Summer Song

The things of the summer song are all caught up in the views from under the tree in the front yard on a July Sunday afternoon. Rocking chairs and table chairs and makeshift benches all brought out in the yard to join up with the official kind of chairs that most people used as their outdoor furniture. The gray hues of the distance disappear and fade into the surroundings that make the Sunday afternoon complete.

Underneath the giant maple tree that turns bright red in the fall, we sit there in the summer and look out around. Shade covers our faces – thank goodness – ‘cause it’s hot. The afternoon ease of temp hasn’t quite gotten there yet, and the mighty grip of heat of midday was still holding fast around our necks and heads, weighing us down as we attempted to play an uneven, lopsided game of two-hand touch football out in Mamaw’s side yard, earlier.

Sitting on the grass again, back under the big tree in the front yard, we catch our breath and take in everything around us. Over to the left is a good-sized garden that she has planted and harvested from for years. Along the edge of the vegetable garden is a row of day lilies that form a border to keep us grandkids out and to give it an outline, some texture – if you will.

That’s one thing that I noticed over the years: she always did things with a bit of outline and texture. That was her version of flair. Never over the top, but enough that it showed she was not content with living with blandness and plain all of the time. She planted flowers, tended fruit trees, and planted flowering bushes all around her house so that it was not only colorful, but that it was beautiful, as well. She had a knack for arranging those amazing things right outside her window in such a way that they were nice to look at. As a result, we all enjoyed them with her.

At the corner of the garden where the yard passed in front of the house and over to the woodshed, there stood the mighty bell. It was rusted now, but it still worked. …and we would still get switched with a hickory if we dared ring it without dire need or cause.

Why? Because it was more than just an old bell. It was the summoning bell: the bell that called farmhands and children to lunch; the bell that called for everyone to “come a’runnin’” (to drop everything they were doing and get to the house as fast as possible); the bell that connected house and home to fields and pastures. For decades, it was the sole form of long distance communication that could reach from one part of our farm to the other. The mighty bell.

Now, though, it stood perched and somewhat slumped over at the top of a fading, aging cedar pole. The reddish brown rust sat there on the bell in contrast and arrogance against the meaning of the bell itself. Yet in some ways, it seemed to belong as a natural part of the aging process and the passing along of time in conjunction with the seasons it had stood through.
Though I couldn’t see it happening or even understand how it was occurring at the time, the rust was oxidizing the metal of the bell and converting it from young to old. Years were passing inside of the very composition of the bell, and I didn’t even know it. That bell seemed to speak to me in some sort of non-understandable ways. Yet, I do understand because I can still see it as perfectly now as I did back then.

The mount – the cedar pole – was as much a part of the sounding device as the rusted bell was. Both worked together to do their job. The pole had to be cedar because only that type would last through the years and stand the test of time.

Ropes that were connected to the bell and hung down alongside the peeling, hairy cedar bark came and went. They never lasted more than a year or so before they broke or snapped. That was to be expected after the first few times it happened. But not the bell. Not the pole.

They would continue to stand there and look back at me as I took in the summer song.

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Sanctuary of the Woods

Way down in the woods, we’d play every afternoon til it started getting dark. Then, we’d work our way back up through the trees and out into the clearing that formed the top part of the hill behind the hay barn and the metal calf barn that was painted white. Out on top of the hill, the evening light shone all around and lit up everything like it was a dying fire. Reds and oranges and yellows all leapt and jumped around with the changing of the shadows, as the sun set farther and farther into the horizon in the west.

But before all of that, we were in the woods. That’s where the most glorious music was played, the most pungent and wonderful smells were produced, and where the most intricate of interlacing details could be seen wherever we walked or stood. Ants crawled all over the ground and exposed themselves here and there in the form of a red clay hill to signify they had made a huge undertaking underground. “Hill” was a relative term compared to the towering pine trees and oak trees in the immediate vicinity. However, to the ants, their hills were gigantic.

The creek constantly gave off its melody that wound up being the background tune for the rest of the woods. As the stream of water walked across the rocks and sand underneath, it splashed and dashed, adding to its travels an occasional brushing up next to the tall grass that grew along the creek bank. Dragonflies, water bugs, and butterflies flitted around in search of their own particles to eat and enjoy. Their color added flavor to the eyes along the stream of water, as it meandered its way from the bottom land of the pasture and into the area we claimed as our sanctuary – the woods.

