Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Missive

Winter finds us here on Prairie Creek, east of the stubble field, beside the ancient row of lilacs hugging the ditch-bank. The farmhouse has enriched our lives not only with shelter, work and gaiety, but kinship.

The farm is a life shared with us. It holds not our mothers’ childhood. Nor did our grandparents, uncles, aunts, make these fields or carve these waterings, raise these barns and sheds, corrals and bunkhouses. This is another family, now interwoven with ours, far flung, and rich in their own lives.

I see their summer photographs, the stubbly lawn bathed in full sun, the meager slips of lilac either side of the footbridge, new and ornamented white with gated archways. And in the yard, beside a tall slim woman, a toddler in bloomerish attire, toddling as my own have done in this very place.

Only now, the elms are tall and the lilacs overgrown. The buildings, once stark and construct, are settled and aged among a scattering of fattened cottonwoods and tall windbreak conifers. I am thankful for this sharing.

This winter morning, the fields and pastures, still farmed, are licked with fog. I wait for the sun to break through, to light the ice and set the fields with crops of tiny rainbow prisms.

There are other houses that have grown out of these farms, and left aside the farmers. There are houses whose people have lives elsewhere, with other professions and means. I would like to know them, I tell myself, and feel the urge to knock on their door, bearing jam and potatoes. I think I want to hear their stories, to tell my own, but then I remember times when the story is unanswered, and I doubt.

Sometimes it takes getting past, like wading through hawthorn thickets in the bottom of a draw. Last week moving cattle, I drug my horse into the middle of a thicket, thinking I’d find a hole and ended up clawed from every side. My horse’s head against my back, I wrestled spiny branches, wishing for a machete, until I found the fire-killed sumac that I could break, and we pushed through.

Mike said he cut the trail out once. But it will take cutting out again, for as long as someone is bringing cattle up that creek on foot or horseback. And I think of all the trails that have felt the arc of his machete. And I think of the hands before us who knew and wanted to keep open the way to that range and to the cabin at the forks.

Sometimes our stories can be told, even miles apart, to people we rarely see, and they might remember this same trail, even if they have never set foot there. I will knock on the neighbor’s door again this Christmas.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef