–Desire teased spawns vice.–
My boots crunch loudly on Rabbit Lane’s loose gravel. The noise reverberates in the air and in my brain and distracts me from the peaceful quiet of my surroundings. I imagine the noise to be similar to that of chewing crisp carrots with tight earphones on. I find myself wandering within the roadway in search of the path of least noise generation potential. Part of me doesn’t want to startle the wildlife, which in turn startles me with a sudden rustling of wings or splashing of water. I also don’t want to interfere with nature’s soft voices. A bigger part of me simply doesn’t want to draw attention to myself, not even from the animals. On Rabbit Lane, at least, I can be free of critical eyes and voices. Still, even here, alone, I instinctively avoid the noise that would bring the attention of looks and whispers in other places.
Waking each morning for my walk, I would rise from lying down and sit on the edge of my bed. Each movement on the edge of the bed would elicit a whiny squeak from some unknown location on the bed frame. The squeak often roused my tired wife or lightly-sleeping baby. After so many days and weeks and months of this, I resolved to find and eliminate the source of the squeak. One Saturday after breakfast, the children watching with interest, I stripped the bed, awkwardly removed the flopping mattress, slid off the box spring, and dismantled the bed frame. I oiled every joint and weld I could find, with newspapers spread out to collect any drips, then wiped the frame clean and reassembled the bed. Tentatively, fearful that I might have to do it all over again, I sat down upon the edge of the bed. No squeak! The children cheered. Then they began to laugh as I repeatedly sat down, stood up, sat down, stood up, sat down, stood up, each time with a new look of triumph. Angie and several babies slept better after that.
I often lie on that bed looking south though the window over the landscape. Erin (5) found me there one evening after dinner.
“Daddy,” she asked, “what are you doing?”
I smiled wearily, my reverie having been discovered and interrupted.
“I just needed to stop for a while,” I answered. “I’m lying here, relaxing, gazing out my picture window. Come here,” I invited, moving to the middle of the bed and pulling her close. Her back to my chest, my arms around her, we gazed out the big window together.
I said softly, “I love to lay here and look out this window. The landscape is so beautiful. So beautiful.”
Miles of deep green alfalfa and waving wheat fields stretched south from our house toward the Oquirrh Mountains. An occasional Cottonwood grove or well house sprung up. The church steeple, sharp and white, poked up from the cross-shaped building. Patches of gray and black clouds hung low against the mountains, as if damned up by the tall peaks. From the setting sun in the west came rays of orange and red, setting the fields and mountains to glowing under the dark cloud cover. This is beautiful, I thought. Does she see it? The scene was both stunningly beautiful and heavenly soft. Erin squeezed my embracing arm tightly, and I knew.
We laid there a few minutes more when Laura (3) came in and whined hopefully, “Daddy, what are you doing?” obviously wanting to be a part of whatever it was.
“Come on up, little one,” I offered, hoping Erin wouldn’t mind. “Look out the window with us.”
We shifted on the bed, making room for Laura. She nestled her back into Erin, who said quietly, “See how beautiful it is, Laura?”
“Ohh,” she whispered with awe as we stared at the gloaming scene.
Before long, John toddled in, squealing “Daddy!” at the victory of finding me. John was more interested in us than in the view. He had found us just how he wanted us. He hoisted himself onto the big bed and declared himself king of the family by shouting and smiling as he climbed and crawled over us.
John brought a fun change of mood, but the strong, quiet magic of gazing out the picture window upon the beautiful world beyond remained a powerful image and a sweet memory. Many times after that I laid in bed, soaking in the changing scenery. Hot, dusty brown. Snowy white and bright. Deep green. Cows and horses and the “Ur-Ur” of a lone cock pheasant. Delicate pinks of sunrise; rich reds of sunset. Gray fog; torrents of rain; lightning and booming thunder. South winds rattling the house and buffeting our young trees. Full moon haloed in mist. Each had its own untouchable mystery. It was as if I were watching through a magic window into a foreign, always-changing world, a world that could be seen only through the picture window.
* * *
I heard Hyrum (9 months) squawking, shouting, and screaming happily as he scooted and crawled around the house. He had found his voice. It takes so many of us so long to find a voice. Many people never seem to. Others find it but misuse it, leading people astray, or making noise for the sake of the noise, not for the sake of beauty or for the hearer. What comes out of our mouth cannot be put back in. What our voice utters cannot be silenced. At best we can ask forgiveness, but the pain we cause may linger lifetimes. I have often wondered if my thoughts would ever find expression. I have always hoped that my voice would be a calming, soothing voice, a voice that helps people feel good about themselves and their place in this world, a voice that contributes to making this world just a little better.
Every noise has a cause and an effect. A boy slamming shut the toothbrush drawer rattles the picture frame hanging in the next room. A startled duck’s quack from my gravel-grinding boots in turn starts my heart to beating fast. A chorus of goose honks from high overhead reminds me that Autumn’s harvests are drawing to a close and that it is time to prepare for Winter’s dearth. My baby’s cry, urged by hunger or fear or colic, causes me to cradle and coo, to do all I can to comfort.
Carli, a young neighbor girl, told Erin (6) and Laura (4) that the gnarled Willow growing at the irrigation ditch mid-way down Rabbit Lane was named Witch’s Tree. A little pond opens up in the ditch to swirl around the trunk of Witch’s Tree.
“A witch lives under the tree roots, under the pond,” Carly taught. “She rises from the pond to capture stupid children.”
For several years, my daughters were afraid to approach the tree unaccompanied, although they disclaimed their fear. On one walk we noticed two rubber boots standing in the mud beneath Witch’s Tree, as if the wearer had been quickly spirited out of them. Standing side by side, they pointed toward the road, and toward the children. The two boot leg holes stared darkly upwards as if telling of some awful event.
Erin whispered to Laura, “When that farmer stepped into the mud with his boots on, that wicked witch must have come out from under her tree and killed him, suddenly, so that he didn’t fall over or even struggle.”
“Yea,” Laura agreed, shivering. “That awful witch must have taken the farmer’s body away, but left his boots behind. The boots of a dead man. It’s a warning: a warning to all others who might be temped to step near her horrible tree.”
Through this conversation the girls had thoroughly spooked themselves. They stood staring, trembling, caught between their desperate desire to escape and their gnawing urge to remain in this spooky and dangerous place.
A few days later, the children noticed that the boots had been moved slightly, the toe of the left boot pointing in a new direction, the right boot moved several feet away and laying on its side. This omen could not mean a happy ending for the farmer, they reasoned.
After another few days, the boots disappeared entirely. Erin and Laura lamented the poor farmer’s death. The mystique behind the boots and the missing farmer only increased with passing time. They never asked me who he might be. All the farmers in the area that I knew were alive and well.