Scene 1: A snail shell sits still and alone on the concrete of the carport at Sandhill. It is about an inch-and-a-half long, the color of coffee diluted with lots of milk, with the slightest sheen. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen one. I am entranced.
I pick it up to ascertain whether it is occupied. If it isn’t, I will take it inside and set it somewhere — the window sill in the kitchen, most likely, but maybe the bathroom counter or on a little dish on my desk. If it is occupied, I will simply put it down. It is occupied.
Four days later I return from a weekend in the mountains. I see the shell again. It is about 8 inches away from where it was before. It brings new meaning to “snail’s pace.” I have a lot of things to unload — a too-full suitcase, a bird’s nest fern, a tote bag, a pocketbook, trash. I want to be careful not to step on the snail, so I move it out of the path from car to back door.
I make one trip. Two trips. Back and forth. I get distracted. I hear the sharp crack and jump. For a moment I cannot make myself look down. The fragile shell has shattered beneath the weight of my shoe, the weight of me. The gelatinous clump that was the snail makes a small stain on the concrete as I cry out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I can’t believe I did that! I’m sorry!”
Scene 2: There is nothing more beautiful than a peanut field at full maturity. Rows of emerald green stretching to the horizon, unrolling like ric rac in smooth, even curves. The beauty is short-lived though. The tractor idles in the field road, diesel engine coughing. It eases into the first row and lowers the peanut plow, long thin fingers of metal that will gouge the earth, reach deep into the roots of the peanut plants and hoist them from the cool dampness into hot dry October.
The green disappears, hidden beneath the browns and grays of peanuts and dirt. The curves flatten. The sun absorbs the moisture, turns the vines dry and brittle. They shrink and fall into flat piles. They die.
Scene 3: It is any day on the farm. I will find a feather or an acorn or a leaf. I will pick it up and look closely at its barbs, its cap, its veins. I will run my fingers over its surface. Each one — the feather, the acorn, the leaf — will have fallen from where it started. It will have lost its grip.
In a few weeks, I will celebrate Sandhill’s 26th anniversary. Twenty-six years since the last nail, last shingle, last wire magically melded to create a house. Twenty-six years of sitting on the porch watching deer graze on peanuts, standing at the kitchen window watching sunsets, sitting at my desk watching the moonrise.
And 26 years of watching corn twist in drought, roads wash out in flood, trees explode in lightning strikes.
What one learns from such observation — extended and intense — is that beauty is found not just in the beautiful. It is found in devastation and destruction, in darkness and death. In dull middles and painful endings. In losing what you cannot live without. In living with what you cannot change.
In settling gently to the ground like a feather. An acorn. A fallen leaf.