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Not quite home

August 17, 2011

All my life I have lived within the compass of these desert horizons.  I know there is a different world outside because I have twice been to a city and once – when a very small child – to the sea.  Of course, there are other ways to know, but they are fading and my memory is sufficient.

The sea was a field of mid-spring spinifex grass when the ears wave and waft seed on the breeze.

It is only five years since I visited the city; that place a week’s journey away through narrowing hills and widening roads.  Minny brought me.  On the way, we dined at the hotel in which her mother and I stayed on our honeymoon night.  The steaks were not as thick or tender as formerly.  There is a motel attached to the building now, but Minny and I chose instead to drive on until we found cheaper lodgings.  My journey was in order to negotiate the sale of my farm, a time of loss, and I needed to watch pennies in case the sale went badly.

The brumbies in my mind did not keep pace as we swept up to those tower blocks on the horizon and then in between them at last.  Since my previous visit as a boy on vacation, I had forgotten the frequency of traffic lights and young people and recalled more chimneys.  My thoughts only fitfully held the real things of my life – the flaking of fence posts, the scent of cattle sweating in the sun – as we entered those streets with rough haste.  Many of the real things were soon not to be mine, but my main regret was that I could not give them over to Minny, as my father had handed them to me so long ago in a sheaf of papers marked ‘Grant of Land’.  He had been rightfully proud; a man who started out with a small parcel of unwatered pasture able on his retirement to assign the duty of caring for fertile river flats and 1,000 head of stock to his eldest.

I apologized aloud to Minny and silently to her dead mother as we entered the glass doors of the lawyer’s office.  Minny only shook her head.  What does a divorced librarian need with a stony creek bed and a pile of rusting sheds anyway?  That was the sum of her argument.  It was not my fault, so she also told me, and it is true enough that the banks’ takeover of our district followed the drought’s own land grab with relentless and logical precision.  My memory of healthy grass plains should be consigned to the dead past along with my vision of the sea.  This I cannot deny, but regret is taught by the heart rather than reason.

And so I came home from that last urban venture, if not quite home.  At least, I ended back between the sky walls I’ve always known.  My unit – not yet a berth in a nursing home – is close to the municipal offices where Minny works, and she drives me past the farm gate on weekends.  The distance is forgiving out here.  It lets you abide in wide circles without making you fear you have strayed too far.  From different hills, you can see the same bird wheeling.

I shelter now, rather than live, and perhaps sheltering is better.  I am in the hands of God the earth, God the sky, God the wind, and He has not yet scattered my bones, which are still strong enough for the little work I have to do.  I have gained rather than lost my sense of His presence, being much alone and usually idle.  I hear his voice in the crow’s cawing and the thud of hooves.  The silence that calms shy animals also gentles me.  Human chatter has never been my craving.

I have no need for tools now, except lowly ones that I keep about my person.  A sharp knife is still a good thing.  I skinned a rabbit for my grandson this morning and, while wiping the blood on the ground, recognized the drops of it.  It was the dewy bare soil that ran through my father’s fingers as he planned new pastures, and the oil from the diesel train that came to rest forever in our siding years ago, and the flower of the bottlebrush tree that perhaps still grows outside my kitchen window, and the black grease around the eyes of my first working dog.  And it has stopped flowing.

Sometimes I wake from dreams of death by dust.  It is clogging my throat, my lungs, my veins.  Who will heed my gasps?

Let me not die in my bed but while I am out walking somewhere, please God.  Let my body lie between walls only of weather.  Let me feel the cold wind on my face and the bite of rain on my bare arms, at the end.  If I hear the voice of the grass in the breeze, I will be comforted.

But I am become feeble-minded indeed if I give in to fears cast up by nightmares.  This compass of horizons – and the years it has been my lot to carry – mean no more to the universe than a set of hopping footprints among the spinifex.  Let me, instead, accept the passing.  There is no call for mourning.  God’s tears do not fall, and neither shall mine.

Thanks for reading my story.

Photo: Yaruman5

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