Monday, May 6, 2013

Summer in Kansas: Winter Wheat

I've been gone for a while. I went to Mexico before the weather got nasty. The hotels in Mexico are known, of course, for their signature Mexican food. Sometimes, a great hotel will take the name of its culinary specialty by way of setting a new standard in hospitality.  (I ate here, mostly.)

I went fishing in Puerto Lobos, which was once a place on the Sea of Cortez nobody had ever heard of. Christ, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Well, I mean, thank you Christ, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

 Yamaha Yesus

I had a great time with my fishing guide, Ernesto (El Padre), seen here (with hat).

 Ernesto Heminguay

Then I came home. The weather was awful so I went fishing. The weather got nastier. I fished anyway. Then I hung around in a deep depression because the weather was even nastier. I couldn't even go fishing. Christ, I couldn't shoot a fish in a barrel. Well, I mean that in its most positive sense. Then I went back to work. In Kansas. And the weather got so nasty it froze the wheat crop. So now I'm back. Writing, I mean. And in Kansas. So what? I got nothing better to do. Sorry I didn't mention any of this sooner. Sue me.

One of the virtues of a vacation anywhere, particularly in a country like Mexico (for example), is that you can simply ignore unreality, as though you were in a rented Erewhon. It's a better mental exercise to compute dollars-to-pesos, transaction after transaction, like a geriatric tourist who may in a moment forget his own name. When you return home, if you ever or must do, you can by long practice continue to ignore it like a bed-ridden dowager in a Park Avenue highrise. I mean either things real or things made-up, like "sequestration," the National Security Administration (even though it's not ignoring you), "drone warfare" (talk about euphemisms for "national cowardice"), the "Iranian [or North Korean] nuclear threat," the "G.W. Bush Presidential Anything (a library, really?)", even Mitch McConnell.

"Oh Lord, fried ice cream on a sopapilla wouldn't melt in my mouth."

Back here in Kansas, I just saw a friend, a man in his early 80s whom I've known for roughly four years - always hale, still well above six feet, once brown from years of wheat farming, hearty in his approbation of nearly every stranger he ever meets, reliably good natured, kind to his wife, regarded by his sons and his neighbors, a churched man from his youth. When I pulled into his driveway at about lunchtime, he was just driving out. He rolled his window down, grinned and said get in here I'm just going about two mile down the road. 

I climbed in beside him and we drove out to check on a parcel he had planted in winter wheat. He is now deathly gaunt, no longer brown, no longer hale and strong. I knew that he had cancer, so I didn't ask how he was. I rather asked him to tell me what was happening with him. I'm much better, he said, meaning that after his bit in hospital, he could now walk about some - he carried a custom wooden cane with his initials carved through the shaft, a kind of legacy and institutionalization of his own falling off. You know, I have pancreatic cancer, he said matter-of-factly.

From the moment I saw him, he made me feel glad. Gray and wan and collapsed, his voice and his manner were the same - hearty and warm and enfolding, without bluster or piety, though I'm sure he's a pious man in his way. I mean to ask him about that. Is there comfort in it? Not for me, naturally. For him.

I knew another fellow once, on another wind project, a chap also in his eighties, hard of hearing, standing in the Yampa River near Steamboat Springs trout fishing one Christmas day, when the ice jam in the river above him broke in a soundless bang, and he discovered to his mortal peril why the river was so easy to wade. I think I'd rather be him. Rather have been him. But I don't get to choose. 

In the end, of course, nothing matters. How you'd wish it to be might be how it turns out. Or not. The angel holds the dice.

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