My son Brian is a professional writer, with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction. He is also an excellent writer. He introduced me to the essays of Brian Doyle, through the book One Long River of Song, essays that touch the heart in a searing unsentimental way, that provoke unexpected guffaws, that teach and humor and inspire. I suddenly realized there existed another kind of writing filling the space between the super-condensed sounds of poetry and the loose narrative of memoir: essays that some, including me, call “reflections.” Such reflections are what will inhabit this page, this space in cyberspace. I am still rummaging around for my own style, but these essays reflect no one else but me. They are longer than poems, but shorter than chapters, and move along quickly. I hope they beget hope, that what inspired me will inspire you. Ultimately, I just hope you like them.
The iconic John Denver song gained a new dimension for me when I met Sunshine face to face. Sunshine enjoys being held, but his* favorite vantage point is my shoulder, where he sits contentedly, blinking now and again, but otherwise quite still. But he’s not partial to my shoulder, necessarily, as you can see.
(*I just learned that Sunshine is a male Bearded Dragon!)
Amy and her mom cheered for us when we arrived in Phoenix for a visit. Sunshine joined us in her covered wagon. We all wore our face masks, even Sunshine. We were so happy to finally meet Sunshine, face to face.
Hyrum (15–one of the four Baker brothers) has become quite the woodworker, taking advanced wood-shop and furniture-making in high school. Today a good friend taught Hyrum to turn wood pens on a lathe. Hyrum started from 1×1 square scrap lumber rescued from the trash can: cedar heart; walnut; wormy maple. He drilled the correct diameter hole in the wood blank with a drill press.
After drilling, he glued and inserted the metal tube into the blank. When the glue cured, he “squared” the ends with a reamer, making the blank ends truly perpendicular to the blank length. With the preparations over, it was time to turn the wood on the lathe, transforming the square blank into a perfect round. Using a wood turning gouge and chisel, Hyrum slowly took off the corners of the square, taking the now-round wood blank down to the desired diameter and even with the bushings at either end.
The blank cut to the right size and shape, it was time to make it shine! First came the sandpaper: 150 grit; 400 grit; then 800 grit. Finally, steel wool.
Then Hyrum rubbed into the wood, turning at high speed, five coats of walnut oil mixed with wax.
The finished blank came alive and sparkled with natural beauty!
With the wood finished, it was ready to be assembled with the parts of the pen kit for the final pen product. Hyrum can’t wait to make more beautiful wood pens, and plans to show them soon on his new Etsy account.
Hyrum and I are very grateful to our friend, Paul, for teaching us a new skill.
For more Baker brothers woodcraft, see the Woodcraft page of this Blog and click on any link.
A heartfelt thank you to Rose Gluck Reviews for reviewing my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.
Featured Author: Roger Baker
Rabbit Lane: Memoir of A Country Road
There are not a lot of books like Roger Baker’s Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. It is indeed musings of Rabbit Lane the rural path that runs alongside the developed highway in Erda, Utah. The road is a metaphor for the changing times. Despite it’s beauty beer cans litter the drainage ditch here and there. Old Norris farm, once a small house surrounded by grain fields is now a subdivision. Baker makes us feel the nagging pains of history lost, lives forgotten. Every now and then Roger’s reflections are invaded by the murmurs of the major road that runs parallel to Rabbit Lane, sometimes breaking through Baker’s serene contemplations on life, nature, and family. The prose is beautiful, the pacing a slow meander through Baker’s personal meaning and and appreciation for beauty. A passage about…
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I often contemplate the many metaphors for our voyage through this temporal life: ships crossing rough seas; trains chugging up mountains; footsteps in the sand. What gives momentum to our life’s journey? What guides our life’s direction? Where did we begin, and what will our destination be? What are the roles of God, of pain, of choice? Whatever your travels, may they be blessed.
FOOTSTEPS TO BEYOND
Wingtips and heels
traversed that chasm
the last train car
and the train station
just as the forward motion
and the locomotion
its unnecessary steam,
as their movement along
over hills and through forests and farms,
crossing that chasm,
Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, b Roger Baker, is now available in print and for Kindle on Amazon.
On her WordPress blog “Words and Pictures” writer and reviewer Rose Gluck announces her forthcoming review of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. I appreciate her selecting my book to review, but also her mission to explore the stories of everyday lives: an important cultural, historical, and literary endeavor. See her original blog post below, and stay tuned for her review.
