It is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. I spent the longest day of the year in Fairbanks, Alaska, exactly six months ago, standing outside at midnight with the sun still visible. As I sit in the front porch swing and write, the December full moon rises in front of me, big as a Texas orange. It will eventually become gleaming white, bathing the field before me with enough light for even my ancient eyes to read by.
I came to the farm alone today, ostensibly to paint. The walls of the old house need it. I doubt they’ve felt the bristles of a paintbrush since they were built in the early 80’s. But the work is just an excuse. It always is. “I really have to go mow the place.” “Those trees need trimming.” I sometimes suspect that I come here not because I have to, but because I must. It is more of an internal need than an external one.
I did not choose this place. It is not my favorite part of Texas. I love the rocky Hill Country and the rolling farmland of central Texas. I think this place chose me. My grand-parents and great-grand parents lie beneath its soil -- the Creeches, Cryers, Cockes, Rossers, and Martins some two miles southwest in Floresville and the Culpeppers a dozen miles northeast in Stockdale. They all came here a hundred and fifty years ago when Texas had been a state for only a couple of decades. I probably made my first trip to this spot fifty-seven years ago next weekend. I say that, not because I remember, but because we always came out here at Christmas to be with my grandparents. I’m sure we did my first year.
Now, almost sixty years later, I still come. I come with my family and I come alone. The ritual of arrival has become rather fixed for me. Before I enter the house I walk around the property. I notice the fresh mounds of soil excavated by our resident gophers. At times the feral hogs have also left portions plowed up as result of their visit. Mesquite branches that failed to endure a recent windy south Texas day lie scattered on the ground. I walk out on the berm that twists, serpent-like, through the field behind the house. Today I see that Herb has done his planting and small green blades of winter wheat are just now poking their heads up through the red soil. By March they’ll carpet the place with a blue green beauty that will turn golden by May. The two bird feeders are empty and dangling askew in the mesquite tree in front of the house. I replenish them with seed and fill the bird bath with clean water. In no time a pair of cardinals take advantage of my provisions.
Winter means the place is dead. Nature is not fighting back. The grasses and weeds about the house lie dormant. Spiders and grasshoppers no longer challenge me as I approach. I don’t have to do violence to them and their habitat with the old riding mower. Instead, I will work indoors. Today I have cleaned, moved furniture, and prepared for the mindless work of painting tomorrow. I put Christmas music on the stereo, turned it up loud, and dragged heavy Lazyboy sleeper sofas from one room to another (My grandmother left three such pieces along with at least five Lazyboy recliners. I wonder how the company has stayed in business since her passing.) I washed linens, made beds, and cleaned out the refrigerator.
I have thought of my grandmother, Lillie, often as I worked today. She is still so much a part of this place. I washed a casserole dish accidently left in the refrigerator since Thanksgiving. In black marker her initials were scrawled on the top – “L.V.C.,” signifying those days when the dish had borne her contribution to assuage the grief of a neighbor. I thought about the place where her garden grew as I walked through the back yard. I saw the evidence of her handiwork in a piece of crochet. The house still smells a bit like her perfume.
We have so much we want to do here, but progress is slow. Just twenty feet in front of me grows a pecan tree my dad planted who knows how many years ago. Now it reaches thirty or more feet into the air, rising above the house. Creation’s time moves so much slower than ours. I want things in minutes, hours, or days, and the Creation lives its life in terms of decades, centuries, millennia, and eons. Trees don’t seem to be hurried.
Orion’s Belt lines up its three bright stars directly in front of me. The moon rises higher now, and an owl calls from the trees on the fence line several hundred yards to my left. An insect buzz rises from the thicket to my right by the old stock tank. Herb’s livestock protest his driving the tractor through the field across the road in the dark. It is all so familiar.