Thursday, August 28, 2008

Prairie Life - Sanctuary

Stoneman Call* lives a couple of miles out of town, on the land his family settled in the 1880's. He left there for the first time in 1943 and when he came back two and a half years later Edie and the farm were waiting. They raised corn and beans in the fields and a family in the old wooden farmhouse, and their lines have mostly fallen, as the psalm says, in pleasant places.

He doesn’t farm any more, of course; the livestock and the machinery are long gone, although the barn cats have stayed faithful. Edie was taken to the nursing home out by the elementary school last winter, and Stoneman comes in to see her every day. On Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day he presents himself at the Legion Hall, joining the rest of us in the honor detail. His hands holding the heavy rifle are thin and nearly translucent but his grip is still firm as we perform the manual of arms.

The other day when I drove past, there was a dead buck on the road directly in front of the house. Now, Man is the only predator that white-tailed deer in this part of the country have left. They share the landscape with us warily and keep their distance, and I could not figure out how one of them had gotten struck and killed two jumps from Stoneman’s front porch, at least until my hunting brother in law explained it to me.

The house is completely surrounded by oaks and maples and a couple of big old pines, planted by his grandparents, probably. They have grown up so thick and close that you can’t see the house from the road until you are smack up on it, and the farmstead sticks out above the prairie landscape like an oasis.

At twilight the deer file up out of the rustling corn and settle down in the cool green spaces under the trees, paying no attention to the old man moving around in the silent house. The thick warm darkness closes in and they sleep until daybreak brings him out to feed the clustering cats and sends the deer back into the fields.

Stoneman’s children live in cities, in houses that have only known one generation. In a few years when he and Edie are lying together in the graveyard on the bluff above the river, the land will be sold. The new owners will tear down the farmhouse, the outbuildings and the empty barn to keep from having to pay the real estate taxes. The cats will die off or drift away.

And on the long summer nights the deer will still come to sleep under the trees.


Georgeanne said...

I've been a regular visitor to your blog for a while now but never stopped to leave a note. I enjoy your posts very much and had to say this story really touched my heart. It's sad when there is no one left to care for the land and keep it from turning into another ugly housing tract; at least that's what happens to empty land here in California. Unfortunately, dollar signs mean more than saving a beautiful spot of country.

Shay said...

Thank you Georgeanne. Unfortunately, around here it's not houses that go up, it's turkey or pig feeder farms.

T-Mom said...

Or else they tear up all the old fences and hedgerows and plant corn or soybeans over everything but a little square where the house and barn stood. There's usually one skeletal old elm, the ghost of a gravel driveway, and the pole for with the electric wire still coming in from the main. It's happening around here. It's very depressing.