We went to see the place in Walterville.
Before we had even seen the house, the neighbor,
a man of some seventy years, bent with woods work,
stopped to chat. "The house isn't much, but the soil
is good. Oh, it has some Scotch broom, I know,
on the pasture, but you can get ahead of that
if you keep after it. I helped the last folks with
their fence, but they wanted the gate right here,
where the tractor couldn't get in. They'd no sense."
We asked why no fence between his place
and "ours." "Oh, I don't need a fence. Don't want
your apples, and you're welcome to mine."
I thought of Frost, whose neighbor needed
fences of old-stone savage granite, because
Frost's apples might eat his pine cones, and
his father had had a saying. This one seemed
more what one wanted: friendly but not oppressive,
and knowing woods and wells. We walked over
the pasture till we reached the incense cedars,
each one five feet thick, and found a hanging
branch worn smooth by generations of children's
swinging. Good, and the valley here was wide,
with the mountains stretching east and west,
and sunshine access on short winter days.
But the house wouldn't do; bedrooms dark
and tiny, with telltale smell throughout
of dry rot underneath. Desire for land
sets one dreaming. One acre, three acres--
not enough to farm, but who can farm
with these prices? It becomes a privilege
just to set out onions, and a cow
is not mere luxury, but even a kind of madness
to actually hope for. We have cross fenced
our high-taxed valleys so that to walk straight
for five minutes can't be done, and all
the while buying our produce from five hundred
miles away, where the tractors have as many
wheels as your freeway rig. I want to put
my hands into the ground and make it yield
enough to make my children grow, and not
grow poor in the process. We drove home,
and quarreled along the way about land,
the way people do who have gone to see
not only what they could not have afforded,
but ought not to have desired. The ducks
were glad to see us; she watered them, and I
picked tomatoes, and we kissed and made up,
and lay awake in our small suburban house
beneath the wheeling moon and stars. Why is it,
I wondered then and wonder now, that no one
ever seems to know when they have enough?
When sleep came, there was a vivid dream.
I met again the old man with no fence,
and saw him pointing to the earth. "This
was river bottom in here not too long ago,"
I heard him say. "When we drilled down forty
feet, we hit a driftwood tree, even though
the river now is half a mile away." He opened
up the earth somehow, and showed me the tree,
still caught amid the smooth and rounded stones
deep beneath the topsoil, which now I saw
was dark and rich, as he had said it was.
I reached to touch the soil, and awoke.
The northbound train was rumbling by the house,
carrying produce from industrial farms,
and I was drenched in sweat, and found the moon
had drifted far across the window to the west.
Sunday, July 19, 1992
we went to see the place
we went to see the place