The wind is traveling across the field in gusts, picking up fallen leaves and tossing them around noisily. They rustle behind me like a covey of quail flushed from their hiding place in the broom sedge. Farther down the road, where the pine trees converge like soldiers in formation, the wind gets caught in the highest branches and the rustle is replaced with a rattle. I am always amazed at how full of sound the silence can be.
Nearly to the four-way stop, the crossroads which I’ve decided is far enough to wander on this cold day, the wind’s rustling and rattling is overcome by the sound of machinery, big machinery, the kind with diesel motors. Harvest is long past; the fields are empty. And to ears that know the sound of a John Deere engine, this roar and rumble is clearly not that of a tractor. I top the hill and see the yellow of a backhoe and what appears to be a bulldozer for beginners.
They are in the field behind the abandoned farmhouse where the boys in my high school class used to camp out and they are clearing the edges of that field right up to the road, right up to the edge where it drops off into the ditch. They are eliminating the honeysuckle and jasmine vines that twisted themselves into knots and made tunnels for the rabbits that occasionally cross the road in front of me. They are knocking down the chinaberry trees, including the one that I use to mark exactly one mile from Sandhill, and they are destroying the blackberry bushes into which I have fearlessly thrust my hands for over forty summers.
I am not pleased. But neither am I angry. It is not my land. I am not its steward. I don’t get to decide what stays and goes. I turn and start for home, the sound of the marauding monsters fading a little with each step.
I try to imagine that swathe of landscape without its selvage. I give myself the freedom to envisage the wideness of the vista and I think of how many fewer dead branches thrown into the road during rainstorms I will have to get out of my car and pull to the side. I consider how much easier it will be to see deer darting out in front of me if they are not screened by foliage. I decide that it is possible to see the pillaging as something else, as – almost, but not quite – beneficial.
It is probably about this moment that I make the connection between the field and myself, between its edges and my own. Regardless of how well-tended and productive are my fields, how fine and praiseworthy are my crops, I cannot deny that the edges have gotten scraggly, grown over with vines and volunteer corn, turned into dens for snakes and foxes. Left to themselves the edges will inch inward and claim the ground meant for sowing and reaping. Left to themselves the edges will no longer be edges and the field no longer a field.
The rumbling and coughing of the backhoe has faded away and I have returned to the noisy silence of the wind in the trees. I can hear the voice in my head now, the one whispering, “Vines and viciousness. Jasmine and jealousy. Honeysuckle and helplessness. Edges. All edges.” I shiver a little underneath my layers. It might not be from the cold.
I am always amazed at how full of sound the silence can be.