A Rural November - 16 Days
We riff through life in snippets. It’s never one long story, plot point by measured plot point, but one field after another, fresh soybeans, old corn.
November 15 – The first Christmas music ring-a-lings on the radio. But what do you see in those dust-coated fields? All that cornstalk stubble and not a kernel to gnaw on. Some is being plowed under before the ground freezes and layers of snow enshroud every semblance of color. The trees will still be bare, a few remaining oak leaves hanging as if by glue. This is not cattail country, but we have them. We have even more thistles, and the long slow moo.
November 16 – It’s mid-November, and Gladys the groundhog still roams. Hibernation is coming but it’s too warm now. When we lived in Milwaukee, a neighbor found a groundhog in his woodpile and killed it with an old WW2 sword. Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are herbivores, ambivalent to flesh but that of vegetables and fruits, and occasionally, eggs. Yet one still chased my son up a hill in 2000, and our dog tackled it, killed it. It only wanted the carrot on the end of the stick.
November 17 – The indigo bunting migrates by the stars at night, and the Maori traveled over two thousand miles from Polynesia to New Zealand using celestial navigation. Multitask and you miss the stars. Race along a forest trail and the trees blur, animals hide. Slow is a state of mind, and roses smell best when the wind wisps softly.
November 18 – If not for the sky, we’d drown in tans, but blue brings balance, and the white clouds splash. The browns complement a fertile green yet we long for the blush of the red maple, the sumac, even poison ivy, each respite for our ochre-weary eyes. Today, there was a hole through a black and bruised sky, and beyond, a setting of topaz. If only I could have flown into that rift to where the light blazed wild. If only my feathers were full and ready.
November 19 – Life is typical. Death is typical. And so are days. My first grandchild is due tomorrow, and I hope for a typical miracle.
November 20 – Inside a heart are tiny fingers. That dark-haired beauty in the crib. Mouth so small, lips so formed. When she looks, she looks, no sideways glance; she sees. Who saw that love coming? There is no sky, no air, when she smiles at you. The hard part is coming, they say, the hard life blasts. What? What? It’s all hard, see? We learn to carve out soft places and joy. Watch for flowers, Little Flower, and every new bank of clouds.
November 21 – I became your granny the day the clouds stretched blue, the night the moon lay among the stars of Leo. On that day, Chancellor Angela Merkel of my birth country, Germany, declared she would run for a fourth term. And Germany: where I, your grandmother, and before her, your great-grandmother, and before her, your great-great-grandmother, were born, and those beyond for generations. It was the day a red-tailed hawk roosted on a power line and scanned nearby cornfields for a mouse or a striped gopher, the day a sad train derailed in India. It was the day Syrian refugee children ran through a field in Lebanon collecting potatoes for lunch. Jupiter shone bright and Venus even brighter that day. It was the day an Israeli flag was burned in protest in Nablus over prayer restrictions; the day an opus of delight rang through the heavens at the knowledge of a special birth; the day Mars, the red planet, was at its farthest from the sun. It was the day blood was spilled in a creation, a blood-washed hour; and I asked how. It was the day I refused to cut, color, and curl my hair.
November 22 – “Man Frozen at Okojobi, Iowa” the headline read. 1870 was tough, log cabins the size of small rooms, or sod houses along the treeless plains. One report is of a family in a log cabin with a quilt hung as a door, while wolves howled through the night on the other side. Fall mornings steel us for what’s to come. Copenhagen, New York’s twenty-one feet of snow last year cobs ours, but hold your breath and oil the snow shovel. Better yet, learn to ski. We ski roads here and pastures and these endless rolling hills. Our doors are wooden, and the scent of hot chocolate pacifies us. We have forgotten the past.
November 23 – In northwestern Iowa’s Estherville, a former newspaper editor of the Northern Vindicator supposedly coined the word “blizzard” years ago. “We confess to a certain liking for [the term], because it is at once startling, curious and peculiarly suggestive of the furious and all victorious tempests which are experienced in this northwestern clime.” And sometimes we snowshoe, inexorably.
November 24 – Over 700 times a year, I trudge or traipse or float to the barn, depending on weather and mood.
November 25 – And, oh, the cattle (do we tire of the cattle?). Four strong legs beneath a barrel of indecency. When a cow pees, it’s no small matter. Up to several gallons at a time shoot out the back end like a busted water main. Once I saw a calf hanging halfway out of a cow’s vagina, the cow standing there bellering in a field, and the calf’s two legs and bottom half of its body dangling in midair. I was on my way to somewhere, and I hope the calf was, too.
November 26 – On Russia’s Yamal Peninsula in 2013, sixty-one thousand reindeer starved to death when their grazing ground froze too deeply. Thawing, heavy rains, then a drop in temperature turned ten thousand square miles of land into one big ice cube; the animals couldn’t paw through it to the grass underneath. Outside, our sheep nibble on their blade-frozen pasture.
November 27 – Some days ameliorate; others evaporate, like today, when I caress the face of time too lightly. But I’m learning to scrub her senseless with a stiff bristle brush, and tender her hinderparts without blushing. I am a shameless serf of my moments.
November 28 – In the cold, raw winters of 1800s Iowa, babies weren’t named for a full year against such starkness. Often they didn’t live long enough, and even now, like the lambs in our pasture, we name the ones we aim to keep, and the ones we don’t, we don’t.
November 29 – What is this life in the country, we ask. Is it walls of green perpetually, or infinite sky? Might it be the provincialism of years? An old bull put out to pasture: tough, but a little useless? He keeps the grass down, we justify, but we still need leather shoes.
November 30 – News reaches us here. We see smoke on the horizon on bad days, and planes fly overhead. We dream. Wonder. We catch the glint of sun off space-age metal. If only we could catch a break in little Jimmy’s softball schedule, we’d finally climb that mountain, see the world.
About the Author
German-born Chila Woychik is an amalgam of European, Irish, and Acadian forebears, and has recent bylines in journals such as Silk Road, Storm Cellar, and Tishman Review. She was awarded the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award and the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award. Currently, she edits the Eastern Iowa Review, and bikes and hikes relentlessly.