Rose Gluck of Words and Pictures: It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here on Words and Pictures. I’ve been pretty busy on several projects but am finally back here on my blog to share stories of everyday lives. I am in the final stretch of my dissertation so I’ve been very focused on that. My work -as you might . . . [click on this link to see the whole post: Been Out of Touch – Upcoming Projects here on Words and Pictures — Words and Pictures]
This scene from 2013 is in the town of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, is the most idyllic I have ever seen. “I want to live here,” I whispered to myself again and again as I looked over the tall corn toward the farmhouse and barn. “This is where I want to be.” Have you had this experience of seeing your dream home, your dream town, and sighing loudly but forlornly with love and satisfaction? Boy did I fall hard for this place. I didn’t want to leave. But my wife and children were in Utah; my parents and several siblings were in Utah; my job (and my income) was in Utah. So I went back to Utah, not unhappily, but leaving a part of me behind in Amish country. My poem Susquehanna braids a dialogue between intimate partners with a description of place. Do you sympathize with or relate to one person over the other? Or are they both unrealistic, even extreme? Do you have the courage to pursue your dreams in spite of opposing voices? (I hope I do, but I’m not sure.)
I could live here,
from a ridge-top
And what would you do
Mr. Lawyer? It would
ruin the place—and you—to dive
into their divorces
at the far-off
in graceful curves
and mangled hands
and rat poisoned livestock.
Still, I could
live here: right there:
on that farm:
the red barn, tilting?
where the feet
of mountains meet,
a reflecting ribbon,
beneath a bright
I could right it,
help it stand straight
You and whose budget?
Not yours, surely,
and not mine!
And what would you do
with a farm, anyway?
flanked in leafy
You couldn’t fix
a door knob
a bailing wagon.
to iridescent gold
under the alchemy
You don’t know your rye
from your barley or oats
or triticale wheat.
of the slowly setting
I could live here:
me: right here.
(The following piece tells in greater detail about the construction of my chicken coop and its inhabitants. The article was originally published in 2003 in the Tooele County Magazine by the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin. I offer it here as an appendix to Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.)
The weathered hinges creek as I enter my patchwork coop. Its quiet inhabitants, rudely rousted from their roosting, suddenly jabber with a cacophony of clucks, crows, honks, and coos. They run nervously about as I turn over a bucket and occupy a corner of their space.
I sit quiet and motionless, and the chatter calms as their anxiety fades. Soon they ignore me and go about their normal bird business: pecking at mash, scratching through straw, drinking from water they muddied the moment it was poured, brooding on freshly laid eggs, and general roosting.
This is where I come for quiet contemplation. Here I am free from the suit and necktie that pay the mortgage but strangle my dreams. If I sit long enough, I begin to see again a glimmer of who I am.
In the coop, the delicate fragrance of fresh, dry straw soothes my frazzled nerves. An impressive portfolio of molted feathers decorates the room in abstract patterns that appear a mere mess to the unenlightened. Eggs nestle comfortably, softly, in beds of straw—a perfect still life of brown, white, and pastel-green ovals.
I soak in the simplicity and innocence of feathered life. I silently bless the absence of drool and bark and bray. I relish the moment’s escape from trivial chatter and from the weight of the world’s woes. My birds demand nothing of me. I feed them; they eat. I water them; they drink. I leave them alone; they leave me alone. We are together in a four-walled world of quiet being—no doing allowed—happily minding our own business.
* * *
My chicken coop is unique in all the world. It follows no blueprint or pattern. Its configuration is determined wholly by the dimensions of the pallets that previously carried snowmobiles and four-wheelers to the local dealer. The pallets were free, except for one blue fingernail, five stitches in a knuckle, and three dings in my truck. Scrap fiberboard sides the pallets, with old storm windows framed into the south and east corners for winter light and warmth.
The finished product stands twelve by eight, ten feet tall in the front and six in the back, with more pallets nailed together forming the roof. After driving the last nail, I stood back and admired my beginner’s handiwork. Beautiful, I thought with pride. The chickens seemed pleased, too. A month later, Grandpa offered to cover the mottled scrap wood with exterior wood siding, and the roof with corrugated aluminum. He said it would last longer that way—he was right, of course—but I could tell he was concerned about preserving my property value.
* * *
Chickens and ducks share the coop. Sometimes the billed birds peck at the beaked, but the coop is spacious enough to permit these distant cousins to live together in seeming familial friendship. Maybe they merely tolerate each other. I suppose at any moment an invisible tension could erupt into a flurry of feathers.
Despite both being fowl, however, they are really nothing alike. They eat the same food—grain, mash, bugs—whatever is available. But chickens peck with sudden snaps of the neck that bring whiplash to mind. The hungrier they are the faster they peck. At feeding time their heads lurch toward the grain with such ferocity that my head hurts, and I wonder what cushions their small brains from becoming mush against their skulls. Their hunger satisfied, they meander around the coop, casually pecking at straw, feathers, grains of sand, but still with the same mechanical whip-snap motion.
Ducks, on the other hand, definitely don’t peck. In fact, their heads remain practically motionless while they feed. The head merely points the bill, which opens and shuts with remarkable speed, as if plugged into a vibrator. My slow eyes perceive a vague blur as bills pulverize a strand of straw into straw-dust.
