catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 9 :: 2014.05.02 — 2014.05.15


Thin places

I spent the day with my folks on the family farm. It was a good day. This afternoon I got to “play” farm girl while I helped my father move a cow and her newborn calf up the lane to the barn. The cow’s udder was monstrously large — it made me hurt just to look at it. Dad was concerned about the calf’s ability to get milk from the grossly swollen teats. He wanted to be able to monitor things closely for the first day or so of the calf’s life so he could intervene if necessary. The calf proved to be extraordinarily strong for a baby just a few hours old. She was able to make it most of the way up the steep lane without help. When her little legs began to tremble from exhaustion, my dad picked her up and carried her the rest of the way. My job was to help keep the pair from choosing a different direction in which to travel. It proved to be an easy job and soon mama and baby were together in the barn lot.

Dad and I settled in on the tailgate of the truck to watch the two for awhile to see if the calf was able to nurse without help. It was a beautiful afternoon — sunny, not too hot, with a hint of a breeze. It was a strange kind of breeze. I felt it, yet no leaves were moving and the tall grass stood motionless and erect.

Just as this observation began to sink in, I saw a movement in my peripheral vision — a distinctively human figure moving in our direction from the back of the old grain house across the tar and gravel country road. Thinking that it might be my aunt or uncle, or perhaps one of my cousins who lives in the vicinity, I quickly turned to speak. No one was there. No one. Nothing. And suddenly the air grew still.

It unnerved me for a moment, but just a moment. I had the immediate sense that if I had just sat patiently — if I had just been content to take it in from the fringe — I would have seen a man wearing a tan Dickie work shirt, overalls and a brown, sweat-stained farmer’s hat. If I had just remained still, I might have heard the shuffle of his work boots or the deep rattly tune he hummed contentedly as he went about his work. If I had not been so quick to act, I might have heard an earthy remark about the cow’s tremendous udder and swollen teats. I might have caught the spark of pride in his eyes as he examined this new, healthy, strong calf.

If I had just remained motionless, I think I would have seen my grandfather. This was his farm, and his father’s before him, and his grandfather’s before that, and so on for a number of generations back. He has been gone for years now, but he’s never really left the place. I feel his presence everywhere on that farm. I even heard his voice one evening as I walked through the front yard of his old house — now my aunt’s house. He loved to sit on his front porch after supper: resting, breathing in the country air, nodding at cars as they passed, telling stories or jokes to anyone who chose to join him “to sit a spell.” His voice was deep, his sense of humor keen, and his deep chuckle contagious. On that evening when I heard his voice, the porch was empty and the words indistinguishable, but that chuckle — it was unmistakable.

I’ve heard the term thin place, mostly tied in with stories from the old, old places in Europe. I hear that Iona is a thin place, as are some of the ancient monasteries in Scotland. These are places where there is a thinning of the veil that separates time and reality as we know it from a larger reality just beyond our grasp. In these thin places, we sense things that normally are hidden from us.

Europe may lay claim to having the most thin places. But they do not possess them all. There is a thin place on the small family farm that my folks call home. I’ll be glad to take you there sometime. Granddaddy always did enjoy company.

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