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from Levi. And now the very sight of him completely disarmed her. Her shoulders dropped and she wanted nothing more at that moment than to welcome Levi in her arms. Tears began to well up in her eyes, as the sight of Levi reminded her of her grandson Luke, whom she had lost in the war. Luke, after all, would have been Levi’s uncle.
Charlene walked farther onto the porch and looked squarely at Grandma Kate, not forgetting the resentment she held from her childhood years. For the first time in Charlene’s life she felt she had the upper hand with Grandma Kate. Charlene stood tall and forcefully said, “The Stiles’ family has taken me in as one of their own.” And, “You know these people have been homesteading this property for many generations. If you try to take this land from them using that worthless deed, I’ll make certain you never see this little child again.” Charlene’s tone to Grandma Kate was convincing and she meant ever word she said. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would follow through with her intention. Levi was the trump card in this grand game of human aspirations. He remained calmly poised in his mother’s arms, oblivious to the tortured world of the adults.
In the summer heat the cicadas sang on and on, as they bore witness to the saga unfolding before them on the front porch of the Stiles’ family home. In the eyes of cicadas this drama was nothing new. The battle for land and ownership between warring clans was as old as time on Earth. Creatures large and small were in a constant battle for land, sustenance and the privilege to reproduce and raise young. No less so for cicadas, as their survival was dependent on the certain necessities of food and water, and they lived in fear of wasps, birds and other predators. Yet, this foreboding never stopped them from singing their rapturous summer song, in an outspoken cadence that intrigued those who listened closely.
Suddenly, the truth of Charlene’s words stuck Grandma Kate’s heart, like a bell ringing true when the striker finds its mark. Without knowing how to act at that moment, Grandma Kate’s body relaxed and the faded deed dropped from her hand onto the wooden planks of the country porch. Surprisingly, Grandma Kate had not become angrier at that moment. In fact, her defenses had dropped away as she was spellbound by the sight of the child. More potent than Charlene’s words, Grandma Kate was transformed by viewing Levi. Somehow, in a way that can never be explained with words, seeing little Levi was a medicinal salve that instantly soothed the wounded grieving for her lost grandson, Luke.
Maddy could see that Grandma Kate was no longer the threatening viper that had stood before her just moments ago. Likewise, Maddy no longer felt the need to be like an angry mongoose ready to kill its perceived enemy. Haybaler stood in amazement of this entire drama as it had played itself out on the center stage of his front porch. He thought for a moment that Grandma Kate and Maddy were going to kill each other in a frenetic battle for a piece of land and basic survival. When to his surprise, the appearance of Levi quelled the savage beasts within the warring parties and brought equanimity to these actors on life’s stage. Stunned and with mouth slightly agape, Haybaler continued to watch the drama of generations unfold before his eyes.
There was a long moment of silence. Even the cadence of the cicada’s summer song had taken an interlude. To everyone’s surprise Levi held out his arms towards Grandma Kate in a gesture of wanting to be held by her. Tears of joy and release poured forth from Grandma Kate. Charlene leaned forward and gave the child into Grandma Kate’s open arms. No one knew what to say. They all stood in amazement at the innocence of a child, and sensed the healing power of compassion for the long suffering of others. Levi had shown them a ray of hope, where before only the dark shadows of generational hatred and conceit had been known.
Haybaler would have never imagined what happened next, in this grand play unfolding on the front porch of his family home. Maddy, observing Grandma Kate holding Levi, spontaneously said, “Kate, will you come inside my kitchen and we’ll all have a glass of tea.” Grandma Kate was completely disarmed by the question. Still holding Levi, she innocently said, “Oh yes, please.” While the kitchen ceiling fan turned methodically in rhythm with the humming of its electric motor, they all drank iced tea around the long harvest table. The centerpiece of the table was a large glass pitcher, filled with iced tea and wet with little rivulets of condensation. There was fresh baked bread and newly churned butter on the table, as well. They all enjoyed the fragrant brew, and each other’s company, while delighting in Levi’s presence. With the pouring of each glass of the delicious libation, the anger and resentment of generations evaporated, like so much moisture disappearing from the surface of a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. There was laughter and joy in abundance. A truce was reached when all agreed there was not a battle to be won. Rather, there was a great healing to be experienced. Unity was the goal desired by all. The homesteaders would stay on the land and Grandma Kate would be able to enjoy Levi as one of her own kin.