In contrast to whip-snapping chicken heads, chicken feet unfold and flex with a smooth, fluid motion. This fact holds true with all chicken gaits, but becomes obvious to my eyes with the slow, searching gait employed in casual grazing and roost pacing. I notice suddenly that each chicken breed has its own foot color. White Leghorn: yellow. Rhode Island Red: orange. Araucana: steel gray. Golden Sebright Bantam: blue-gray.
Red combs flop around carelessly with the chickens’ bobbing heads. Some combs reach over an inch tall; others resemble short, blunt spikes barely protruding from the head. While the height of a chicken’s comb depends partly on its breed, the comparative height within a single breed indicates a hen’s egg cycle. A tall comb indicates productivity. A short comb tells me she’s taking a break for a few weeks.
I wondered one evening, Just what does a chicken comb feel like? I had to know. To find out, I employed my practiced chicken-catching technique to apprehend the subject of my curiosity. I cornered a long-combed hen and inched forward slowly, rocking back and forth on wide-planted feet. With a sudden stretch I grabbed her. Terror struck her: she squawked hysterically, struggling to break free. I cupped her head gently in my hand to calm her down. Then I stroked her comb. It was rough and firm, but fleshy, like an old, cracked rubber scraper. I sat on my bucket and smoothed her ruffled feathers. “Don’t worry, little one,” I whispered. “I won’t hurt you.” I began to savor this simple moment and to appreciate this creature who lives unfettered by the concerns and dysfunctions of humanity.
* * *
One evening, as I sat contemplating nothing, I watched a tiny field mouse skitter along a lateral plank, keeping to the shadowed corners. It paused behind each pallet vertical like a thief slinking behind trees before a caper. Yet I just couldn’t quite make the metaphor work: the tiny black eyes, soft, glossy coat, tissue paper ears, and delicate, bony hands painted a picture of sweetness, not deceit. The tiny creature just wanted a little food, after all—and the chickens’ leftovers would do quite nicely. The image of a poor vassal gleaning the fief’s fields fitted better. But the chickens’ crumbs were far from subsistence: they were a bounty to the contented mouse. Perched on petite haunches, it ate undisturbed from a kernel it turned in its delicate hands.
As long as I sat quietly, the mouse seemed to not be aware of my presence. I noticed that the loud crowing of the big rooster registered not the slightest tremor in the mouse’s calm nibbling. Neither did the soft hen clucking or high-pitched Bantam crowing. Hmmn, I thought, and whistled a few notes. No sign of rodent distress. A little humming—still no observable trauma. It must have thought I was just a big, motionless chicken, as oblivious as the rest. Then I snapped my fingers with a crack. The mouse jumped with a start and disappeared. But my little friend soon peeked its dark bright eyes—small, but huge on its tiny snout—out from behind a board. The mouse blended naturally with the setting: warm straw, yummy grain, lots of places to hide, and freedom from felines.
* * *
Not only roosters like to roost. Roosting, among chickens at least, rises almost to the exaltation of eating. Old two-by-fours form their roosts, crossing the coop at different heights and angles. As evening comes, the chickens instinctively return to the coop and hop up to segregated spaces. The full-grown chickens claim the highest roost. This Spring’s juveniles take the middle. No one chooses the lowest.
I have never actually witnessed any pecking to this pecking order. But I surmise that, when I am not watching, the mature birds throw off any pubescent ones who presume to attempt the highest roost, in a sort of king-of-the-roost affair. I engineered some equity in their social order by positioning the roosts so as to protect the younger birds from getting dropped on by their roosting superiors.
Ducks don’t roost. They prefer to cuddle comfortably together in the straw. Long necks sway their heads back to settle in a fluff of wing feathers. From this position, the ducks’ heads appear to rise neck-less from the middle of their backs.
* * *
The crowing instinct has recently possessed my daughter’s young Bantam. With no one to coach it, it is learning nonetheless. But its attempts require an effort painful for me to watch. Dropping its wings slightly, the young Bantam’s crow unfurls from the tip of its tail feathers through its small body, which contorts like a crawling caterpillar, and releases itself as a wheezy little croak, sounding like an old bicycle bulb horn. Between crows, it struts around confidently, like a politician at his election party.
* * *
The big Araucana rooster paces inside its rabbit cage, to where it was banished for its summer misdeeds. An amiable young rooster, the adult became arrogant and aggressive. As I gathered eggs one morning, it flew at me, claws first, like an eagle swooping upon a giant rodent. My denim-clad legs felt like they’d been struck with a willow switch, and I was glad I hadn’t worn shorts. But the unprovoked attack annoyed me more than hurt. A swift boot kick ended the fight, temporarily at least. Each visit to the coop replayed the scene: flying claws; boot kick; peace.
