Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We interrupt this regular programming

Day twelve of my stay on the Palouse.  Day twelve of walking through those doors and into the darkened room where she lies in a bed. This morning while I was brushing my teeth, my sister made a rather loud response to someone on the other end of the phone and my heart leapt in my chest.  However, it was her husband asking us to come help the farmers move their equipment from one piece of property to the homeplace.  So, after 11 days of doing almost nothing but sitting in that room, we were glad for a distraction.

Down the road from RE's house, where her husband was raised, and his father born and raised before him, we picked up RE's mother-in-law, Marlene, and drove several miles over gravel roads, raising our hands to wave at every pick-up we passed, because if one doesn't know that person, surely he's a neighbor to your neighbor and likely as not would stop to help you change a spare tire even if he'd never seen you before and wouldn't again.  It's just the way of things out here among these wavy golden hills.

As we drove, Marlene talked about how she'd been just about to have her morning coffee-break with her son called.  She gets up early, after all. "With himself," she told us. Always has.  And she works hard all day, though the garden that once stretched all the way to the road from the back of the house is about a quarter of its size now that just she and 'himself' are alone in the old broad-porched farmhouse.  When we invited her to meet us in town one day last week, she had to finish the pot of apples she had on the stove.  And Friday, when we got home from our beautiful, touching family service, Marlene had left three large plates of sticky buns on RE's counter for our whole large family to have for breakfast.  

We crossed the highway (195, if you're checking the map) which runs from Pullman down the steep grade to Lewiston, Clarkston and the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers.  When I was a child, the Lewiston grade was full of horseshoe turns and switchbacks along the side of the hill and so scared me that I always wanted to bury my head beneath a pillow when we had to travel it.  Years later, a new road was built, with one gentle turn up (or down) the hill, and most of my fear disappeared with those flattened turns.  RE's mother-in-law, however, told me today that she sometimes still takes the old road down to Lewiston, just for the fun of it because she remembers when it was 'the new grade.'    Across highway 195, we drove onto another gravel road, up over a hill and down into some bottomland of fields where an assembly of combines, farm-trucks and men in extremely dirty jeans and cotton plaid button-up shirts stood around.  Waiting.
"They're all loaded up and ready to go," Marlene said.  Impressed, I got the impression, that they'd moved so quickly.  Even in my limited experience, farmers have their own speed, but Marlene has lived with them--as daughter, wife and mother all her days.

My sister, RE, is a good sport about driving the farm pick-up with the combine header attached to the back.  She's done this job a time or two.  BB drove one as well.  When he was in high school, back in the nineties, he worked a summer out here on the farm.  Drove some of these farm trucks every day.  It was like old home week for him, talking to the other men who practically sweat Palouse soil.  Those who'd never dream of packing up and living their lives across the country from this place.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of BB.

I did, however, get this of my brother-in-law's brother.  He's the other co-owner of the farm.  Seconds later, he started up the combine and the dust that came billowing made me scamper for the safety of the air-conditioned car.  I do have one more Palouse photo, however.  It's my brother-in-law.  Perhaps my all-time favorite photo, taken by his daughter.  The absolute quintessential picture of this farmer/rancher.  Man, horse, dog on the edge of the canyon.  And no, folks, this isn't a staged shot, but truly how he lives and works and has his being.  Living the life he's been called to, even when it's hard.  Harvest, which makes the hills so beautiful, the sunsets so bright and the moon so orange, may be glorious to watch for us who aren't called to the work of it, but it's also the hardest.  Marlene reminded me of that this morning.  "I always worry about them during harvest.  It's just such a stressful time.  So much depends on it."  Beauty and work together.

This morning was a moment out of our terrible, stressful waiting time.  They interrupted our regular schedule to ask us to be a part of theirs--their stressful work of harvest.  And for that, I'm thankful.

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