God had given us those woods in order to show us that he was still very much in charge, although our home life was hectic at times. Growing up can be challenging for anyone at times, and we were no exception.

The peace and solitude of the tree-covered area was our home for a few hours each day, enough that it gave us respite from the craziness. When we entered the woods and the tall grass surrounding the creek, we knew we were safe. Sure there were lots of critters around, but we knew none of them would hurt us.

How did we know? Birds singing was one of the signs. If the birds were singing, then nothing was around that they were bothered by – and they were always singing, so we were always safe.

Of all the birds in the woods, one of the most amazing ones was the mockingbird. It had the ability to be a one-man-band. It could hear a new bird and after a little practice, it could take the other bird’s voice as its own. At the time, we didn’t understand all of the details – we just knew it sounded beautiful.

The wind joined in on the symphony that God had going on in the woods. As it blew across the tall, green grass and through the dark pine needles in the treetops surrounding us, we could feel the presence of something incredible passing through our midst. It was almost as if the stars and clouds had come down and were invisibly brushing us on our cheeks.

Today, I still love the breeze.

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This article was adapted from one of Reep’s upcoming books.  For ones currently published, go to www.Amazon.com/author/reep

Hedgeboars (flash fiction)

Merkador’s army stood in battle formation, ready to charge. A few of the soldiers lined up in front felt the armor on their legs jiggle. They glanced down and noticed ripples forming repeatedly in the puddles of day-old rainwater next to their feet. Confused, they looked at each other, wondering what was happening. They tried to brush away the feeling of concern that was growing in each of them, but they couldn’t – in light of what happened next.

Soldiers who were the closest to the forest were the first to hear limbs snapping and to see leaves dispersed like fireworks.

“Hedgeboars!!” yelled one of the soldiers.

The first wave of wild beasts broke loose from the forest and into the open plain. Fear gripped the soldiers’ hearts, and terror filled their eyes. A few stood fast, though, and tried to calm the others around them.

“Steady, men! …Steady! Hold your positions!” came from those men who had strong hearts and loud voices. The words seemed to equalize against the timbers that broke in front of their eyes.

“Ready your weapons!” came from elsewhere in the ranks.

Men up and down the line shifted their bodies and weapons into an attack-and-kill position. The entire army seemed to flex and pivot in cadence under the verbal orders, in light of the impending assault.

Hedgeboars could cause overt devastation within the blink of an eye. They were mean, extremely hungry, and horribly ugly. They weren’t the fastest animals in the forest, but they weren’t terribly slow, either. They seemed to operate on the method of mass momentum. Once they got started, it was hard to slow their moving force. And that’s exactly what their “owners” were counting on: spook them in the woods, drive them out into the open, and watch them run right over everything (and everyone) in their way. Blind fear and seemingly directionless energy pushed them forward to the hedges that lie in the distance.

Hedgeboars, by themselves, were stupid – hence, their force was directionless and awkward. But by putting them together in one big group, their massive force was one to be reckoned with and feared. Even a dumb animal was one to be afraid of, if it was heading right at you – ready to trample – and these were.

Merkador’s chief architect of war was aware the enemy had considered enlisting the hedgeboars’ help through conscription, but he didn’t believe they were actually capable of directing the beasts in a useful fashion. Apparently, he was very wrong. In fact, the exploding treetops were proof that the army from the badlands had indeed figured out a way to herd the hedgeboars together and direct their force as one.

By now, the edge of the forest looked as if giant drops of green rain were falling to the ground. Large chunks of brown limbs and bark also flew through the air for a few seconds, then finally found a resting place on the ground, in other trees, or on top of some of the soldiers. That, coupled with the sound of snapping limbs, caused the right amount of fear in the onlookers to discourage them from wanting to hold their position and line. It was a strategy so well-played by the other side that the Chief Architect wished he had thought of, first.

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This story was adapted from one of Reep’s upcoming books.  For ones currently published, go to www.Amazon.com/author/reep

 

Lightning Storms in the Field

Every other weekend during the school year, it was our turn to milk. My brother and I would help Daddy milk Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday evening. We also fed the cows Saturday and Sunday, midday. Sometimes when people were out sick or on vacation, we helped during the week – but mostly every other weekend.

