Caught Up in the Air

Ford 8 N

Ford 8 N

A dozen or more three hundred year old black oaks spread
over the top of the south side hill of our farm
a two acre pasture on top &
our house sat on the edge and overlooked a small
twenty acre valley bottom with a creek & across it
was a similar hill of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir
to complete the farms north edge as a cross section
of a small valley running from our house south/north

One afternoon after school when I was 14
I walked out through the oaks to find my Grandfather
a man in his early eighties, he had turned the
place into a farm in only about four years

It was his son’s farm who owned a business
in town and twenty miles away, my grandfather had
used his own money, to build a lambing shed, then
chicken coops, then a substantial barn, and a half acre
garden down by the creek that was irrigated
by a pump and sprinkler and we all ate
very well and the tractor was an important tool

Every day in his sweat stained straw
cowboy hat he was on his son’s Ford 8N tractor
to the garden, the sheep shed, the creek,
& when I went looking for him my radar
was set for the Ford tractor

The tractor was the 20 team of mules
he used to own when he was
a successful farmer on the Great Plains
& he had started as a cowboy breaking horses for a living
& was at the door of change from horse drawn everything
to tractors, & power from oil
that began to feed the world
shortly before, banks and the great depression
ended all that for him

For our little farm, the tractor plowed, the tractor fertilized, the tractor planted,
the tractor cut hay, the tractor raked hay, and the tractor bailed hay
the tractor hauled hay, the tractor mixed cement,
the tractor toted injured animals,

I found him sitting on a 5 gallon bucket
his hat on his knee & embarrassment on his face
a look I’d never seen before from
the most affable man I’d ever known
“Oh Jimmy,” he sighed, “You have to do something for me,”

He had left the Ford tractor out of gear and did
not set the brake while he got off to do some chore &
the 8N had rolled down the hill…

The hill had about a 70 percent slope
& almost a straight drop got it going at such a high rate of
speed that when it hit the bottom it actually bounced
over a fence at the bottom of the hill and while airborne
hit the pasture & bounded over another small
hill by the apple trees and rolled out but not over
into the fresh green pasture;
beside the still slough where bull frogs were
letting go in their slow & late afternoon jug-a-rums
& I by his narrative, I was now looking down wide eyed overthe hill
& out to where, yes in the green pasture—thered tractor was sitting motionless

“I’d like you to go down there,” he said pointing but looking away, “and if there is nothing
wrong with it, drive the tractor back up here and never-tell-my-son-that-this-ever-happened.”

I went over the top of this steep hill side amazed & imagining again
the trajectory and the perfect angle of descent that kept
the 8N from turning over and fully expected something broken
as his narrative told of a loud noise when it hit
the bottom of the hill, before it leapt the fence

& yes, I was wishing I’d seen it happen, but
when I got to it I could not see anything broken & I touched
the button starter next to the gear shift,
it fired up and I drove it back up the 100 year old
road bed that was at one time the road from Medford
to Prospect, that now let us take a long gentle slope up
and down to our house and farm, &
he was relieved & I never told his son of the driverless 8N’s wild ride

Another afternoon when I was 17, I found him on the
concrete floor of the barn having fallen and broken
his hip while tending an animal, I gently got him
In the carry-all I attached to the back of the tractor
& very slowly got him to the house, before dark where
I called and we waited for an ambulance, to come twenty miles from town
& they operated & pinned his hip
& told him he’d never walk again.

Before he left the hospital he told me that was bullshit
and he’d be walking on a plane to fly to Kansas, as he was determined not
to die in Oregon as he thought they might bury him there,
& he mended, in a hospital bed in our living room, started out on crutches
& progressed to a walker, & then two canes & then to one

That next fall I and a neighbor killed three nice bucks
across the creek where I knew they could be waylaid
& I drove them back draped over the tractor
up the old Prospect road past our house where
my grandfather was standing on the back patio watching
us return & he raised one of his canes
and brandished it in the air, as we drove past.

That next spring I accompanied him to the
airport and saw him walk with one cane up onto a 727
& as he got to the door he turned around
& waved his Stetson hat down at me on the tarmac,
& then slowly turned around in his cowboy boots
& entered the jet to be caught up in the air & I never saw him again.

The Red Gate

That last time I was to the farm
where running through creeks, chasing
small birds and my imagination,
I had grown up
there was a red gate my Grandfather had built

Much of the paint had blistered and peeled
as its weight had pulled the corner post
forward toward the earth that it also
had leaned for, still functional but barely so

Fashioned with boards and bolts that
had gone through hand augured holes by
brace and bit—I still remember
that tools’ shininess from years of use

The gate separated the farm from
an adjacent well-to do horse ranch
where fine Arabians pawed at the
sawdust in tight functional stalls

North of the gate had been our barn
that burned several winters before the funeral
all the animals had gotten out & though
the gate was only five feet away it stood,
a bit charred still, & latched to the fence

It had swung open mostly for bartered loads
of hay and occasionally for myself, to get closer
to a fox or deer in the next field and sometimes
to deliver Christmas cakes to affluent neighbors

The farm changed hands to distant relations
by marriage; who after the funeral came offering
condolences and money — I stood there looking
at its form as the content of memories, of ghosts,
of the distance of wealth, of long ago laughter
of a presence of sorrow the screeched
like a rusty hinge

The Forester

He twisted his head
his blond hair and blue eyes
underneath the tin hat with
the rain dripping off the back, then
peered down at me and with a
shovel in his hand I got my answer:

“The clearcutting of Douglas Fir
in this particular coastal range is
better for the trees we plant,
better for the soil we plant them in,
better for the animals that live here..”
I shut him off for it was
a company answer, much like
a telephone company recording
that repeats itself, if you
haven’t anything better to do
but go on listening.

I finished planting a tree,
his answer didn’t bother me,
even when I raised up and saw
off to my left, a mud slide that had
been the side of a mountain and now,
was at the bottom of a ravine,
making good time to the Pacific.

The trees that had been there were
of no consequence either,
for as far as you can see
they had been all cut down.

I know a logger that would give
away his chain saw to be able to
confront a Sierra Cub member
while standing on a stump in that exact spot,
and with a gleam in his eye he’d say:
“Yep, that’s the way to do a
logging operation. You cut ’em all down!
Look man! Now you can see!”

His answer meant full bellies
for three children and land payments,
the company man was answering for
people that shuffled lives and papers,
ate in fine restaurants whenever they want,
drove expensive german cars
and ship whole logs to japan.

I have learned to reconcile all of this,
it’s the way things have been for a long time.
What I could not reconcile was that
later that same day I heard an Elk bugle,
twenty minutes later a cable screamed
dragging a log uphill to a high lead show

and they were in the same key.

Ever climb Mt. Theilsen Ernie?

“Six times,” he wheezed,
from an
abrupt old man
kind of
certainty, and
then held up
one hand with fingers extended
and an upward thumb from the other
to only waist height,
then let them down in
an exhaustion of age,
looking off the precipice
of his front porch,
he said,”Last time I was 79.”