Behind my father’s house and not too far beyond the back door, the green acres become a long and grassy meadow. At the start of it, you’ll look over the grasses and see great oaks in the distance. This tree line marks the eastern end of the meadow, while it is held in at the north and south by wilder, thicker fields. The land has gone untended there, and squatted pines and bushes mark the slow return of the forest. Between the meadow, the oaks, and the polar fields runs a well-loved path. Our feet have paced out the greenery that would root there, revealing dry earth below.
The flowers, grasses, and mosses that grow in the meadow come for this sandy ground. The flecks of stone in sand are irregular and don’t sit well together. This makes for an airy soil, which acts as the perfect sponge for any water. It breathes in the spring snowmelt, and sieves through the warmer summer rains. If you were to cut deep into the soil, you would find long taproots—some nine feet deep—reaching down to where this water pools.
The sandy earth may be right for the meadow grasses, the wildflowers, the purple nettle and clover, but it is less hospitable to my father’s garden. Tomatoes and peppers spread their roots thin, only descending a foot into the soil where water quickly slips past their reach. Still, he’d harvest a few each year—precious victors, sun warmed.
The meadow doesn’t quiet. There is too much life. Grasshoppers cut past you in their flight, making sharp-pitched sound. Birds cry at shadows. The deer move out of the tree line to taste the new saplings, preventing, for a time, the slow return of the woods. They all stay clear, as we do, of the sand cranes. They come to breed and nest in the summer seasons, tall and stalking around as if the meadow were theirs to begin with. Perhaps they do have seniority. Cranes have existed for ten million years, an age no other bird can match. Still, they’re grumpy creatures, flaring their feathers and snapping their beaks if you get too close. We heed their warning.
My father walks the meadow in the early morning. At this time in the summer, the air is cool and pools into drops on the webs and the grass. Illuminated by the dawn light, each drop becomes a mirror. The dogs move forward along the path, lapping at the grass and getting dew on their coats and tails.
Winter mornings are less kind. They start dark and bitter, and the wind can be so wounding you only look down at your feet below you. But as you move away from the oak trees at the east and turn towards home, you may see the sun rising over the distant house and the red barn. The white snow reflects the burn in the sky, and you don’t notice the wind anymore.
My father would say that these winter mornings are his favorite time in the meadow, but it isn’t mine. I love the red of August. By this time, most of the wildflowers have already bloomed and spent, but the sheep sorrel is out in full, spreading along great reaches of the meadow. It’s a strange looking flower—a thin stalk with stunted branches, and granular buds that crumble between your fingers. But the magic of them is in their color, for as they mature and bloom, they turn a scarlet that brushes across the whole meadow, and the path moves through it.
There’s enough room for two to walk side by side on the path. At times, especially around the last bend as you near home, you can fit three. Still, it’s best to walk as a pair. My father’s dogs will walk ahead of you, and wait patiently if you move too slowly for them. It’s an easy walk, and the earth quiets your steps as you move towards home, towards the red barn, towards the fire hinted at by the grey smoke rising from the chimney.
And if there are any heavens, this meadow is my father’s.