During the summer, though, it was a different story. Any morning or evening was fair game, depending on what was going on. If hay needed to be baled, then somebody milked while somebody else baled. If it was a silage-cutting time, one guy cut silage, one drove wagons back and forth to the field, and another packed the silo with a front end loader. Two others milked.

Of course, the wild card in all of that was the weather. If it was sunny and warm out, life was good. But if it was stormy or overly hot, that was a different story. Likewise, rainstorms were something amazing to watch. It was always interesting to see just how close the clouds would get before they unleashed their water from above.

Sure, most people look at rain clouds and think, “Oh look…how pretty.” But if you’ve ever been caught out in a storm, then you probably don’t automatically think that anymore. I can’t tell you how many storms I’ve gotten caught out in. A lot of times, they would come up so suddenly that I didn’t notice they were blocking the sunshine until they were already upon me. By then, it was too late. The big fear always seemed to be about getting struck by lightning.

We could be out in the field on any given day, and Daddy would come check on us periodically. He was usually easy-going and laid back – driving slow and rarely a worried look on his face. But baby, let the sky crack loose a couple of wicked, shimmering bolts of electricity and everything changed!

That blue pickup would come flying across the fields to snatch us off the tractor quicker than a rabbit running away from a combine in second gear. Depending on which field we were in, we’d wind up going to Mamaw’s house or to our house for the duration of the heavenly electric show.

I actually liked it when that happened, because going to Mamaw’s house meant getting to eat some of her pound cake and drinking cool well water from the kitchen sink. On the other hand, going home to wait out the weather meant peanut butter and crackers and sweet tea. So, either was a win.

Either way, though, it meant that the tractor seat was going to be wet when I got back to the field. Some things just couldn’t be avoided. Sure, in a perfect world, I would have known the storm was coming and was going to have lightning in it that time – meaning we would be leaving the field for a while. But also in a perfect world, the silage would have cut itself, and we wouldn’t have had to be out there in the first place. But, that’s not how it happened. We had to cut the silage to feed to the cows – just like we had to drive the tractors that got the job done.

I’m grateful that I had the chance to get wet, driving the John Deere in the rain. In a lot of ways, it made us better kids then and better adults now. None of us take dry clothes and hospitality for granted. We’re grateful for them all the time.

Once in a while, I’m guilty of complaining about something as simple as getting my sock feet wet in the kitchen if there’s something wet on the floor. But then I’ll stop, shake my head, remember the storms in the field, and smile because I’m not soaked from head to toe. It really is amazing how things in life shape who we are and how we react to them.

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This article was adapted from one of Reep’s upcoming books. To read ones currently published, go to Amazon.com/author/reep

Collecting Eggs with a Shotgun

“Boom!” went Ol’ Betsy, as I pulled both triggers of the double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun. The rats I was aiming at disappeared into thin air.

“Holy crap! Did you see that?” I asked my sister. “What?!” she yelled back at me. Both of us were a little deaf from the sound of the gun. “Where’d they go?” she asked. “I don’t know, but I don’t think they got away.”

Two rats had been in the corner trying to add to our consternation by increasing their population. We had entered the chicken house at that moment just to gather the eggs, but, well…timing is everything, I guess.

Meanwhile, all the chickens had fled to the other side of the building. They stared at us for a moment and then went back to pecking, cooing, and cackling. The amount of manure had increased slightly in that area for some reason, though.

We stood there for a few moments looking at the gaping hole in the back corner near the floorboards. Finally, I said, “I guess I should go find a piece of wood to nail over that.” “Yeah, probably,” was my sister’s reply. The corner where I had aimed and fired now had a jagged, new opening instead of a rough, closed look to it. We laughed, and then I added, “At least it worked.”

For weeks before that, the rat problem had been getting worse. The last straw came after I had shaken down the feeder and two rats jumped out instead of beautiful, golden chicken feed. That was when I had had enough.

It was one thing for the rats to live under the chicken house and mind their own business. That was fine. But when they started eating up the food that was for our livestock and taking baths in the buckets of water… oh, no… and then to scare us every day on top of that… yep, that was the last straw.

Yes, we had set poison for the rats, but instead of it killing them off, they just seemed to eat it like candy and stand around waiting for us to bring them another bag full.