Pulling weeds in the flower garden one Saturday, my seven-year-old began screaming hysterically. I spun around to witness her racing across the grass with the big Araucana trotting after her like a miniature painted ostrich. Its face devoid of emotion, I nonetheless divined its malicious intent.
With the rooster now securely in the rabbit cage, my children safely gather eggs from the irritated hens, whose pecks, after the rooster attacks, seem to them friendly taps. I’ll some day expand the coop so the Araucana can enjoy life without ruining it for others. It is a beautiful bird, after all, with luminescent blue-black tail feathers and a rich golden mien. In the meantime, it paces endlessly in cramped quarters that cramp its tyrannical style.
* * *
For the children, discovering the first egg was as exciting as finding hidden candy, not just because it was our first egg, but also because it was green. Araucanas lay pastel green and blue-green eggs. Some call the breed the Easter egg chicken, for obvious reasons. Pre-died, you might say.
Despite the eight identical nesting boxes that line the rear wall, the hens insist on laying in only one box—the second from the right, to be exact. Even when one hen is brooding a newly-laid egg, another hen, in answer to nature’s urge, oozes herself into the same one-foot by one-foot cubbyhole to lay. Although they soon both give up on brooding, they continue to lay in the same box, day after day, egg upon egg. Left uncollected, the eggs soon form a neat, multicolored pile, with the other seven boxes vacant. The plastic eggs I placed in the other boxes to induce even distribution were pecked open and kicked out.
Each day, the children thrill to gather the eggs in their skirts and run to the kitchen. At least one egg inevitably suffers a casualty, cracked or dropped along the way, sometimes before it even leaves the coop. The chickens rush upon the broken egg, devouring its spilled contents in a cannibalistic frenzy.
Each broken egg tempts my irritation. But a moment’s reflection reminds me that I love my daughters more than my chicken eggs. Anyway, the majority of eggs usually weather the trip without incident. I figure we have the chickens not just for the eggs, but for the experience of having chickens and eggs: to earn the rewards of work; to care for something besides ourselves; to nurture life; to find simplicity and peace in the midst of a frantically materialistic world.
Soon to come will be a pallet patchwork addition, with rooms for pheasants, jungle fowl, pigeons, quail, and maybe an exotic breed or two, like the iridescent Japanese golden pheasant. We’ll admire their remarkable beauty and diversity. We’ll cry when a raccoon spreads feathers and feet through the field. We’ll curse as young roosters spur to defend their turf. And we’ll witness the process of life as old birds die and new life emerges from thin, round shells resting in the straw.
Sometimes, in the evening, I like to sit in the chicken coop, in a corner on a stool, and just watch my hens. They scratch around and peck at this and that, keeping a wary eye on me. They don’t exactly come when I call, but neither do they seem anxious, rather, just aware of my presence. As with my children, I have especially enjoyed the young chicks for their beauty and willingness to be coddled and petted and spoken softly to. Yes, I confess to talking adoringly to my chicks.
I am one of them—
close enough for calm.
They, gold-feathered, look up at me
blankly, peeping softly,
let me stroke the feathers
on the tops of their heads,
across their backs,
accepting me best
under their yellow beaks
and down their bristly necks
to billowy young breasts.
The others, blacks and barred,
peck and scratch
comfortably at my feet,
sense me from a disinterested distance,
but run cackling to the corners
at my reaching hand,
as if I were
suddenly some monstrous enormity,
which, of course, I am,
but guileless and doting
despite my alien countenance.
I shelter them from skunk and fox.
I feed them and water them
each day. We visit,
me on my cinderblock stool.
They will grow and repay me with eggs,
and with soft peepings,
condescending to my gentle hand.
The arrival of new animal life brings incomparable happiness to children, both exhilaration and tenderness, as this poem portrays, written from the perspective of my then 8-year-old daughter Laura. The ducklings pictured above are being raised as I post by Hannah, my youngest (with a little prodding from Dad).
Dad brought home the chicks:
six day-old ducklings
in a little cardboard box:
2 green-brown, and
And 2 turklings!
Dad says we’ll eat the turkeys
when they’re grown,
so I’m not allowed to name them.
But the ducklings are my very own.
Already I have named them:
Pumpernickle and Blackbeak,
Wingers and Fuzzles,
Nester and Dandylion.
They paddle prodigiously in the bathtub,
with water not too cold and not too warm.
They shiver and protest at
being wrapped up tightly in a towel.
They huddle under the heat lamp
and peep when I approach.
They bustle about my feet as
I sit in their pen on a cinderblock stool.
They don’t complain when I pluck them up,
but nestle comfortably up under my chin,
as if I were their mamma.
My ducklings are my friends.
They tell me they like me
with their peeping peep peeps.
They tell me they accept me
as they cuddle and becalm.
