Bringing What it May
On the morning of Election Day I towed my tractor a dozen miles to the north, to help move material for a foundation job my friend Michael was working on. I drove slowly, as I always do when I’m towing, and as I mostly do even when I’m not towing, and on a narrow gravel road I passed a herd of Black Angus walking single file along a well-worn path through a stubbled field. Sun already high and hot on their dark flanks.
Of the election, I have little to say. Like most people, I crave a degree of security and certainty in my life, even as I recognize the folly in it, even as I understand that the only certainty is the chaos of uncertainty. And how little I know, really, about the workings of the world, of the humans who inhabit it, and of the vastness of all that is non-human. How little I know, even, about the workings of my own heart and mind, terrain I find endlessly fascinating, to be sure, but which never ceases to surprise me at twists and turns I could never have anticipated.
I guess that’s why my writing tends to be so personal and, in some ways, I suppose, so small. It’s just what I know. I know the sun on the shit-flecked flanks of those Angus, what it looks and feels like. I know the pleasure of working with my friend. I know how to love an animal and how to reconcile that love with the coppery smell of its blood on my hands. I know the exact spot on the wood cook stove that gets hottest every time, so that my coffee might be ready the sooner. I know the small thrill of dropping a backwards-leaning spruce precisely where I needed it to fall. I know that right now my young sons are deep in the woods on a weeklong solo camping trip, foraging for their food and cooking over a fire. It’s their first camping trip without adult supervision, and when I think of this, I feel a certain loneliness. They need less and less from me every day.
But of the election result – the reasons for it, the motivations behind it, the meaning of it – I know very little. To me, it feels big beyond comprehension, an antidote to everything that seems manageable in my life – the sun-warmed flanks of those cows, the sweet spot on the cook stove, even the bittersweet vulnerability I feel as I watch my sons mature. It gnaws at me, but I understand it. I can manage it. Now, like so many of my friends and family, I know a new uneasiness, one that persists even as I remind myself that what seems certain and solid is never truly so.
The work I did on election day went smoothly; Michael and I were finished by four, and I loaded up the tractor for the drive home, and when I passed the farm where I’d seen the Angus that morning, I saw them again in almost exactly the same spot, but now walking the other way. Headed for the barn. Hay, grain, water. I slowed the truck even further, and though I could not articulate it then, I now understand what I wanted from those animals: To be among them. To be of them. To have it be just that simple.
And I as I left them behind, I imagined them in the field yet again, bedded down for the night, maybe in part because I know what bedded-down cows look like, and it’s a sight that brings me comfort. There’s something in the solidity of it, the communion of flesh and earth, the unspoken acceptance that tomorrow will come. Bringing what it may.