Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint, I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
“Pacing the Cage,”
~ Bruce Cockburn, Get back to the garden
I’m tired of writing critical commentaries, which my last two have been. And besides, the natural world of Charlotte is not something one can easily criticize. Its skies, landscapes, clouds and harvest moons bring together many of the reasons for choosing here as home. Too often we fail to be conscious of the role our environment plays in our lives.
The day before yesterday I was driving on Greenbush Road, looking west across the lake. It was early evening and the sun was, indeed, an angel shining its rays into puffy clouds and the back sides of the Adirondacks. Streaks of orange and yellow emanating from somewhere just below the mountain tops—which were nothing but dark abutments seemingly rising out of the lake—did indeed appear to be angelic.
I counted five colors in the sky from bright yellow, to purple and blue, to a puffy wool-looking white that formed itself into a large dragon surrounded by marshmallows.
It is a bit dangerous being so taken with the viewscape when you are driving. However, it made me think of what it is that grabs me about our countryside. Having come here from the urban giant of New York City, through the Berkshires of northeastern Connecticut and prior to that from the great plains of the upper Midwest, I realize that I am now a northern New Englander and probably will remain so. It seems a bit odd going back to my former haunts and feeling quite out of place. When I die, please don’t bury me. Just throw my ashes around to become mixed into the landscape. If Robert Mack’s cows spit me out, that is their prerogative, but they may be missing some good nutrition—that and a bit of brewers yeast.
Speaking of Robert, let me take a paragraph or so to touch on the local agricultural scene. Farming, if not in my blood, has been connected to my life for a long time. I grew up in southern Minnesota where windmills dotted the flat landscape. Some Vermonters complain about the damage to the Vermont viewscape when windmills of another type impinge on it. They obviously have never stood at the outskirts of Owatonna, Minnesota, and looked in all directions to see nothing but cornfields and windmills. Every little town had its own granary as well, usually just off Main Street because that is where the trains ran, and street traffic stopped as the boxcars were loaded.
Having fallen in love with the daughter of a fourth-generation dairy farmer from northwestern Connecticut, whom I first met when he fixed our car’s muffler with baling wire, I immediately became impressed with the range of skills people developed through work in agriculture. Talk about a liberal education!
Ask me about versatility. I don’t know what farming had to do with football, but the nose tackle on my high school team came off a farm where he milked in the early morning before driving 20 minutes to school, attending classes all day, practicing football in the afternoon and driving home to milk again.
My grandfather owned a haberdashery store in a small midwestern town. After giving it up, he went into the banking business where, as head of the local small bank, his organization took over a number of farms whose owners had to sell out because of the Depression. He initially rented the farms to tenants, a number of whom went on to buy them. My grandfather loved to visit “his” farms regularly. They were not far from town, and he would drop in on the owners or renters unannounced to discover how the cows were doing or the crops growing. He often took me along on his trips. I loved to go because I learned what really went on inside those barns and that my grandfather actually had some sort of oversight of them. To me, dairy farming was “big business,” and he was the CEO. I don’t honestly know if he ever sat on a milking stool in his life.
I will periodically stop by the meetings happening around coffee in the morning at Spear’s Store in East Charlotte. Robert Mack is there regularly, and, as usual, the other morning he berated me for my liberal views on government. Taking it in full measure as I’ve learned to do, we left the store together. Rather than continue our criticism of each other’s political views, Robert reached into the back seat of his car and pulled out a handful of hot peppers and some eggplant, saying he had just picked them that morning. We ate the eggplant last night and, yes, it “toasted” the taste buds.
Aah, politics, agriculture, football, banking, learning, plus the beauty of the landscape—and add in human nature—contribute to the variety of things that create the planet upon which we live. I would like to see them melded together without hatred, but I’m afraid that just won’t happen.