Saturday, March 9, 2013

Grampa's Farm & The Disappointment of Growing Up

Those sunny days in the 70's when I was a boy on my grampa's farm in Coopersville engendered wonder and awe at the simple beauty of creation.  There were waves upon waves of blue-green seas in the fields of alfalfa, and of the gold of hay and straw.  And in the Autumn, when the days grow shorter and crimson at dusk, the endless ocean of corn stalks that once grew green and tall were cut down and mulched into the giant silos standing like sentinels next to the barn, where the lazy cows mooed and groaned in their stanchions.   There was a road that passed by the barn on the right hand side, time-worn by John Deer tractors and giant, black, rubber tires which cut the beige, dusty paths leaving a middle stream of grass as a guide down the steep valley and up, up the giant, endless hill and what emerged beyond.  The endless fields and fields of harvest for what--days or weeks of travel, only bordered by Deer Creek, that swift moving muddy river in which perhaps crocodiles or giant snakes lie.  You mustn't cross this border, for what is beyond is not of your kin and tribe, and danger is there!

Back then, everything was gigantic and full of awestruck wonder: the grain elevators and wagons, and the haylofts so high up and full of trap doors--watch out!  The spray-gun was as long as your body when you used it to kill off the flies.  The cows moseyed throughout the barn like gargantuan, dumb aliens--but they could be roused with a temper...

It was the road that led to the fields, as it crossed the creek at the bottom of the valley and up, up into the vast cropland beyond that measured the man in the boy.  It's a dusty trail heading down into the depths of the abyss and you must climb a mountain to get back up on top!  But little boys are not deterred by such challenges; rather they muster the strength within, taking no account of the journey's toil.  Instead, they see only clear adventure, and it is this that compels them: they must see what lies beyond the borders of this horizon at the top of the mountainous hill, and along the way, they'll stop to stomp and splash in the creek below looking for crustaceans or perhaps golden coins or maybe fossils or some kind of mystery and treasure lost from a forgotten age. 

When he was older, he visited again, and brought his girlfriend with him.  He'd long tossed away his farm pants--his overalls, with their silver clasps and pin stripes, trading them in for a simple pair of blue jeans, a t-shirt and a flannel.  Perhaps not much of a difference, you say, but it's a far cry for a young man to wear overalls and not feel just a little silly when he doesn't need to wear them for some utilitarian purpose.  His girlfriend had heard all about the place with its endless lands and far-reaching borders, steep sloping hills and humongous contraptions used to harvest the world's food stores.

He fled out of the house, leaving her embarrassed in front of his relatives, running toward the barn with the goal of reaching its adjacent road.   Oh, to run down that long, steep, sloping hill and traverse up the opposite end, only to fall flat on his back with exhaustion and exuberance at the joy of conquering this dusty road and regime!  And ah, gaze at the sky above.  He sets out, and sees the beginning of the road and comes to a slow pace, confused and in a daze, for the road is flat and mundane, a mere dip and short jaunt upward to the fields.  This is no hill.  This is nothing upon which to run down, or climb up--it is only a short distance to walk--and a rather pleasant one it is at that.  Pleasant and easy.  Too easy, in fact, to rouse any sense of mystery or adventure.  The creek below is only a muddy trickle overgrown with blunt and pale, broad-bladed grasses and weeds.  Nothing lives in it, and there certainly won't be any mysteries or treasures there.  You don't need to get to the top, as it were, to see the field beyond.  They are visible even at the bottom of the shallow, meaningless dip. 

There's no valley, there's nothing to engender an embarkation.

So he stands there and turns around, facing the farm house, and his girlfriend waits on the back porch, her arms folded, with a confused look on her face, and yet she is smiling at him.

What happened on our way to adulthood?  How did we lose the wonder of God's creation?  How did we have such grandiose memories of the past, only to find disappointment in the present? 


Noel said...

I love this! Reminds me of the summers at my grandparents' place. Beautiful essay, Chris.

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Thanks Noel. The place was really ideal. Or idyllic. Everything about Grampa's farm was unique, right down to the curved, cement step that led into the barn.

He even had one of those old gas tanks that stood above ground and held a few hundred gallons!