They tell me they’ll miss me
by the way they look at me
as I walk away for the night.
“Don’t worry, little ducks,” I tell them.
“I’ll be back
–Away I must fly.–
From over a hundred yards away, I hear the enormous sound of what surely is a hundred geese cackling in loud cacophony. I cannot see them in the pre-dawn darkness. But in the growing light of my return walk, I make out the small gaggle of only a dozen very loud domesticated white geese as it mills under the venerable Cottonwood in Craig’s pasture, making its only-as-a-goose-can-do honking. Continue reading
–I got up.–
–I got up who?–
(Hyrum-4 with Dad)
Despite the bright blue sky and the sun’s brilliance dazzling from millions of ice crystals in the fresh skiff of snow, I felt crushed by life’s burdens as I trudged alone along Rabbit Lane. The burdens of being a husband and provider and father to seven children. The burdens of being legal counsel to a busy, growing city. The burdens of maintaining a home, of participating in my church, and of being scoutmaster to a local boy scout troop. The burdens of being human. While the sky above me opened wide to space, these responsibilities bore down heavily upon my heart. They seemed to darken my very sky. Continue reading
–I heard the sun and waked up!–
The Stansbury mountain range is a succession of high peaks, some above 10,000 feet, each a lighter hue of gray proportionate to its distance. In the moments before sunrise, the clouds and sky form a sea of swirling scarlet, orange, red, and pink. The western face of the Oquirrh range once boasted thick pine forests. But over-harvesting, together with decades of settling particulate pollution from the now-defunct Anaconda smelter, denuded the mountain slopes of their forests. They now show mostly fault-fractured bedrock. With the smelter gone, the trees are slowly returning, starting from deep within the canyons and creeping back onto the slopes. Continue reading
–Kind words counter the world’s cruelties.–
Quiet is a rare luxury at our house. If not the cows or dogs or pumps, I can usually count on my children to fill my quiet moments. But not all noise is unpleasant.
One day Hyrum (2) said sternly to his big brother Brian (14), “Brian, don’t keel anyone. OK? Because it’s dangerous.”
He was dead serious, as if in grown-up conversation. It was apparent that the word kill had only a vague meaning to him. It didn’t equate to the loss of life, but related more closely to roughhousing or child’s play, as in “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!” Continue reading
On many a summer evening, as the dry air began to cool, the children found me in the garden sitting on a picnic chair hidden between rows of corn stalks, munching on cobs of raw sweet corn. That is as close to bliss as I’ve ever come. One day I yielded to the impulse to lie on my back in the dirt between the corn rows, close my eyes, and just listen. It took me years to put the experience into words, but I finally managed (hopefully) with “Summer Corn.” As the poem seeks to share with an anonymous companion, so now I share with you.
Lie with me between the rows of summer corn.
Don’t speak, yet.
to the raspy hum of bees gathering pollen from pregnant, golden tassels,
to the hoarse soft rubbing of coarse green leaves in the imperceptible breeze,
to the plinking rain of locust droppings upon the soft soil.
to the neighbor’s angus wieners bemoaning their separation,
to the pretty chukars heckling from the chicken coop,
to the blood pulsing in your ears, coursing through your brain.
Don’t speak, now.
Reach to touch my hand.
Listen to the world
from within the rows of summer corn.
I could hear them as I approached the north end of Rabbit Lane. Ka-swishhh ka-swishhh ka-swishhh ka-swishhh–swika swika swika swika swika. With the blue sky above, the fields and pastures all around, and the butterflies and bees winging in warm air, the sound of the ground-line sprinklers was true music. A summer song.
Ground-line sprinklers in the green alfalfa hay
make such pretty music,
like the field song of crickets and katydids
on a hot, summer evening.
Cows’ tails swishing in the tall, dry grass,
and the breeze fluttering stiff poplar leaves,
add apropos percussion
to the sublimity and song.
Snow fell lightly in the early-morning darkness as I walked on Rabbit Lane. Just past Ron’s house, I found a newborn calf lying in the shallow swale beneath the barbed wire fence. Flakes of snow flecked its black fur. This newborn had somehow lost its mother and was dying in the cold of the ditch. I groaned as I hefted the heavy calf and staggered to Ron’s back door. Ron soon came, taking the calf into his warm house with a “thank you.” The experiencing of finding and rescuing the newborn calf moved me deeply, and I wrote this poem.
lay beneath the rusted barbed wire fence
by the side of Rabbit Lane:
a lonely, black puddle in Winter’s whiteness,
salted with slowly settling snowflakes.
Death’s sadness reached into me,
a dull ache in my empty stomach.
It drew me to the calf.
I came near and reached out
to touch the black fur.