When I realized that neither the poison nor the traps were working, I did what any 14-year old kid would do out in the country on a farm – I got creative. I started taking different kinds of sticks with me to the chicken house, but they proved to be either too short to reach or too long to swing.

So, I moved on to a bullwhip. That worked sort of okay, but it mostly just made the rats mad instead of taking them out of the picture. Next, my souped-up slingshot worked pretty good, as long as got ‘em square in the head, otherwise the rocks deflected and wound up hitting the chickens instead.

What to do…What to do? After thinking about my options for a while, it finally hit me. I went to the closet and pulled out a shotgun. It was a .410 single bolt action. My aim was good, but the pellets just seemed to bounce off the rats’ hide as they ran and ducked into their holes. And I wasn’t fast enough to unload the empty shell, reload, and get off another shot before they had scattered and run for cover.

That week, I happened to be down at my aunt’s house visiting and told her what was going on. A twinkle appeared in her eyes and an innocent, yet devious, grin spread across her face.

She said, “You could always borrow the 12-gauge if you like. Of course, it’s a bit more powerful than the .410, but if you use it right, it should do the trick.” “Can I?” “Sure. Just be careful.”

She handed it to me, along with a few shells. The smell of oil, use, old leather, and previous hunting trips poured off of the gleaming cylinders of steel and filled my nose. As I carried it home that evening, I decided that “Ol’ Betsy” seemed like a fitting name.

My approach to finding a solution to the rat problem seemed a bit eccentric – according to some other people I told at the time – but they weren’t the ones getting their feet overrun by hungry rats. And, it worked.

We weren’t afraid to go collect eggs anymore, after that. Every afternoon we exited the chicken house victorious with a shotgun in one hand and a basketful of eggs in the other.

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This story was adapted from one of my upcoming books.  To read ones currently published, go to www.Amazon.com/author/reep .

 

The Girl on the Train (flash fiction)

To wait for the girl on the train. In my mind, I’ll do what the note says. I have a small notebook in my jacket pocket, and one of the pages in it says the same thing that my calendar does on the wall in the hallway.

We have the calendar on the wall so that we’ll remember to look at what day it is. It’s also to remember special days and special people. Where’s my special girl? Hmm. Oh, right. She’s coming to meet me at the station. I’ll go soon to the station to meet her there, too – to pick her up and bring her home. She’s been gone for a very long time, and I miss her. All will be better soon, though, because she’s arriving today.

I’m here, now, waiting just as I said I would. Where is it? Where’s the train? My watch tells me I’m right on time, but maybe I’m a little early. Watches do that, you know. They jump ahead magically at night when you’re not looking, or when you’re driving down the highway paying attention to road signs and whatnot instead of paying attention to them. A jealous watch? Can watches be jealous? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s possible. That would be weird.

What’s that? A horn? A faint sound that sounds like it’s a’way’off in the distance coming down the mountains between the peaks, getting ready to get here where I am and where these other people are standing around waiting. I hope none of them are wondering about my jealous watch. But if they are, oh well. It happens.

It’s coming closer. Coming around the curve, still just a bit away – but much closer than before. The train slows as it approaches the platform, and I wave – at no one in particular and at everyone in general. But I’m really waving to my girl who is somewhere behind the glass of one of those big windows.

It slows to a snail-paced roll and then stops in the middle of the station. The front end of the engine is lined up without any issue down at the edge of the unloading area. People begin to get off the train and make their way down the steps.

As each person steps onto the long, gray concrete strip we call the platform, my eyes scan each face and head of hair for my gal. Not yet. Not yet. Nope. She’s not there. Where is she? Did I come at the right time? Did I come to the right station? Did I make my way here on the right day? Or, did she miss the connection? Did she get on the right train? I don’t know, but I want an answer to all of these questions.

Wait. There. In the middle. There’s a head of hair that’s a little grayer than I remember. Below it? Eyes…eyes that still glow like the sun in the day and the moon in the night. The nose…yep, same nose I remember. And the smile? Yes, definitely the same smile that was there years ago, last year, last month, and today.

Am I being forgetful, somehow? No, it’s just time. It creeps up on all of us and then stands upright, right next to each of us like it was there all along. Ah, it was there all along. And so was my gal, who has come on the train. Home. Isn’t the sunlight glorious?

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This story was adapted from one of Marty’s upcoming books. For currently published, go to www.Amazon.com/author/reep