Of Flannery O’Conner, Roy Blount Jr. writes: “Sometimes I’m just sitting idly thinking of final things and a line from one of his stories comes to mind – – -“The monks of old slept in their coffins” , “Jesus unbalanced everything”, “Shut up Bobby Lee, it is not a real pleasure in life” – – – and I will feel chastened, but better”.
When one’s circadian rhythm timing belt gets out of whack, there’s not much you seem to be able to do about it. It takes a while to get over this kind of mechanical nightmare. Search the web-o-sphere however you can, not even Amazon sells these types of replacement timing belts.
You can never really understand why the timing belt decides to go bad when it goes bad. It just goes.
Maybe it’s another sign that the seasons are about to change. It’s time to sleep a little less in preparation for new morning trips to some wild place. Maybe it’s the moon or too liquid to target. Suppose it is the dreaded black dog of creeping old age. Maybe it’s the 89-year-old neighbor’s cow-calf operation.
The neighbor does not like to bring his young cattle to the barn for sale unless they are weaned. He claims that a naked calf, complaining about the lack of his mother’s udder, no matter how good it looks, makes even a group of scruffy “Pen Hookers” nervous.
So, he separates the calves from the cows, which immediately sets off days of loud, long, sad arguments between the young orphans and the tired old mamas.
After years of trying to sleep through this kind of preparation for a new pasture, it’s easy enough to pick up the nuances of the lone calf’s conversation. “FEED ME! Mom, I can hear you but I can’t see you!” it appears loud and clear on a cool August night, long before the sun slips over the mountain.
I suspect the old cows are just trying to reassure the fat calf that everything is going to be okay.
But somehow I also figured out that old cows also quietly say, “Man, I’m glad it’s over for a while.”
You have to wonder if all this cow talk isn’t so different from the feelings mothers discuss after sending their first-born sons off to a distant college or kindergarten.
It’s not too hard to think that you can decipher the language of cows, but it can definitely affect your best sleeping habits. Is it possible that unhappy calves could somehow damage the timing belt of sleep rhythms?
More research is definitely required before this can be considered a scientifically appropriate hypothesis. The next batch of unhappy young cattle could provide the answer. We’ll have to wait and see. Maybe it’s the August moon. Maybe it’s Mother Earth tilting slightly on her axis.
I find myself clutching a hot cup of coffee from yesterday, wondering at the space where the garden has usually been cleared of the dying silver queen. Two handing over the hot ceramic bowl soothes stiff, sore knuckles damaged by the previous day’s chores.
Brown corn stalks are stacked in what children call ‘corn tipis’. They say the teepees and little pumpkins remind them that Halloween is not far on the horizon. The okra is still blooming and it’s time to clean up all the mess and plant sweet clover.
At the end of the garden, where the hard roots of the great walnut tree begin to drop nuts, I start talking to the dogs. The bird dog stops with me, trying to catch the scent in the dew left behind by a lucky squirrel that dropped nuts from the lofty branches of the majestic old monarch.
We both examined in silence the place where the bones of the other dogs lay. There is a low, smoky mist over the grass. The approaching morning is eerily calm and serene, except for the flock of small birds warming up to search the dewy world of insects and seeds.
No markers here, no fence collars, no markers of any kind among the roots of the big nut. It is simply his place, the dog’s last home before traveling to the happy hunting grounds. Springers, Brittanys, a Griffon, a triple of good German dogs, and one or two dogs that were good dogs. We were never exactly sure who his parents were. Good dogs whose parents didn’t have much of a moral compass.
I talk to the dogs about things that make sense to you when you go back to the time when they were at their best. A time when every dog did things you never thought you’d see a dog do. I can still vividly see the sparkle in everyone’s eyes on that day, that glorious day, when they performed feats that were simply magical. Each of those beautiful animals performed wonderful acts of magic for me. Magic that he probably didn’t deserve.
Maybe it’s the bloody cows’ lack of sleep, but I’m pretty sure we’re all communicating again.
We laughed, we smiled, we jumped, we turned, we froze and we pointed as if we had seen a dead snake there in the cool of the garden before dawn, just below the great nut tree. I watch each one burst onto the grass, glad to be free to break out again. A piece of the moon shines down on us as we stand there smiling.
I remember an old top 40 song there, in the damp, cool August garden, watching the old dogs romp; “Rooty toot toot to the moon. It is the biggest star I have ever seen. It’s a pearl of wisdom, a slice of green cheese, that burns like kerosene.”
There is another similar spot that I occasionally frequent before the sun slides over White Oak Mountain. I don’t find myself talking to old horses as often as I probably should. They were good animals, too, but perhaps our sporadic conversation is rooted in the fact that on more than one occasion I was a little worried that they might just decide to run over me while I was still in the saddle.
I never had that against them. I figured it was all part of being on the back of a huge animal that wasn’t really born to carry people on its back. In some weird way, that warped logic can explain why we don’t talk as much as we should.
In this part of the pasture, our conversation is usually a bit more subdued and reflective. Maybe I’m thinking of the time one kicked my hat off when I was thinking about something else, and how I missed a massive head injury by less than a tenth of a mustache. Maybe it was my fault and I deserved to be beheaded for wearing a saddle. But, I never forgot how close we were that morning. I witnessed the magic of horses. They could also do magic. I just don’t know what it’s like to talk to them a little less often than I talk to the dogs. But it is what it is.
Should we lament that we live longer than dogs and horses? Or should we find wealth in the dogs and horses that have so enriched our existence?
I know people who gave up on dogs and horses after that one-of-a-kind favorite was final. The loss of that family member was so intense that they decided ‘no more, I can’t take it anymore!’ My free advice was always: “Get back in the saddle. They are all unique.”
These backyard conversations always seem to come in handy when sleep deprivation shows its ugly side. When the timing belt of old habits breaks down a bit. Especially on the cool of an August morning, when the cool mist hangs low on the countryside, before the sun rises and the birds begin to move hungrily.
As Mr. Blount says; “Perhaps it is the idle thought about the final things. I feel punished. But better.”
WOMR note: Apparently more than one reader has also engaged the services of a “camouflage closet” and tells me they’ve been desperately rummaging through their “best stuff” in their August garages recently. Tom of Hooverville said he stumbled across an old Winchester 7-1/2 box priced at $3.75. He complained that the cheapest knockoffs are now on sale for $9.99 a box. He even did the math for us and that’s a tragic and almost evil price increase of 166%! Maybe there is an inflation advantage, maybe the pigeon fields are a little less crowded on opening day. That would be more than fine with me too.
Another long time and valuable reader gave me a kind and gentle lesson on using spell checkers and using words, which I really appreciated. I never thought a “leather collar” would be as good an English teacher as he is a gentleman. He also kindly pointed out that I misspelled the hometown of his wife, Fyffe. Let me officially apologize to this Good Lady from Alabama again for my clumsiness in repeatedly failing English 101 on numerous occasions, early in my attempts at educational wanderings.
Keep sending comments. I sincerely enjoy everyone’s thoughts and ideas on this topic, even when I screw it up.
As for my continual and confusing battles with inappropriate English and attempts at extensive revision, it’s like Garrison Keillor says about the Lake Wobegon motto; “It could be worse.”
Maybe it’s the aiming fluid.
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