Autumn has come to Central Oregon. Nights are fires in the hearth. Days are sweaters and wind. The grasses are yellowed, gathering inside themselves what they will need for the constraints of winter. The sun comes slanting and thin through empty seedpods and slate clouds.
The grass field behind us has been cut and baled 3 times this summer. Now, it is only watered until it, too, will be put to bed for the winter. The cows and their big calves were separated last week, weaned for the season. I've heard the cows crying for the sake of their full udders. The big babies content on their green grasses and fresh water. Everyone is fine and grazing now. I always wonder about cows, how they adapt and accept what comes to them, how they mourn and worry over their losses. The snows will come and cover their backs as they graze and chew. Ice will form on their horns and they graze and chew, the steam coming off their backs like a mountain in the mist. Late calves and early calves will be born in the snow, dropping from their mothers as soon as they are born; their first lesson is "Life is hard. Accept it and move on." I wonder about this, too.
I've begun a new story that is the golden grasses and far-spread prairies. It is the wind over rolling hills, sky painted right up to every hillock in a flat gray-blue that is beyond imagining. It is the story the rock fences tell of back-breaking and skin-slipping. It is the deeply-voiced story of bleeding callouses and sweat rivulets. It's the sharp edge of a scythe and the horror at finding once-live furry things in the windrows. It is love and heartbreak, contentment and bone-deep anger.
Here's how it begins:
No one ever notices the beautiful things til they're almost all used up. Butterflies just before they get ate by birds, or rainbows just before the sun dries em up. Water as it rushes over stones is beautiful. I used to think it was the stones was beautiful, but when I took a bright green shiny one out of the water, it looked plain and ugly just about right away. It was the water rushing away that done it, that made me want the stones.
I remember the face of my mama under the water, white and clean. Her hair floating around her face like water weeds, the blood around her hair making it look like the red washing out now she was dead and gone and didn't have need of that red hair anymore.
I knowed she wasn't my own mama from a long time back. I got me brown hair and brown eyes and so does Papa. I figured my mama was maybe a whore from atop the saloon that Papa looked at real wistful sometimes. He pretends he's good, but I think he's got a devil in there somewhere.
Mama, leastways the only mama I knowed, died in the water, which struck me as real mean, since the rain never did come to us in time to start the seed Papa laid in. The water just wouldn't come, and not two weeks after Mama floated down the Crooked River, that river that run through our fields, the whole thing just done and dried up. I imagined it took Mama away and then, just like me, it ain't had use for crying one more day and so it stopped and went dry.