This was the fullness desired by all. These were simple country folk and their agreement was stronger than any papers drawn up by big city attorneys. To one another, their words were like gold, as were the intentions in their hearts. Central to this agreement was Levi, whose childlike presence had an unseen influence that subtly brightens those lucky enough to behold him. One wishes to drink again from that fountain of childhood innocence and grace.
It was getting on towards evening and a breeze was showing in the rustling tree leaves outdoors. The primordial incantation of the cicadas was waning towards sunset. Once again, the chorus of their singing had been the witnesses of ages. A sudden gust of dusty wind moved across the yard and dutifully blew the old deed off the front porch and into the countryside. The crumpled paper was tossed about by the forces of nature, across fence posts and pasture, in a way that can only be understood as an act of natural intervention. The faded document was never to be seen again. How often in this weary world has the wrathful hand of resentment and hatred been quelled by the breaking of bread and taking of tea?
The harsh grip of winter’s cold embrace cannot be taken lightly. Firewood must be cut and stacked before winter breathes her cold air over the land. It would be treacherous to attempt cutting firewood after an ice storm covered everything in its path with inches of frozen rain. Although beautiful to admire when covered in sparkling ice, the frozen woods are perilous and unforgiving. Man’s vulnerability to nature’s will is quickly revealed if great care is not taken during winter.
Autumn was Haybaler’s favorite time of year and cutting wood for the fire was one of his favorite activities. He felt completely at ease in the woods. Walking at a leisurely pace, he spent considerable time looking for the right tree to cut asunder. As he traveled deeper into the woods, he would pause to run his calloused palm across the rough bark of an oak tree, as if to somehow commune with the arboreal spirit. He took pride in being a good steward of the land. Choosing a tree for cutting was a thoughtful process, with preserving the land and its wildlife as the primary goals. He felt great reverence and respect for Acorn Ridge and all of nature.
He had learned that cutting down a tree was only the first time he was warmed by the wood. Tremendous energy was spent in the hours it took to fell an oak tree. Throwing the limbs and lengths of trunk onto to the cart was enough to break a sweat, as well. Once the roughly cut wood had been hauled back to the barn, it was still necessary to cut the various pieces to the proper length to fit into the woodstove. For this task, a large handled axe would be used. Blow by heavy blow, the logs were quartered into usable firewood. At long last, in the depth of winter Haybaler would enjoy the sublime warmth of the crackling wood fire within the cast iron hearth. He savored every step of this wood cutting path, whereby he gained warmth for the body and the soul. There was nothing else in his life that could substitute for the feeling of wholeness that accompanied the work of cutting firewood for winter. Thus, the joys of working the land ran deep.
Cutting down a tree is the first step in long process that culminates in finding refuge ne
xt to the radiant heat of a properly tended hearth. After Haybaler carefully picked the correct trees and cut them to the ground, the next step involved hauling the dense weight of the wood back home. This was a considerable task and there was only one way to get it done. His father owned a cantankerous old mule named Sugar. She had considerable strength and a lack of good sense, which made her perfect for pulling a cart. His father used to say, “Sugar is a fine mule, but you have to hit her with a board to get her started.”
Haybaler knew that Sugar could only do a couple of things. Mostly, she could eat large amounts of hay, stand still for hours, make manure and walk in a straight line. Other tasks were of great difficulty for Sugar and likewise of great frustration for any human lucky enough to ever work with her. Of course, we cannot leave out that she had a particular talent for being stubborn. Her stalwart nature was the bane of many good men. Through Sugar, Haybaler learned that the relationship between man and mule was an unending source of trouble and fascination.
On first glance, one would surmise that Sugar was an