My Grandfather's Farm
The seagulls moved inland the year Bill Wagner planted corn on
my grandfather's farm. They left the harbor where their gliding
watch decorated the landscape and dirtied the docks, and the fishing
boats where they lazily claimed the discarded remains of each
day's catch. For the novel taste of earthworms and slugs, they
came inland to follow the slow, gray tractor as it muddled over
and plodded through the tough, overgrown fields, unworked for
Seeming more like one large feathery organism than several hundred
birds, they followed the progress closely. Seagulls hovered overhead,
flapped alongside, and marched behind the tractor. Like white
rag ribbons attached with string to the humming machine, they
gave Bill the comic appearance of a balloon man. He led the parade
daily, tilting over the broken soil on his tractor with his birds,
like bouquets of kite-tails, in close attendance. The seagulls
stayed when Bill went home at night, guarding the tractor and
the plow and the open purse of the soil.
Impatient to get started each morning, they were already fluttering
busily, vying for position as Bill made his early trek across
the field to begin his work.
Dragging the plow behind, the tractor slowly transformed the
field. The first pass lifted the earth in clumps, pulled out the
juniper, and tossed up a few rocks. On the second, the lurching
machine turned the brittle grass under, exposed the roots, and
left a finer texture. With the disc attached the tractor made
waves in the fresh dark earth. Fertilizer next, then the planter
left crooked rows of yellow kernels. Another swipe covered the
seeds; then a deposit of weed-killer finished the job.
The work took nine days from start to finish, during which the
seagulls had perfect attendance.
We watched the progress from house and yard. Aunt Katie drank
her coffee on the kitchen porch to enjoy the smell of freshly
plowed earth with the morning sun. After dinner she and my Dad
took their beers outside. Leaning back in their chairs, they kept
their eyes on the tractor's path as the evening was filled with
laughter and talk. When Dad noticed the gulls, he said, Cindy,
get my gun. Here's supper! My daughters made appropriate
noises of mock horror and disgust as I remembered Dad's earlier
threats to Shoot Santa from the sky, to put
some venison steak on the table. Many springtimes in my
childhood I feared for the Easter Bunny's life. Aunt Katie must
have had similar memories, according to the way she rolled her
eyes at Dad's talk of seagull stew.
Nothing's going to be the same, my daughters groused
at the plow. The way he's ruining our fort. And what about
Fluffy? This was pronounced with a degree of sureness showing
they thought they'd hit on an argument I couldn't overcome; they
seemed to expect I would now run across the field and throw myself
in front of the tractor to bring its devastation to a halt. I
well remembered the frail, two-day-old kitten we'd had to bury
in this field eight years before, and marveled that they did too.
Their outburst made me recall times in my childhood when I'd made
paths and hide-outs in the tall grass, catching fire flies and
picking wildflowers as we roamed through this vast field morning
and evening, and I sympathized with their sense of loss. Wait,
I told them. You'll have great times playing in the tall
corn. Watch the birds, I said. They're
so funny. Watch your Grandpa that's what I was doing.
Every day, Dad walked the field. His long stride covered the
rough ground with ease, and he seemed to be measuring it with
his even pace. He moved quickly, as if he had a specific destination,
then stopped suddenly and without a plan, just to study the terrain.
With his feet planted firmly in the soil his legs formed a triangle
with the ground. His broad shoulders rounded and his back formed
an S-curve as he hooked his thumbs into his belt loops and rested
his hands on non-existent hips. He stood for so long that his
solid form took on the aura of a statueexcept for his head,
which nodded his grudging approval at everything he saw. Years
later his image returned, not from memory but from my paintings:
I imbedded his sturdy triangle form in a series of collagraphs,
surprising myself with this sure symbol of safety from earlier
in my life.
My daughters felt like they were losing their childhood, but
Dad was reclaiming his. And above, the transition was celebrated
by a swirling whirlpoolof seagulls!
The Real Beacon:
Search the Beaver Beacon Web Site & Archive: