FITTING INTO PLACE: FOR MARTIN
A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.
~ Joan Didion
When ag drones like the senseFly eBee take the place of farmers walking their fields, when those remote-controlled arthropods can pinpoint phosphorus or nitrogen deficiencies, and spot corn borer and superweed invasions such as giant ragweed, grab a seat and buckle in, Martin; we've secured the future. Oh wait. The future is here.
We fit in where we are or we learn to love solitaire. The world is ours for the snagging: seize the day! and deal the cards around the table.
Right now, I live smack dab in the middle of Nowheresville, Iowa. Before this it was Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois—the bountiful Midwest. It's not that I haven't lived; I have. But life is more than living. It's place and setting: how a land looks and feels as it trickles down the gullet of identity. It's people and culture, the dreams it inspires and the hopes it jettisons down the loo. It's the slant of an early morning sun as it pierces the blinds, the speed of clouds carried over a pasty mountain ridge, rush hour traffic whether a convoy of three hundred sheep marshalled by an attentive shepherd or a swarm of three thousand cars with right-side steering wheels crowding narrow Paris streets. It's the air we breathe, fresh and wild, or stilted and heavy. Life wings along from point to point, and who sees a place the exact same way as someone else?
Coalescence is a noun. I do it by virtue of amplification—Dickinson-like. (One need not be venue-luxuriant to find interest in meager surroundings.) To sum up, I slide it under a microscope: coyote howls, fireflies, and fifty-foot oak trees alike. I dissect a sunrise on a droughty August morning. Speak of manifold shades of green when describing trees and grass as simply "green" may suffice. But no, the valley green is richer, not as faded, because a stream runs through and nourishes it during humid summer days; the eaten-down pasture grass is cattle-stomped and brown or a yellow-tinged green, a sadder hue; the spring-fresh tree leaves are a light, almost lime, green; and the lawn grass is a blue green, darker for the often mowing. These are not unnecessary details but a dossier of visions, stakes to ground us to place.
I co-mingle with the beetle and the lightning bug and the million stars above (which are only a thousand or so, really—a thousand we see on the clearest night). The bats and their echolocation, the owls and their distinctive hootings, are tangibility. Beasts of the field and birds of the air brim with counsel: on this farm, in this valley. The ones we care for, the sheep, chickens, and ducks. The ones which meander into our space uninvited and often unwanted: foxes, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, and redtail hawks on the hunt for game small enough to lug away.
Patricia Neal's name streaks across our galaxy. The opening credits and music are often as interesting as the movie itself: "The Day the Earth Stood Still." 1951.
Calcutta Radio. BBC. Global news. Outmoded scientific technology. Passable special effects. Drone of the saucer. Military tanks on the streets of the city. "Amazing phenomenon." "Panic in several large eastern cities." "Rumors are absolutely false." "Huge crowd of curiosity seekers." "Just a minute, ladies and gentlemen, I think something is happening."
Do you feel it, Martin, feel that something is happening across the globe? I do. Yet here we are, me in Iowa and you, well, you range as much as I once did; I forget where it is you do live. My advice? Move with the earth, sigh with the breeze. I shake no dust off my feet and no muck lodges between the treads of my hiking boots. This is all we have so we sink down deep, make a go of it where we are.
Can anything good come out of Iowa? How about those "little families from Iowa" sporting around the Library of Congress in "National Treasure"? Or Gertrude Stein's "You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always well taken care of if you come from Iowa" (Everybody's Autobiography, 1937)?
Pockets of uniqueness, regions unto themselves, prevail within our country's borders, this American Europe. It's called individuality, and Iowa stands tall as her corn in the midst.
I'm me. You're you. This is the simple version. There's a longer, ramblier one, and it's this:
We're all different. And some are more than that. Odd. Gonzo. A cupcake in a world of tortes, the one lone llama in a field of sheep. Some of us might even be the llama droppings stuck to the bottom of rubber boots in a pasture full of alfalfa, the brown smelly stuff in a world of green …well, you get the picture.
But it's really not oddity as much as uniqueness we need, we seek. Uniqueness affords us rainbows through which the resplendent quetzal flies. Uniqueness acknowledges a masterpiece hung next to a plate of meatloaf, or Gary Larson's Far Side comics juxtaposed against The Old Man and the Sea.
Swift flow the prayers, swift life's rough seas. Nicks and offenses, fleetingly fleet. Swift zing the days, birds the free, clouds a scape, air that's blue, pink, from end to end—breathe in gulps.
Swift do the children grow, the nest done down. Alone. Swift is the feather to lift, drift, on the wings of time, the winds of shift. Metamorphosis in wrinkled skin.
Swift seams the peace, cush of the lion's mane, a steeple's hollow ring. Swift is the drawn-out end.
Merge with the sea, Martin, then wander out again before the barnacles take root.
It's Place that anchors down the finish line while Time runs 'round and 'round and 'round.
There are three kinds of waves in Iowa: the casual index finger or full-hand-raised-from-the-steering-wheel-while-driving wave, the lift-the-arm-and-wave friendlier version, and then there's the furious-full-arm-wave saved exclusively for those we know and like. It's that ferocity, those furious full arm swings that signal a good union with one's place, at least for a time; enjoy it.
I limn the sky, a favorite thing, its pilled white puffs gorged and nearly omnipresent in a world of stupefaction. I apprehend the view, the land, the breezes and animals that skirt this Midwestern span; this is what I know; write what you know, they tell me, told me once, tell me again.
Barn swallows swoop low in their quest for the bugs I've disturbed while mowing. They jerk and flit much like pre-dawn bats, but a swallow's forked tail and orange and white breast distinguish it from a sparrow or nuthatch or some other muted-brown, flying, endothermic vertebrate. Skeptics consider their aggressive dive-bombing habits threatening, yet they're peaceful creatures only wanting to snag a snack.
Lately, we've entertained up to three redtail hawks at a time in this aboraceous Iowan outback. Though hidden, we know they're there. The one long whistle drops off at the end and is repeated a few seconds later. We lost a bantam chicken to a redtail hawk a decade ago. The hawk had been roosting off and on for two days in the black walnut tree behind the barn. On the third, from the house, we saw the hawk drop into the pasture, but the building obscured what followed. When we later went out to fill the stock tank, the tiny hen was gone.
A friend visited yesterday, out of touch for twenty years. He looked the same but for the four heart stints we couldn't see and the arthritic fingers we could. He walked slower. I blinked, then he blinked. We blinked in harmony, understood.
I chronicled the sunset this year, viewed it then wrote it. Sixteen sunsets and some blindness later, I rested. This must have been how God felt on the seventeenth day. The sunset is a teacher and a prophet, a doer of good and a slayer of visions. A sun that slides down past all seeing and lightness, brightness, brings sacrosanct to life. My sunsets are over; I desire them no more; I blink.
There is no past but the soul dies a little, shrinks. Blink to the past, blink toward the future.
Everything gives and gives in this narrow world of mine, yours, our global frenzy, this microcosm of magic. A sun's afterglow is as brilliant as its climax; we pant, we sigh, we wait in anticipation for the next burning.
Place informs our memories and brands our days: one-a-day two-a-day three-a-day home. We squat in the middle and thrive. We score and wax. And when all is said and done, we ascend.
German-born and infused with amorphous Cherokee heritage, Chila Woychik is at home hiking in adjacent woods or regarding coyote calls at night. Since stumbling into the world of literary journals in 2013, several have acknowledged her efforts including editors at Emrys Journal, Pithead Chapel, Stoneboat, Prick of the Spindle, and others. She occupies the near-space of another human and keeps numerous animals, including sheep and ducks, just outside her windows.