The small, black head lifted weakly,
turning big, moist eyes
to meet mine,
speaking to me
a simple, sad story:
of wandering from its mamma,
of slipping between the loose, rusty strands,
of learning it was lost,
of growing cold and weary,
of knowing fear,
of slumping down to die.
I strained to heave the newborn from the snow,
and trudged with my burden to
the dilapidated farmhouse.
I knocked shyly, a stranger,
whispered at the back door,
transferred my quivering bundle
to the thankful farmer,
to the warmth of a coal fire and a tender expression,
to warm bottled milk,
to a promise:
to find a mother,
to restore the proper order of things.
–Cows have such large, glossy, gentle eyes.–
Ben was attempting to herd his cows from one field to another as I walked in his direction on Church Road. The process first involved opening the gate at the receiving field, then opening the gate at the sending field. In theory, Ben would then shoo the cows out of the sending field down the road and into the receiving field. At the open sending field gate, Ben’s wife and children lined themselves up across the street, arms outstretched, forming a barrier the cows were supposed to respect. The kine, however, had ideas of their own, and strolled indolently between Ben’s kin. Continue reading
Piggie, our pet black pot-bellied pig, has lived long enough for all of my four sons to bring him his daily slops bucket, made up of peelings from daily meal preparations and unwanted meal leftovers. At first the boys thought it was cool to feed the pig. But then Winter came, and the slops bucket needed to be taken out every day in freezing temperatures (usually at night because they had neglected to do it during the day), and the water bucket froze and the ice needed to be broken every day, and I insisted that the smelly slops bucket be rinsed out before being brought back inside to its place under the kitchen sink, the chore became less glamorous. Piggie lives on. On occasion a family member hopes out loud that the pig will choke on an avocado pit, but only in jest. (This poem tells of the slop bucket chore from the John’s perspective ten years ago, with me, his dad, looking on. Hyrum took the photo today. The poem relates to the post Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
The wintry day was gone,
the frosty night full on,
and Dad held the slop bucket out.
“You forgot your chore, son,
and the pig is hungry.
You’ll have to go out,
though it’s cold and it’s dark.”
I stomped and I cried;
I begged him not to send me out
into the fog-filled frosty night.
But Dad just handed me the brim-full bucket.
“I’ll keep the porch light on:
you’ll be fine.”
Dressed for the cold,
I heaved on the handle,
and stepped into the night.
My skin all goosebumpy,
I followed the frozen-mud path
through the tall, stiff iron grass.
A low rumbled grunt
made me start, and then shiver,
and look warily around
at dim shadows and darkness.
Pig stood at the gate in patient anticipation.
“Here pig,” I snorted, and dumped the warm slop.
As pig smacked and slurped,
a white vapor rose like a phantom,
and I turned to run the way I’d come.
On the porch, in the light, stood my dad,
in his slippers, arms crossed in plaid flannel.
He smiled at me as I came.
I warmed, then, because
I knew I’d done good;
so did he.
I knew I’d done right;
so did he.
And I knew I’d grown up just a tad.
—You are my best friend and my big buddy.—
(John-3 to Dad)
The day-old chicks arrived at the store in a box delivered by U.S. mail. While I had ordered only half-a-dozen specialty breed pullets, they came boxed with two dozen unsexed White Leghorns for cushioning and warmth. I had hung a heat lamp—a warm if impersonal surrogate for their mothers’ downy breasts—in a makeshift pen because the chicks were too tiny and frail to generate enough of their own body heat against the chilly Spring nights. The hanging lamp radiated light and heat downward to make a spot of warmth in the straw where the chicks gathered close to rest. I don’t think they ever fully slept, for the light. But they were warm and safe and comfortable. Continue reading
Farm fences flank me as I walk on Rabbit Lane two days before Christmas. Walking the length of the country road, I begin to contemplate the nature of fences. Fences keep the cattle in their pastures, while keeping pheasant poachers out. Fences remind me of the limitations I put on myself through fear and doubt. I think of social, legal, political, and relationship boundaries. I ponder that each cedar fence post used to be a juniper tree thriving in the Utah desert. I imagine lines of soldiers marching into battle in distant early-morning mists. Ultimately, we can choose to transcend many of our life’s fences, like the butterfly that simply flies over, as if the fences do not exist.
Grain-field fences march
away in a disciplined line,
cedar post after cedar post,
each tugging its barbs
taut as burning guns
at soldiers’ cheeks, marching
straight and away at an acute angle
to the way I would go,
hemming me in with wicked wire
points, urging me down, at the risk
of gash and scar, the direct
and dusty disciplined road,
while a Tiger Swallowtail
lazily wafts its easy way across
the fence to flutter above
the ripe wheat tops,
and a Western Kingbird
darts here and there,
erratic, up and down,
above all artificial lines, chasing
invisible insects overhead.
