When I was a child I believed the farm where I grew up was a living being. As a living being, it had a heart. The location of the heart was obvious to me, though it seemed I was the only one who knew. I didn’t tell anyone. I went to visit the heart, from time to time, just to check-in. It was part of my duties as a small boy.
In the great swamp the beaver had flooded a generation before, a narrow spit of land jutted out. Surrounded by cat o’nine tails and dark water, the spit of land was covered in briars, Queen Anne’s lace, and maple saplings. At the very tip of the land, where it reached furthest into the deep black water, there was a stand of tall reeds that turned gold in the Fall. The heart of the farm was there.
The heart of the farm was difficult to access and frequented by herons. It was not possible to enter the reeds, which were dense, golden, and obdurate. If I crawled through the high grass and briars, leapt over a small stream, I could stand on a low mound of granite and gaze into the reeds as though through a curtain.
The heart of the farm didn’t give me messages. Not exactly. There weren’t any words. (My Aunt Lucy received messages, with words, from God. That is why she lived at the state hospital in Laconia.) Instead it was a sort of a frequency, which I felt humming through me as I stood nearby. I went there often to be alone and to pray, fending off spider webs and slapping mosquitoes. I tried to catch a glimpse of the great blue heron who stood guard there. The heron was an extremely important personage. He may actually have been the boss of the farm. Which certainly would have come as a surprise to some people.
Visiting the heart of the farm was solemn and prayerful thing – until I got a little older and found that every time I went there I needed urgently to jack-off. Sometimes I even took off all of my clothes—me, the skittish queer gimp-legged kid who cried if forced to wear shorts. I loved more than anything to be naked under the sky, hidden in the tall grass, found acceptable to both the heaven and the earth.
Just the same, I was a little concerned that jacking off was embarrassing, and maybe even sacrilegious, until the reeds privileged me to understand that the heart of the farm was actually well-pleased by this activity, and that spunk was a highly acceptable offering. The animal that I was, was welcome here, hidden in the wilds of the farm, the farm that was an animal as well.
About the reeds: the stand of reeds was not, itself, the heart of the farm. The heart was somewhere deeper down, in the junction between water and earth. I wasn’t sure exactly what the heart was. Perhaps the heart was mud. The reeds, which extended like beams of golden radiance from the heart, were the heart’s ornament. They served as a mouthpiece, as well as a sort of antenna. I can’t explain the mechanics of it exactly.
All my life I called these reeds “bamboo grass,” which turns out to be totally wrong. I assumed they had to be a species both special and rare, perhaps from someplace faraway. Now I learn that this plant is found almost everywhere and is generally considered an invasive species. How beautiful and otherworldly the reeds always seemed to me, swaying, ten feet tall, and golden in the sun, bright even on the dreariest New Hampshire winter’s day. Phragmites australis americanus. Known also as “the common reed.” But the common reed certainly does not look common.
One day—I must have been about fifteen–I arrived at the start of the swamp to find that my father had ordered that the spit of land be shorn of all its saplings and run across with the riding mower. This was how it always was with my father. He was forever making pointless improvements that the rest of us had to find some way to survive.
I did not walk any further into the swamp. I got down and cried in the freshly-cut grass, in what had served as the tangled overgrown home of many visible and invisible beings, and was now a lawn.
I waited until I was calm and went home. Of course I didn’t say anything. I could not. It was obvious that I was a borderline case. If I didn’t keep quiet I’d wind up at the hospital in Laconia with Aunt Lucy. There was no way to tell my father that the farm had a heart.
That night I had a dream. I dreamt that the mower had stopped just short of the heart, and that the stand of golden reeds had been left intact. The next morning I returned to the swamp and walked out further onto the spit of land.
My dream was correct. Everything had been chopped down and mown, almost all the way to the stand of reeds which remained intact, untouched, though they seemed now exposed and vulnerable, no longer shielded by acres of tall grass, saplings and briars. The heart of the farm had been preserved, with only a few feet to spare. The heart had dodged my father and survived.
I am most commonly a writer of fictions. This is not one of them. If I am delusional, then here is the most precious of my delusions: the heart of them. Now that it is apparent that the farm and I may not last much longer, I am telling what I know to be true.
I am now forty years old. After eight generations in the family, my father has chosen not to pass the farm on to any of his three loutish sons, not one of whom was found to be sufficiently obedient or appreciative of him. A year ago the town decreed that the dam which maintained the swamp could no longer be tolerated. The main body of the swamp was drained and is now a large marshland.
The heart of the farm is no longer golden. It has gone to cat o’nine tails.
Perhaps the heart thought it best to keep a lower profile, particularly now that my father is a retired millionaire and Orchard #12 is slated to become a luxury high-density complex of shopping and condominiums.
The heart of the farm survives. It persists. I can still feel it, even now that the reeds have gone and I am grown-up. The heart no longer wears its bright ornaments and, for my part, I have not always won the battle against disenchantment and bitterness. Just the same, the heart endures, it is evident, though I do not know who else has noticed it.
The best news is that my father has, providentially, forgotten to mow.
Blessed neglect! By grace of negligence and unprofitability, some corners of the world may survive a few moments more. May survive in this time when devastation abounds and change, unhinged, extends unto the flow of rivers, and the cycle of seasons, and even into the meanings of words. This calamitous time when glaciers are no longer a symbol of permanence, and oceans no longer stand for incorruptibility, when inaccessible has vaulted into position as the very most beautiful word in the English language. This luminous exposed filament of time, like a narrow spit of land ornamented by tall golden-headed reeds, jutting out into the dark.
- The Heart of the Farm - June 18, 2014