I had written down the address and phone number for the Land Conservation office at least two years ago on a slow day at the library information desk. The slip of paper slowly moved towards the back of the stack of other slips of paper with my “maybe” type of information. At the end of the year, I had sorted through the bulge underneath my agenda’s plastic cover. Some slips went into the garbage. Some moved to the next year’s calendar. The Land Conservation’s address and phone number went into the garbage, not because I didn’t plan to use it, but because after changing jobs, I now had actually been to the office for meetings on other topics. I sat upon a smaller bulge that consisted of lack of action, not lack of knowledge. Still, a month went by and I didn’t move.
I read a book called “Hollowing out the Middle” and tried to find myself in those Carr and Kefalas met and followed: working-class “stayers”; ambitious and college-bound “achievers”; “seekers,” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. I fit in those descriptions as completely as I currently did the township community around our 160 acres, which was ‘not quite’.
At the end of January, I found myself in the office of a Land Conservation specialist. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Next steps. It’s not that anything is bad, but we could do better.” I described the 160 acres under my father’s and his brothers’ names. It’s current use. Our list of allies, mostly as I defined them. And the weight of uncertainty when it would someday not be under my father’s and his brothers’ names.
“I like to start these conversations with the idea of magic wand. If you could have anything, if the future could be anything, what would it be?”
Lack of agricultural knowledge, experience, identity. I was a muggle in a possibly magical world. Or, I was a wizard who had too long ignored the magic of the natural world around me. Which was my father?
I didn’t know how to bring up the meeting, much less the assignment of a magic wand to my father. I set the color copies of a photo on the dining room table, a square of land taken sometime from above. Dad lets his eyes wander across my things sometimes when I’m at work. Sometimes I leave specific nonfiction book titles strategically atop the young adult fiction.
The clock struck sometime after 6:00 p.m. when my father offered, “I have a photo like that. I like how you can see the green from the tif.”
“Teff,” I corrected the name of the grain sown as a cover crop and nitrogen fixer.
“What are you doing with these?”
“I met with someone from land conservation. Talked about prairie. You know we’ve thought of that before. I thought I would find out some information.” Finally. Magic Wands. . . Are there time limits, and fairy godmothers?
“Yeah. You know you got to be careful. Make sure it doesn’t get in the way for now. And there’s the controlled burn. You gotta know stuff. There’s a way to do things.”
“I know. I have references so we can check that stuff out.”
“Could be neat. Wish I had two lifetimes.”
“What would you do? If you had that second lifetime?” I said. A dream is close to magic. I attempted to describe the magic wand activity. Cinderella saw the results immediately, but didn’t follow instructions. I was more like Hagrid in those initial hours of the isolated cabin with waves washing loudly around the rocks.
Metaphorically our time in that cabin lasted for days and then weeks. Each time I asked, Dad could start but not finish dreaming. A kind of dream apnea. He kept stopping and waking himself up with obstacles. Asleep his mind runs wild and vibrant. Awake, barriers abounded.
In order for magic to work, you have to believe, but you also have to learn. Thankfully instead of laying the track for Hogwart’s Express and pushing him through the wall without him knowing we were even moving, I only had to make a phone call and set up the meeting.
To be continued. . .
Nonfiction connection for further reading and identity questioning.
Carr, Patrick J. and Maria J. Kefalas. (2009). Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain
Drain And What It Means for America. Beacon Press: Boston.
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