Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A description of my brother Mike’s house (from memory.)

For me any trip to my brother Mike's begins from Seattle, a place so set upon by rain that the earth often rejects it; the ground secreting it out like life giving sweat from its fertile pores. Once past the unwelcome congestion of sharing a city with a few hundred thousand people too many, one can observe the slow but steady transition as you ascend into the sky on a lush mountain pass, only to be plummeted back to the earth into an unforgiving desert.
Approaching my brother's house requires passage on a road that smells of the oil they use to repress dust, but feels as though it hasn't been attended to since the oil upon it was still in dinosaur form. The first visual signs of arrival are the time weathered horses keeping a constant, though be it understated, vigil of the homestead. Describing them as a herd would seem misrepresentative, not from their lack of number, but rather a lack of consistent genealogy. Mike is a hay farmer and as such seems to be an unofficial orphanage for horses that belong together only for their lack of belonging anywhere else. Farming doesn't allow for the kind of recreational riding time he would perhaps like, so despite their lack of stock breeding potential it can never be said they're not out standing in their field.
The parking lot has an array of cars that complement the horses. A large family generates a large need for transportation, and Mike again has collected over time a grab bag of vehicles that only a man who knows how to fix things can keep from becoming a graveyard of vehicles. The conveyances rest on an asphalt driveway that has warped over time under the relentless desert sun and the patient passive weight of hard used trucks and endless payloads of hay.
The ground around the driveway still bears scars of a long defunct fence that lost its utility and was removed for parts. On farms repair is reserved for function, there is no time to be wasted on the purely aesthetic.
Across the road from the house and towering over the scattered horses is a haystack that anyone not from a hay farming community would consider a monolith. To a farmer however, this stack is small and almost cute; like a rancher having a favorite cow in a small pen next to the house as a pet. It serves its purpose, as do all things on a farm; to feed the horses, pigs and cattle kept near the house. It also generates the seemingly endless byproduct of bailing twine that is strewn all around it, which eventually is collected and found ubiquitously throughout the farm holding virtually every visible structure together in some critical fashion.
When you approach the house itself you are greeted by two omnipresent familiars. First is an apologetic yellow lab that answers to the name "Scotch." A dog that positions himself for naps on a rug near the door so he doesn't have to be bothered with the effort to move to great visitors. However, one pat on the head and he'll attach himself to your side and follow you to the ends of the earth, or at least the ranch, which to him are one and the same. Secondly is a smell, like the setup of a joke, "What do you get when you combine pigs, horses, dust, old hay, a young dog and fresh grass?" The answer can't really be said, it has to be experienced, and in my travels this is the only place to correctly do so.
Generally when I visit Mike's no one is at home when I arrive. Even alone it is never truly silent there. A chilled wind blows with an effortless constancy over the flat and desolate landscape. It breaks with a curious lack of violence against the sun bleached outer walls of an unassuming farmhouse, small in stature but proud and with an old soul. Inside the sun is bleached as well, it filters in through windows with a ghostly whiteness and paints the floor in pale nondescript boxes.
In the stillness you can imagine the echoes of laughter that fill a house of many sisters. You can read the cipher of a family steeped in religious fervor and political awareness and advocacy. You can feel the love and patience of good parents and the love and angst of their ultimately good children. All of it under the metaphorical mortar of a gentle layer of dust and fines that are more a part of a good farm house then wood and nails.
Outside as the sun begins to fade, beyond the patchwork quilt of heavily irrigated alfalfa fields are the untended native plots of rough and hardy scrub brushes. Sage is a plant that looks like a relic from another age even in its nascency; a hearty but beleaguered captive of the arid landscape. The stems of sage are woody and haunted, to the touch they're flaky and fragile like the remaining pages of a burnt paperback romance novel. The leaves are only a memory of green held defiantly together by a dry wax and their own pungency. Roots grow shallow with a futile hopelessness like an old homeless man sifting through a dumpster he can tell has already been scavenged. As darkness settles in for the night, in the last dying breaths of wind trough the crooked outstretched arms of these living fossils, you can hear them whisper and echo the story of the people who chose unflinchingly to live among them, until all is silent, and all is still.

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