Under the Bearing Sun
The land cries. I’ve seen it in too many summers of my life, when the sun cracked earth mirrors the hidden cracks in my soul. The land hardens, and my heart hardens with it. Animals shun the light and lay up. Deer, when I find them, pant in the heat. Life hides. I hide. Only in the night does the world come alive, and something inside me stirs.
A week ago I gave up sleeping in the house. All this week, once darkness drops, somewhere against the cliff on the other side of the river a lone bullfrog begins his solitary song. Gone is the chorus of the thousands of bullfrogs I listened to as a child. Bullfrogs mark healthy waters, and their absence worries me, a sign of things to come that are not good. Late in the night, the coyotes, who moved into the East a few years back, begin their cry. The sound of the pack brings out something old in me, the herder’s instinct, and I clutch my heavy revolver tight. Night after night, I lay in the dirt and burned brown grass and look to the heavens, and I find myself leaving the bright stars of the summer triangle, the glitter of the Corolla Borealis, and the soft, white wonder of the Milky Way, burning low and bright, to search out and stare into the great square of Pegasus, the emptiest part of the summer sky at midnight. Something about the great empty quarters draws me. I want to look away but can’t. I look with the certainty that one day these great empty quarters will reclaim me from this world of life that can be so lush and filled with promise in the good times, and this time, I will not return.
In this dry time, fear taints everything I touch. I shun people. The smallest courtesy seems more than I have to offer. I’ve known worse droughts. When I was younger, the burden of managing the land lay with my grandfather and then my father. In those dry times, my grandfather retreated to his ledgers, waiting for the grass panic that would surely follow if the rains didn’t come. The fall markets would be harsh place for thin animals and weak men. Better men than me have lost everything in a grass panic. For my father, it was the bottle, always.
I had neither the ledger nor the bottle.
On this night a low cloud cover protects me from the worst of the heat. I string a tarp and hope for rain. An hour after dark, the thunderstorm begins. The tarp offers little against what the full fury of a summer storm on the river can be, but I tell myself too much preparation for the rain will curse its chances. With deep gratitude, I listen as the heavy rain pounds the stretched tarp. The earth drinks, and life comes into me as well. Flash lightening nearby hurts my closed eyes. The time when I could enjoy a storm is past. I’ve seen what nature can do. I could die on this ground tonight, prostrate and exposed to this storm, but it’s home ground. I can’t find the energy to care much. What comes, comes. The earth will green again in the night. Whether I live to see it in the morning is less important.
Words from a childhood prayer my mother used return . . . if I should die before I sleep. The words garble. I turned from religion much too young. The cynicism I replaced it with never served me well or true. Like this land I love, I am harsh and cruel. Maybe in this night, once the storm has passed, I can dream of the good things, and not of the harsh images, the fire and the lightning, and the breaking that is to come. In my dreams, maybe I can love her again like it isn’t a distant memory turned to dust under the bearing sun.