–A butterfly graces equally the idyllic mountain meadow and the urban flower box.–
On a cedar fence post near Rabbit Lane an old sign announces “No Trespassing.” The letters were burned or carved into the worn and weathered plank. The sign has been cracked by the black head of a rusting iron nail driven into the cedar post. The sign has long ago lost any intimidating aspect, and it now resembles the endearing smile of a gap-toothed old man. Continue reading
While I was away attending the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2013 with my teenage sons, my wife and younger children brought home two little precocious pygmy goats. They named the black-and-white kid Olive, and the light-brown kid Cupcake. Oh, they were adorable, running and jumping and calling to their human friends non-stop. They loved the attention of being petted and bottle-fed, and followed Hyrum and Hannah around everywhere. “My babies,” Angie called them. This poem is about her love for the new kids.
CUPCAKE AND OLIVE
Olive is a pygmy goat,
white with black splotches,
or black with white,
two months old, almost.
You brought her, two days old,
home, with little cousin Cupcake,
and bottle fed her
four times a day.
She doesn’t bleat like Cupcake
(oh, my goodness),
even when hungry,
but cocks her head to one side,
just so, as if to say,
And where, Mama, have you been?
Olive will only suck
from a bottle held by you,
having jumped and flopped
onto your mother’s lap.
You stroke her neck
with a free hand.
The deaths of dear pets have hurt my children’s tender feelings many times over as many years. The sad fact is: pets die. Sometimes from neglect; sometimes from sickness; sometimes from old age. From tiny hamsters to guinea pigs, and from chickens to full-sized goats, each death raised in the children’s innocent minds anew the questions of why things die, and why did their heart have to hurt so much when saying good-bye to friends. I grieved for them and with them as they grieved their losses. The day one of our pet goats died, Erin and Laura cried and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort them. But I stayed with them and talked with them and did my best to sooth them. I wrote this poem about the occasion. It isn’t a great poem, but it expresses poetically the bitter-sweet experience of losing our pet goat. You can read more about our pet goats in Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig post in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
OUR PET GOAT DIED TODAY
Our pet goat died today.
We noticed he was sick:
gasping for breath;
struggling to raise his head off the ground.
Big hands placed him in the November sun;
little hands rubbed him warm,
coaxed him to suck from the bottle, but he wouldn’t, or he couldn’t.
Then he was dead.
He was our friend, and he was gone.
I held him and gathered my little children close around,
where they wept as death and loss seeped into their reality:
“I don’t want him to die,” they sobbed.
“I’m sad too,” I said.
Daughters chose the burial place,
near Diamond, last Spring’s kitten.
Father and son dug deep in the hard clay.
Old chicken straw made a bed and a pillow and a blanket,
to keep our goat warm and comfortable
in his resting place.
Fall’s last roses placed around his head
would bring him pleasant smells in Winter.
A child’s graveside prayer,
trusting an unseen wonder,
would protect the goat and comfort their sad hearts.
“Daddy, where do goats go when they die?” they asked,
knowing that I would know the answer.
I looked in my heart for sweetness and truth:
“I’m sure God loves goats just like he loves people, so goats must go to heaven.”
Through tears they asked hopefully, “Will we see him again?”
“I hope so,” I said. Then, “Yes, I’m sure we will.”
Worried at the thought of the goat covered with earth, they asked,
“What will happen to his body when he’s buried?”
“This is the goat’s resting place, and you have made it very special
with your flowers and prayers.
He will just rest here awhile.”
One last scratch on his nose to say good-bye.
My son works to fill the hole.
My daughters gently place the reddest rose petals on the mound.
Then they run off to play,
and I hear the scared bleating of a lonely goat.
