Governing the Western Field

Mowing the field west of the train car my grandfather bought in 1935, a retired Pullman, the “Constitution.” It perches above Rock Creek, overlooking a floodplain of thick woods where bluebells carpet the floor in spring.

I’ve waited too long. The grass, two or three feet tall, hides mounds of dirt and winter-downed branches dropped from oaks fringing the field’s perimeter. My right foot rides the Deere’s clutch continuously, my right hand on the mower’s lever to raise when hearing the blade hit wood or hillock. Duck out of the way as brambles and branches the vertical exhaust pipe catches then sweeps back at me. The first pass goes slowly, in first gear, gas levered high to speed the mower’s revolutions, my path a snail’s coil into the center, throwing what amounts to hay bubbling out like a wake behind the five-foot blade, the right front tire treading on previously mown grass. The fuzz of dust and seeds build on my naked back. Something briefly blinds an eye. The knuckles on the index finger of my left hand turning the steering wheel burns like it’s been macheted. The mower lowers to kill what poison ivy it can. I swing as close as possible to the trunks of outlying trees to cut the flora around visible and invisible roots.

There used to be beef cattle here. We’d climb the fence, the top wire barbed, and walk with our hardballs, mitts, and Louisville sluggers to the open area of the field from which we’d chase any cattle grazing there back into the woods and ravine beyond left field. We’d pitch and hit, run to first while the outfield ran down the ball, no one not stepping in cow pies, their crusted shells squished open to gooey yellow filling spreading onto the rubber bottoms and up the canvas sides of Keds. Rules were Main Man out, right field closed if not enough players, at-bat team pitches to itself, and any ball thrown to home plate for an out can’t be intentionally dropped.

Now the fence is down, the farmland’s sold, and the floodplain where my brothers and farmers on horseback herded cattle up to the barns for feeding has been given to the town for a public park. Our family owns only the five acres around the train car.

A third time around mulches, somewhat, the long, bunched, pale green clumps of stems, thistles, and occasional early wildflower. The field needs raking. I’ll wait for people to help me with that. It’s illegal, but we’ll burn the piled grass, the gray smoke giving us away. No one will bother to come. It is, after all, early spring, and nature needs to be governed.

Richard Holinger

Richard Holinger’s books include the essay collection, Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, and North of Crivitz, poetry of the Upper Midwest. His work has appeared in Southern Review, Witness, ACM, Ocotillo Review, and Boulevard, and has garnered four Pushcart Prize nominations. “Not Everybody’s Nice” won the 2012 Split Oak Press Flash Prose Contest, and his Thread essay was designated a Notable in Best American Essays, 2018. Degrees include a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a M.A. in English from Washington University. Holinger has taught English and creative writing on the university and secondary school levels and lives northwest of Chicago far enough to see deer, turkeys, and foxes cross his lawn. He’s working on two collections, creative nonfiction and short fiction, many pieces already appearing in journals such as Iowa Review, Western Humanities Review, Chicago Quarterly, Hobart.

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