Saturday, October 18, 2008

blood is thicker

I called my dad this morning because it was cold out.

I grew up in the hills of the Ozarks, and my family has made a culture out of the love of crisp air and fallen leaves. Perhaps it's because summers are so long and still and steamy there, or maybe it's more about the kinds of things that represent comfort in cold times: warm beverages, fires in fireplaces, enveloping clothes, the conversations that become more spacious as activity slows down.

He is always so delighted when I call him, and this time his brother had come up from his cabin to sit in front of the fire and talk. He got on the extension, and so I spent a while with them. My uncle and I differ on many things, and our relationship is evidence that blood is sometimes thicker than politics or religion--I adore him and he me. We talked about the algae abatement plan on the pond, and about the 4 bass he had caught. My dad filled me in on the beaver dam and the excellent crop of pears.

My uncle was crowing about the white oak that had been hit by lightning and about the wood pile it had produced last spring and about this morning being the first test of how good it was. It was good. He said he heard the birds sing when it got going and then launched into one of his stories: an old man, dying, claims he can hear birds calling from the fireplace. His wife leans in close and tells him that the birds sat on those branches when they were still a tree in the summertime, and that the birds' songs got stored up in them. Warming the branches again releases the song.

I told my uncle and my dad about one of my favorite short poems by Wendell Berry:

Best of any song is bird song in the quiet.
But first you must have the quiet.

The three of us sat there on the phone in the quiet and pondered that, and I heard my dad's hound dog out on the porch, wailing at the approaching mail truck still a mile away down the gravel road. When there are no cars, sound carries.

I am homesick this morning.

Not because I don't love my life--I do. But because I know where my life came from: the earth and angle of the light and persimmon trees and creeks and branches and hunting dogs and coffee cups and lichen-covered firewood.

And the people who are old and full of life. Who love me and each other in spite of differences. Who take time on a Saturday morning to have a conversation.

I wish I had a fireplace.

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