and discuss the problem of pine bark smoothed by scratching cattle and in need of protection, and back to the house.
I carry Connor to the woodpile and introduce him to Jenny before resting him there, next to his herd mate and matriarch—an homage to the stately highlanders whose lives we endeavored to honor with succulent pastures, shade and abundant fresh water, and whose deaths filled our freezers, plates and bellies—more for which to give thanks on this sacred morning.
Boots left on the porch, my writing time spent, it is time for a shower and a trip to town where after early commitments, if I am lucky, I might find a second cup and a re-tapping into the early morning inspiration abandoned in favor of my walk.