What to do with a life.
What to give. What to take. How much to squeeze out of our fleeting time here. It’s the middle of May and I’m ecstatic. The school year’s over. I’ve turned in my key for the cabin I rent west of Pueblo and loaded everything into my car. Headed north a few days ago to Dakota—my final stop before Alaska. This is where I leave my car for the summer. More importantly, I’m here to spend time with my folks. After a week together they’ve left on their own trip to Montana. I’ll be gone by the time they come back. And I’ve spent these last few days alone in the farmhouse organizing my camping gear. Distilling everything down till I can carry what I need on my back.
Tomorrow I fly to Alaska. But first, a walk around the old homestead.
My Dad rebuilt this farm out of total collapse. Took him most of his life and I’ve spent much of mine helping him. Planting and harvesting crops. Fixing old equipment. Driving grain trucks, combines, and tractors since I was twelve. But I didn’t want to take over the farm. And a year ago, at the age of 78, my dad retired. The days of breaking his back on this plot of land are over. Which means mine are pretty much over, too. And that’s hard to stomach. We were a team. We faced drought, locusts, hail, plummeting wheat prices. Grew incredible crops some years. Flax, sunflower, canola, durum. Other years were total failures. But we were in it together. Always.
There is nothing like the bond of a family.
Nothing more comforting or painful. Nothing more natural. Ignited. Blessed. Looking back at the house I shudder to think of a time when it’ll be empty. No one on their way back home. No coffee brewing in the kitchen. No card games. No laughter or tears. No muddy work boots beside the front door.
Outside, the old tractor slouches toward the ground, weeds already wrapping around the axels, pulling them closer to the earth. As a boy I rode next to my dad on the arm rest, watching closely, as he showed me how to drive. How to work the hydraulic levers. The throttle and choke. Now, neither of us will sit behind that wheel again. He certainly won’t. My dad, who has always been larger than life to me. I never thought I’d see him retire from anything. As I watch him downshift his life into a slower gear I feel his mortality in my bones. In every cell of my body.
Still. These bones have a long way to go before I finish my circle.
A final look around the yard. All the equipment, choked with tumbleweeds and beat down by weather, will decay now. It’s already started; rust is on the move. Like arthritis. Or cancer. Like sludge filling arteries. Cementing joints. The old combine, slumped even lower to the ground, one cracked headlight staring wall-eyed to the east. The dusty, slouching grain bins. Empty of everything but the memory of wheat. For generations equipment has decayed on this farm. Old cars and trucks. The blacksmith shop. But until now, things were also cared for and maintained around here. Revitalized. Brought back to life.
I shake my head.
And turn to walk inside and pack for the airport. Tomorrow I’ll fly over the endless glaciers and ice fields of the Canadian Rockies, the midnight sun bright overhead. Descending along the rugged, mountainous coastline of the North Pacific I’ll touchdown in Anchorage and head north into the Interior. The Great Land. Home. What to do with a life. How much to glean from one.
I’m not sure. But I intend to squeeze out every last drop.