Farm News

Deer Flies Do Not Lie

image of a fishing raft on a river in Montana

It’s early July. I am sitting in an expansive gold-brown grass valley full of fox dens, osprey nests and hardscrabble prairie life. North of Yellowstone, two hazy blue, somewhat parallel mountain ranges roll down and pool into flat benches and curvy foothills. One eastward, one westward, the wide valley sweeping low between them, these mountain ranges frame my experience with a silent serenity. A restful, arid, sun-starched breeze makes me want to stretch my lungs and hug the clean air inside my chest over and over. The presence of place here is undeniable, and yet impossibly elusive. I am unable to capture the dignity, the spacious freedom of such majesty, by camera or otherwise.

It’s late afternoon. I’ve spent the morning floating fifteen miles of an unbelievably complex and gorgeous river. Rivermusic is still shushing in my ears. Driving to the put-in, the bone-dry grass landscape rising miles toward waving foothills seemed a harsh and endless aberration. Just standing in all that open, unprotected space, under the hard, hot sun would be a tough line of work. It is not until I am safely nestled on the lap of the fluid, water ecosystem that the intense rangeland feels less daunting to me. The dry land, the wet river- these contrasting landscapes fit comfortably, unexplainably together.

Work, a wide, seemingly barren grassland full of parched hours and heavy steps. Rest, the quenching coolness of clear, green life. I have to think on this metaphor a moment, for it catches me off guard. From my shady perch, the grass meadows and fields look so still and at ease, but I think of the enormous effort it would take for me to cross on foot and the concept of Work blindingly drives the heat into each imagined step. And then I think of that crisp, bubbling bluegreen water like the punctuation mark of my morning. Decisive, ink clearly drawn, my refreshing river represents Rest. A partner paradox, for it is the river which never sits still, full of the energy and motion usually indicative of work.

Land, water. Brittle, fluid. Work flowing into rest; rest seeping into work. This highly-functioning ecological dance of dichotomy is exactly what I seek to replicate in my life.

But all my deep pondering comes into focus later, comes when Thinking Mind returns. Earlier, out on the river, the cold water freestone trail hastily lulled my brain into Mind at Ease. Mind at Ease is a moving meditation featuring caddis flies and red-winged blackbirds, a family of mergansers, the sight of a heron’s rookery, and the sweet comforting smell of hundred-year-old cottonwoods tickling their leafy fingers in the stream like giggling kids. Time still passes in clockwork fashion, but Mind at Ease abandons all clocks.

photo of montana wildflowers, river and mountainsOut on the river the edges of the valley blur and disappear. Imposing granite walls, knowing nothing of the timeworn marriage of creeks and soft banks, draw themselves determinedly down into the river’s bottom. I face this cleaving imagery from the raft: rock dropping sharply into water, leaving behind questions which waft into the hollow space inches above the waterline. Up from depths, on the nosetip of a trout, shadowy secrets rise laden with mystery. But all this flashes like the solitary golden eagle overhead. Mile after river mile, such latent energy is at once upon me, then gone again nearly before it is recognizable. What and why percolate inside me.

Out on the river, Mind at Ease detachedly allows such ruminations to bubble to the surface before swirling and sweeping them off into their own life. Mind at Ease is perfectly content to let questions embark on restful solo lives, untethered by the domesticity of working answers.

Out on the river, willows reverberate light off the hips of the bending riffles, where glassy, ebbing currents effortlessly deflect the machinations of Thinking Mind who wishes to worry. There is nothing I can do from so far afar. I sluff off expectation like a restrictive winter coat and absorb summertime as if it can be bottled. I become enough, as perfect and imperfect as I immediately am. It becomes quite enough- actually, it becomes everything, to simply float, to witness, to be still.

It gets better. Back from the river, I’ve had the most leisurely lunch imaginable, followed by a sweet little nap. The Peter Mayle paperback purchased for $0.50 at the local library sits beside me, tantalizing my fingertips to turn to page one and dive into the pleasure of a no-obligation, no-commitment evening. In the span of 756 miles, I no longer have irrigation sets to turn off, harvest orders to fill, beds to chisel plow. Stripped of farm life, who am I?

Farmers. The age-old description includes the following paraphrased characterizations: Hardworking to a fault. Up before sunrise. Tuesday, Sunday, holiday, sick days: on a farmer’s calendar, there is only one day: the Workday. Cows need milked, weeds grow round the clock, livestock knows nothing of daylight savings time, crops must be seeded and harvested on Nature’s schedule, not ours.

Yet here I am, sitting under the vast Montana skyline, brashly ignoring the playbook of agrarians everywhere, doing the one thing farmers are collectively known not to do: take a summer vacation.

The sequence of events that led to this cannot be wholly explained in one short essay. It took a devoted aunt, seven years, an injury, falling in love, a pragmatic epiphany, and the unending miracle of a generous, skilled farm family, but the deer flies biting me do not lie.

It is July. For a brief few days, I am a farmer at rest. ~AJ

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