–Our garden is going to grow because of this beautiful rain!–
Caleb (2) loved to feed the goats. We kept a bucket under the sink into which we scraped all the table scraps and vegetable peelings. Each time Caleb saw the bucket, he cheered, “Goatie, goatie!” I carried the bucket in one arm and the boy in the other to the goat yard, dumping the bucket’s contents into the lopsided plywood manger I had made. At 14, one of Caleb’s daily chores was to empty the scrap bucket into the pig pen, and it was no longer an occasion he looked forward to. Continue reading
–The measure of one’s greatness is one’s goodness.–
Sitting on the porch lacing my boots for a walk on Rabbit Lane, I heard the distant bellowing of a distressed calf. Something in the bray was not quite right, sounded a little off. I had heard lost calves calling for their mothers before. I had heard desperately hungry calves complaining before. I had heard lonely wiener calves bellowing for their removed mothers before. This calf call sounded strange; perhaps, I thought, not even a calf at all. I turned my head to pinpoint the source of the noise. It came from behind Austin’s house, where there should be no cows and, in fact, were no cows. An ignorant urgency sent me running through the intervening field to Austin’s back door. There lay Austin, helpless, in abject distress, fallen across the threshold of his back door and unable to arise, the screen door pressing upon his legs. He shouted and bellowed with his deep and distressed bass voice. I wrapped my arms around his prodigious barrel chest and heaved as gently yet as forcefully as I could to raise the big man from the ground. Continue reading
–If I say I’ll never do something, I never will.–
The country was not quiet, not like we all thought it would be. Cows mooed, horses neighed, chickens clucked, dogs barked and howled, cats fought, chasing each other around the house, pea cocks called mournfully, and roosters cock-a-doodle-dooed. I had always thought that roosters crowed at sunrise, waking the farmers for their morning chores. But I discovered that the roosters in Erda crow all night long. Continue reading
–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. Continue reading
—How can we get closer to God?—
—In airplanes . . . and helicopters! Vvrroooom!—
(Caleb-3 to Dad)
Harvey’s property was special to the Indians. They needed a place to perform their ceremonies, where it was quiet, where animals and nature were close, and where Indians were welcome. Harvey’s place fit the requirements. The Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indians had established Harvey’s land as an official Indian worship site. Local Indians of several tribes set up a turtle lodge and held their sacred sweat ceremonies there. Harvey invited me repeatedly to attend a ceremony. Resisting what I didn’t understand, I politely put him off. One Saturday, though, I reluctantly agreed, admittedly nervous to attend. When I came home several hours later, the children found me exhausted, my hair sweaty and matted. I took a big drink and a shower, then flopped down on the couch. They begged me to tell them all about the Indians and their turtle lodge. I sighed wearily, then told them of my experience with the sweat ceremony. Continue reading
–Small acts of kindness soften the soul.–
“Let’s go over to Harvey’s,” I suggested one Sunday afternoon soon after moving to the country house.
“Who’s Harvey?” asked Brian (8).
“Harvey is our neighbor,” I explained. “You’ll like his place. He has lots of animals.”
We walked down Church Road toward Rabbit Lane, past Russell’s arena, and turned up the dirt drive to Harvey’s log-sided house. No one answered my knock at the door, but I thought it would be alright if we looked around at Harvey’s animals. We smelled the animals before we saw them: skunk. No doubt about it. A wrinkled, water-stained sign wired to the cage read, Stay Away. Continue reading
–Engage your mind or others will engage it for you.–
Cottonwood trees are the legacy of the departed farmer. Once mere twigs, they grew quickly to become giants of the valley landscape. The oldest Cottonwoods are slowly dying. Each Spring the emerging leaves draw in closer to the trunks, leaving more of the outstretched branches as bare as skeletons. More and more bark sloughs off, leaving the trunks to bleach in the Summer sun. Dead Cottonwood trees resemble the ruins of medieval cathedrals. The bare branches seem sculpted and shaped, like the flying buttresses that once supported a stone ceiling but that now lift up the ceiling of the sky. Continue reading
I wrote this lullaby for Erin, my second child, to comfort her in her nighttime fears. (See Rabbit Lane: Memoir page, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post). (To see the song score, click on the link below.)
Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.
–Only small people seek to make other people feel small.–
Our first night in the country house, the children all slept in mom’s and dad’s room. We offered this arrangement until they felt comfortable sleeping in their own rooms. One night several weeks after moving to her own room, Erin (5) couldn’t sleep.
“Daddy,” Erin called in a loud whisper.
“What?” I moaned groggily after a moment.
“The lightning is keeping me awake.”
“What lightning?” I yawned. “I don’t hear any lightning.”
“No—look—it’s flashing right now, without thunder or rain,” she persisted.
I pushed myself up onto an elbow with a groan. Continue reading
–In the presence of goodness, good people rejoice.–
My boots crunch loudly on the loose and frozen gravel, rousing common sparrows from their cold roosts in the willow and wild rose bushes. Despite being leafless in December, the bushes seem an impenetrable tangle of twigs and dead leaves. I hear, rather than see, the birds fluttering and tweeting within. I have bundled myself against the bitter cold, and wonder how these almost weightless creatures survive Winter. I imagine them huddled in their houses, mostly protected from the wind, their feathers puffed out to gather insulating air, with temperatures sinking to just above zero. I marvel that these birds constantly peep and sing, fluttering about with the energy of jubilation. I envy them their unconditional happiness. I have come to appreciate their enthusiasm, to rely upon their unassailable cheerfulness. Continue reading
–You deserve a palace made of gold. (But even a gold palace needs to be kept clean.)–
(Dad to Erin-8)
We moved to the country in the Spring of 1998. Our new home offered so much room for the children to explore and play and run around. They tromped through the tall, tan field grass making twisting paths that were not even visible from the house. Once the children entered the grass they couldn’t see out (or be seen from without). They were pioneers, blazing new trails in the wilderness, whacking at the grass with stick swords. Continue reading