where the writers are
The North Farm Voices: Part One
Only Wild Plums

The Voice of the Cottonwood Elders 

Wind magnifies as it rustles through the cottonwoods bordering the North Farm. I stand below them, tip my head all the way back so when I look up I see only tree and sky.

I close my eyes, pretend this powerful hiss of wind through leaves is the sound of water, waves on some ocean salty and distant. The sounds sound much the same--audible motion and influence.

The wind seeks form in the shimmering leaves. The voice of the cottonwood elders finds form in the wind and says, “See what time does?"

They are right, of course. They have stood here all along. They can see as well as I that this place a shambles.

But when my father was born here--slipping breathlessly into a world of white wind in April 1925--this Iowa farm was dignified. The implements and rolls of fencing wire neither antique nor rusted. No lavender-topped thistles reached up through the livestock’s water trough. The water pump held its handle then, and the big-bladed windmill wheel whirled high.

Now it lies where several springs ago a tornado tossed it. Now the tick of an electric fence beats the contemporary pulse of this place. The farm house caved in. The wood-shingled roof laid down in the tall, wild marijuana plants seems an absurdly placed dance floor.

But though everything appears broken or corroded, reclaimed by the land, a certain blend of reverence swirls with the dismay about this old farm. Even the stumps seem sacred.

I notice yet another tree downed near the front gate. And the breathy voice of the cottonwood elders repeats -- over and over, again and again -- “Birthplace. Death place.”