April 1, 2009
By Bryn Kelley BRONZE, Edmonds, Washington
Bryn Kelley BRONZE, Edmonds, Washington
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It’s the hens that wake her. Not the rooster, although his voice is clear as the sky and could cut through the freeze of morning effortlessly. But he never crows at dawn. No, it’s the hens, in their frantic gamble for a little scratch of earth, a tiny crevice in which to shove their horned beaks, their shrill hope for a little breakfast. Their witch-cackles drift, heavy as pollen, to her open window, and her cicada dreams vanish in the wispy morning. She rises, foggy and fresh with sleep and ten years of still farm air, and it will be a beautiful day, she sees, a beautiful one. The sun is barely yawning its yellow good-morning on the horizon, and she can already tell: it’s a beautiful day.

For the hens, breakfast is a tribal hunt, all noisy ritual and stealthy sacrifice. But Mother has breakfast waiting for her on that kitchen table, that slab of oak that seems ancient as a grandfather in her ten-year-old eyes. Eggs steam, curlicues of gritty light reaching to the ceiling beams, a million diamonds sparkling in the first morning rays. The tea warms her to her core, that soft, humid sleepy-feeling melting into the heat of herbs and every-day routine. She looks about at the kitchen and sees that, before the sun fully rises, shapes blur and sweep into one another, colliding and coming together in bric-a-brac patterns, the colors of the dawn.

She slides socked feet across rough tile, the ice of the floor bleeding through to her soles. It feels nice, and she can sense the cold moving up through her bones, jump-starting her mind into wakefulness. Beyond the door, a foggy sunup waits, and the racing sun shows that it is as curious for what the day may bring as she is. She crawls silently into a jacket, imagining dewed grass and creeping cats and the stark-white glare of chickens in the mist. This morning, the farmhouse door doesn’t stick on its way open; it seems that everything, from the hens to the house, is eager for her to start the day. The morning, persistent and impatient, pushes inside before the door is all the way open and a lithe breeze sweeps through, pulling her out out out into the day. She greets it with a blissful good-morning, good-morning and the door is closed behind her by the wind.

On the stones outside, her boots have spent a lonely night with the spiders and fireflies. As she slides into them, she can still feel the grip of an orange autumn chill in the solid leather and stiff laces. As they mold to her warmth she is off, off across the chicken-scattered yard and suddenly dew is flying up to meet her face as her boots scuff water from the grass. The morning is just another farm creature, alive and pulsing and swirling around her, playing with her like a puppy. Her feet slow as she takes it in, the grass stretching in every direction. She throws herself into the embrace of the pasture, sprawling and squirming as the night’s rain soaks her shirt and cools her to her core.

She lies there for a moment, gazing at the close, gray, convex sky, aware of every jerk in the grass and every swirl of breeze on her chilled skin. She closes her eyes and listens, waits for the first-light awakening sounds to drift over the grass.

The loudest are the noisy, opinionated goats arguing with the exasperated poultry over obscure farmyard politics, disagreeing loudly on the subject of the economy. Lying in the grass, this loud discussion interests her, though she doesn’t understand it. Beyond the debaters, a barn cat creeps lazily on velvet elbows after the fluttering satin heartbeat of a mouse. Hedgehogs shuffle by the compost heap in their home of rain-softened cardboard, as much a part of the earth as the rock and sand. Puppies pant and pounce in the hay, playing pirates and avoiding the sleepy, heavy protests of cows. Horses, all early risers, explore the fog-laced evergreens, the streams, the way the barbed wire prevents their triumphant return to mustang ancestors. If she listens, there in the grass, she can hear the whisper of sheep on hills, singing lullabies and morning-songs to lambs, all clouds and condensation, insignificant in the flannel blanket of fog. And then, beneath her, the wriggle and stir of earth-creatures, ancient and primordial and unchanging. They are waking up, greeting the black, close comfort of their own private worlds.

Her eyes butterfly open, and she sees the light has changed. The colors are brighter, awake, warmed-up and alive. She crawls to her feet and sets off again, slower this time, letting the raw bite of an October wind claw her hair out behind her. She can feel the seasons change, around her and within her. The panic of hibernation grips the squirrels, while the electrifying prospect of another year’s migration takes hold of every bird. Within their very atoms, every animal and plant is shutting down, gearing up, planning for the future.

Somewhere by the barn, a collie joins her, water beading on its coat and dripping into its black, still-life eyes. It looks at her, grinning like a jack-o-lantern, and at that moment they are exactly the same, girl and dog, as they set off into the structure of ancient strutted beams, and take in the morning together.

The cozy, sleepy aroma of cows greets their noses, and with the hay pressing in on all sides it’s almost warm in the barn. The shadowed shapes tethered to the walls will need to be milked soon, but chores will have to wait. As long as the cows lie sleeping, the dawn belongs to her. Running her gaze along each familiar silhouette, her practiced eyes pick out injuries, escapes, or wakeful stares, but today everything is as it should be. Each massive head is bowed with bovine dreams. They move on, the collie and the girl, wraiths amongst the hay, and press out again into the dawn.

Her feet tread a familiar path over the pastures. Of their own accord, her legs and hands hop fences that have been there, immovable and unchanging, for decades. The collie chases rabbits down old worn paths, lazily loping and not trying to catch them. Eventually, a stone wall arches out of the sweeping grass like a whale from the sea, precarious as the weather and steadfast as the tide. She crawls along its back, lifted up from the green ocean of pasture below her, and she stands and rises above it all: Above the farm, nesting in the dip of the hills, above the sturdy house and the chickens and the goats and the cows. She is there, alone, no one to see her or to catch her if she falls, and she revels in the freedom and laughs into the wind. The sun is up now, but it doesn’t stop to glance down at her. It just keeps going going going, spinning through its primitive swirl, far away and yet the closest thing to Earth. The collie barks once, and the day begins.

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