There is still enough light in the sky to make out clouds. They are mauve and smoky violet, muted lavender and the palest of grays. One looks like a dolphin caught in mid-leap. Another like a giant Mickey Mouse hand.
Across the way, toward town, a single streak of lightning makes a rip through the sky – heaven to horizon, orange-red like Mercurochrome. Heat lightning or the other kind I can’t tell. It is certainly hot enough for heat lightning; it feels as though I am wearing the air itself. On the other hand, the radar app on my phone is flashing some kind of alert. More rain on the way.
The grass is between cuttings. It has grown quickly under the encouragement of daily showers and its too-tall blades slap at my ankles. It reminds me that when things are watered they grow. Not just plants. Everything. Tangible and non.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. It is the method I have adopted for curating the information I absorb from the world, a deliberate attempt to keep out the voices that are so loud I can’t hear what they are saying. I like the sense of autonomy, however false it may be, that it gives me, the idea I can decide what topics are important and about which I want to know more, the idea that these thoughtful, articulate people are waiting to engage me in a conversation of sorts.
One of the podcasts that I occasionally download is called “The One You Feed.” The host begins each interview by retelling the Native American story in which a grandfather tells his grandson that a good wolf and an evil wolf resides in each person. When the grandson asks which one prevails, the grandfather responds, “The one you feed.”
After you’ve heard the story three or four times it loses some of its potency. Maybe that’s why I haven’t listened to that particular podcast in a while. But tonight, in light of my itchy ankles, I find myself reconsidering its hard-sell message.
We are always feeding, watering something. Attitudes, relationships, opinions. Dreams, theories, priorities. And they will grow, like grass or wolves, in direct response to what they are fed, how often they are watered.
The sky has lost its purpleness now. It has faded into tarnished silver. The clouds are flat and nearly invisible. They hide what little moon, what few stars might otherwise offer a little light to my perambulation. I’m walking by memory mostly. I know the rise and fall of a yard that used to be a field and, 25 years later, still bears the indentations of a plow.
One field away is the house my parents built, the one into which we moved when I was still in high school and would have thought that moving to the farm was the worst thing that had ever happened to me had I not been counting down the days until I would leave for college. It reminds me that what we feed and water doesn’t just influence us, but those to whom we are connected as well.
I am here, under this particular stretch of sky at this particular moment, because when he was 38 years old my father decided to feed the longing in his heart to return to the land. And because 20 years before that he went to church in Hagan and met my mother, who was singing in the choir, being fed by joyful gospel hymns. And because, a double-handful of generations before that, another Bradley left Ireland, feeding his dream for a new life. Had any of them – or multitudes of other relatives, teachers, or friends – feed or watered the other wolf or another patch of grass I would not be here, under this particular stretch of sky on this almost-Midsummer’s Night.
Across the way another streak of lightning zig-zags its way toward earth. The rain is coming. The grass will higher grow.