Old Friends

  Last weekend wife and I traveled north to visit a friend with whom I had crossed paths but once in the thirty-five years since college.  Make that twice – as I told his wife, last time I’d seen her she was all wrapped in white.

  Our college years were quite the mix of intellectual rigor and ribaldry.  Malheureusement, I’ve forgotten everything I learned, but can still be gross and disgusting with little trouble.  For example (and the only one I’ll provide) I’m still a urinary artiste.

  He met his wife when she was three days old.  I had to wait till kindergarten to find mine.  We exchanged that info after regaling each other with memories and new developments.  We agreed that it was an incredible stroke of something that we ever got a second date with any female, let alone a life long commitment from a girl with the advantage of a long view.

  Anyway, my friend and I both sought thrills and latterly careers and deep meaning.  He’s now a farmer quite close to the earth.  He raises grass fed cattle, humanely, gently even.  And is justly proud of his family’s stewardship of their rolling bit of Wisconsin.

  Before lunch we helped separate out a few head and then move the rest to a new pasture.  The process was beautiful.  There was rhythm.  No prodding or loud noise.  Like a shaman, farmer friend moved the cattle with softly shaken long handled rattles.  That’s all it took.

Cates 1a 

  “Cattle here have a great life up until that last day” he said.  For what more could one hope?  Herd eagerly entered the new pasture and its  fresh grass.  They change every other day or so.  I look out the same window every flippin’ day…

  Lunch was a fine repast of lean grass fed Angus hamburgers, pesto, and applesauce.  All procured by them, from their land, with care.  I had seconds.

  After lunch we hiked across fields and through timber for several hours.  I was amazed at his concern for the state of even remote bits of his land.  He’d bend, scoop, and toss sticks and small branches over the fence so as not to impede the verdancy. 

  Then, in the forest, he explained about the driftless area and how the nature of the landscape had evolved over the eons.  How the flora and fauna changed through the stewardship of the Native Americans and  now his. At dusk, we entered a clearing atop the last tallest hill open to the sky and through the leafless trees, beyond.  It had an aura, an incredibly palpable sense of place.

  Throughout our perambulation we talked about our lives through the years since graduation.  A lot of shit has happened.  Paul Simon’s song Old Friends came to mind. 

Old Friends,
Old Friends,
Sat on the park bench
Like bookends. 

  But, though creaky we’re neither ready for a park bench.  What struck me was a metaphorical take on that verse.  By graduation there were a few text books between us. Now pushing sixty however the volumes are many and the shelf bends under their weight.  Some were light and quick reads, some tumescent, several revelatory and wonderful, and, well, a few drew toward denouement with relentless and terrible power.

  Late in the lyrics Paul Simon wrote, “how terribly strange to be seventy…” But he was only twenty-seven then and might as well have written about what he knew about life on Mars.  Me?  Now forty plus years closer to that mark I’d say why look up from the book I’m reading now – might lose my place.


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