Clouds & Dreams
Yesterday the clouds were a line of bunnies running with a birthday cake. Lately, Noodle exercises his eyes, notices distances, and writes fables into the sky. He’s becoming a dreamer. And he’s taken to creating characters and conversations in the creatures and the places we visit.
One sunny winter day, we took him to Ambury Farm Park. The park houses sheep and cows and turkeys and pigs and chickens and goats and rabbits. As Noodle poked weedy tufts into the hutch and the bunny squiggled its nose and chirped I asked “Noodle what is the bunny saying?” –– “He’s saying ‘this is good; I love grass!’”
Later, inspired by the farm, he planted a twig in a bucket of dirt and announced he’s going to grow cookies. Imagination trumps botanic possibility in our household, so I stuck a cookie to a stem and left it outside his bedroom door. He got up first the next morning and woke me with his oooohs and aaaaahs, marveling at his vision redeemed in the world. He ran in, dragged me to the living room, and giggle jumped in circles, showing it off to Honey Bear and his nameless stuffed duck. According to him, they were equally impressed.
I figure the least I can offer a little boy is to wake up inside his dreams every now and again. And who doesn’t dream of cookies for breakfast?
I’m sitting inside a painting of a farm in a summer green valley in Tyringham, Massachusetts. Tufts of ornamental grass taller than me separate the playground from the ball field from the scattering of buildings that are the town.
Across the way, half up the hill, a white church steeple draws my eye from the kids on the playground to the clouds that roll in at the end of every summer, slightly orange and yellow and reddened from the tips of early autumn trees. Some branches, bare already, point toward the months ahead and to an old grange building eastward and a colonial ranch house next to an idle basketball court and a mailbox that turned up tipped to the sky last spring when the snow drifts melted leaving winter’s legacy.
From the ranch house to their brown black weathered barn runs a clothesline, a load of white wash and a couple of red towels filtering the pollens of willows, oaks, and stone chimneys. As a kid, I’d breathe into our line-dried towels and re-activate the outdoor’s aroma after my bath, dreaming of laying against the picnic bench, picking out constellations and shooting stars and satellites, small as I could be –– as small as the man crisscrossing under the clothesline with a single push machine mowing an impossibly large lawn that’ll have grown half back by the time he’s done.
If I asked the man later how his day went, he’d tell me all he accomplished in great detail, the mowing machine’s story, last spring’s carburetor rebuild, the time the Rathbone family borrowed it when theirs went on the fritz and returned it with a sharpened blade and a pumpkin bread. And I might crassly notice aloud that weeds are already cropping back up on the west side of the property. He’d tell me again all he accomplished. Full stop. Point taken.
Then we’d kick up our feet in a couple Adirondack chairs and watch the sky unfold its own stories, tell ’em back and forth, maybe let the kids roast marshmallows at the ends of bent coat hangers, the campfire lighting their faces and smoking off mosquitoes, and we’d drift unconcerned into tomorrow.
Three weeks into our trip from New Zealand to America, I realized this was the longest I’d ever been away from home without relocating. This fact jarred me out of place. Then Wyoming settled me back down.
From the air, Wyoming is a scarified and stratified place. Trees run up and down the hills like rivers, and whether you can spot it or not, you know water flows near their roots. The smooth packed Earth is the color of butterscotch pudding with deep chocolate pocks on its face. The terrain is the texture of crumpled fleece — not velvet, as I was tempted to compare it at first, because it’ll never shine. The landscape burns dull and monochrome, some say. It’s an aesthetic that takes getting used to, I’ll admit, but it’s one I have come to love.
We drove from Cody to Powell, through Ralston, past the grain silos and the local pub where they show pornographic movies after 10 P.M. If you don’t care for such things, they recommend you leave. Fair enough. It’s their place and their business. We didn’t stop.
We stayed with family on a hundred acre farm where they’re raising alfalfa this season. I hadn’t been to the house in seven years, and I found comfort in the fact that little had changed.
The rope swings still hung under the big tree out front, the weeds still crawled through the cracks of the basketball court, and the sheds still looked as if they could use a coat of paint, as all sheds do. The tractors were still John Deere green and yellow, just a few more hours of use on them since I saw them last. The family still irrigates with canals and tubes. The barbecue set still on the front porch overlooking the road, and every hour or so a truck rolled by, honked, and the driver waved, even when it was just me standing there keeping an eye on the roasting chicken. I waved back.
There were new things: a go-cart parked on the porch now — one of the kids is old enough to operate and race them at the top of his class. The kids saved up and got three old horses who lumber around and complain in the pasture behind the house. Noodle would ride Mr Whiskers later that day, and I’m sure the boy wouldn’t put up a fuss if we stuck around a while longer. They even have a kitten to which he’s taken a strong shine.
The house is comfortable. I remember the kitchen layout like I’d been standing there yesterday, looking through the parted curtains at the farms across the flat valley and Heart Mountain in the distance. I feel well-positioned in a house when I can find my own forks, spoons, and coffee mugs, and everything was just where I expected or where I remembered — I’m not sure which, or what difference it makes.
Still, for as homey as the Wyoming farm felt, I figured it’s someone else’s.
But then I took a long look at the horizon, scanned for more lightning rolling across the valley floor. The sun set behind thunderheads, lighting up the rabbits and birthday cakes and cowboys and dragons, puffing and shifting in the evening redness in the west. Pretty soon we stoked a fire in the pit beside the swings and it cast shadows on the horse’s stable. Maybe we could project critters with our hands, give them names, purposes, and lives.
For tonight, surrounded by food and family and good fortune, this was our home.
We were quiet for a while, comfortable together. I found myself trying to fill in a blank, trying to describe in words what I felt in space, and I couldn’t do it. So I stopped. I looked back toward the house, the swings stirring in the tree, the coyotes howling to the night, the thunderheads breaking up behind the starlight. In a flash, I thought: home is where you imagine stories into the clouds. Freely.
Noodle and I sat back, exhaled, and told each other a few.
The cookie tree: