It’s still hanging from a tree on an Indiana country road. A pair of overalls and maybe granddad’s ancient flannel shirt. Both stuffed with leaves, held together by an old rope belt. It’s supposed to scare the kids, not the crows. A Hoosier Halloween.
I was out for an aimless drive. The best kind of drives. It is my first fall since the return to Indiana from a 12-year Pennsylvania diaspora. I’m starting to catch up, remembering things the way they were, the way they are and the way they will be when all is said and done.
The Hoosier fields were already hosting another season’s crops when I first got back. The cornstalks were bending to the late spring winds while the green soybean bushes hugged the brown dirt in careful rows.
As the weeks went by and the crops kept growing, a driver can feel hemmed-in on both sides of two-lane country roads. The crops begin at the very edge of the road and you feel physically squeezed. Out your side windows, the roofs of farm houses barely peek out of the horizon’s rim.
I’m a city kid, born and bred. I grew up on the hills of Yonkers, New York that rose up from the Hudson River. The longest view we had was of Jersey across the river on a clear day, which wasn’t that often. Our definition of horizon was the top of the next hill.
Pennsylvania wasn’t much different. My Yonkers background provided personal inoculation. But a lot of Pittsburgh visitors get the harem-scarems trying to navigate serpentine streets dropping at 90-degree slopes.
Indiana is flat, but a different kind of flat. It’s camouflaged in the growing season. It all changes at harvest time. On Monday, you couldn’t see past the cornstalks. On Friday, the whole world has changed right before your windshield.
The horizon goes on forever, and your vista, so shortsighted that Monday, seems to reach to infinity on Friday. The sky now meets the land in an unbroken perspective.
It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it, haven’t seen it for yourself. In a matter of hours in a week, land and home have undergone a sudden metamorphosis no city soul could comprehend.
That farmhouse — and the barns, coops and outbuildings — that seemed enveloped is now naked and exposed. And I remember what will be.
All Saints Day comes and brings the parade of gray with it.
Those sparkling blue fall skies with a touch of chill that bring out the sweaters will disappear soon enough. Cold winter winds will blow across those flatland expanses of dirt, and the only barrier to break their bitter march are those farmhouses, shivering in the lonely fields where the dark of the evening settles in early. A far off kitchen light will be the only beacon when I drive this road soon enough.
The culture hasn’t had much to say for itself lately. The world tries its best to turn a blind eye to refugees from a war nobody really understands. On a lazy campus in Oregon, young folks twitching with the excitement of a new school year are gunned down in their classroom.
Oklahoma calls a temporary halt to capital executions only because they can’t seem to get the right deadly drug. Ironic. Why don’t they give a call to California, where they apparently know exactly what dosage is necessary to kill off the terminally ill? The Left Coast has become the Death Coast.
It’s hard not to lose hope if we forget what hope really means. Hope isn’t wishing. It’s confidence. Like being confident that those Hoosier fields will come back next spring.
And even greater confidence that God’s will and purpose will prevail. When all is said and done.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.