Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Quiet Moment in the Shade of an Oak Tree

By Lisa Marie Harmon

It is a blistering July day, over a hundred degrees today, and it hasn’t rained significantly in several weeks. At about five in the afternoon, I make my way to the barnyard to do my chores. It’s the hottest part of the day and the sun is still burning down on the farm, but the animals need cool water and I have to give it to them so out I go. I spend over an hour dumping and refilling the water buckets, tubs and feeders in each pasture, pen and cage in our barnyard. The water I dump out is scorching hot as it splashes on my sandaled feet. I replace it with cool, fresh water from our well, purposefully splashing some of that on my feet in turn. The animals drink deeply and gratefully.

Finally, I’m finished with my chores. All the animals have what they need and some have had a refreshing garden hose shower too. I head for home, thinking about a cool drink of my own, my recliner and air conditioning. I leave the barnyard at nearly seven, and walk down the long, dusty, farm road that leads to our house about 300 yards from our grouping of barns and sheds. The sun has yet to fall behind the tall pines on the hill to the west and is still unbearably hot, but I am tired, so I walk slowly.
I don’t pay much attention to anything as I walk along. I’m just focused on getting to the house and keeping the sweat that is rolling off my forehead from dripping into my eyes. But eventually, I pass into the deep shade of the giant oaks that grow just in front of the cattle guard that separates the pasture from our yard. I stop a moment, grateful that the heat I felt on my skin from that blazing sun is suddenly gone. I think about moving on but a refreshing breeze picks up and encourages me to linger, so I turn slowly and look back up the road at the place I have just left.

Back at the barnyard I can see small white specks fluttering about. They’re my daughter’s ducks, some splashing in the blue kiddy pools I’ve just filled for them and some waddling about the place looking for bits of grain dropped by a horse or a goat. I can’t hear them, or even clearly make them out, but I’ve seen this dance up close many times and I know exactly what they’re doing. I chuckle softly to myself and think, “silly ducks.”

To the left of the tiny white specks are bigger white specks and some black and red ones. These are the goats, now locked into their pen for the night after a day of foraging for leaves and weeds in the horse pasture. Bo is there too, with the goats as always, the faithful guardian dog. They are his goats really, and tonight they are hot and bloated and all sprawled out on the straw under their shed, either panting or chewing their cud. All the spring kids have been sold and the does are picking up weight and looking good. They are silent and still except for the occasional flicking of a little white tail. All but Jasper, of course, our Nubian buck. I am sure I can hear him baaing in the distance, hoping desperately for one more scoop of corn. I chuckle again as I picture his goofy antics.

Behind the goat pen, a group of horses is up at the trough. Several of them are covered in mud from rolling in the dust. They love to roll after a garden hose shower; it relieves their itches and helps to discourage the biting flies. As I watch them now, they are done rolling and slowly start to fan out down the hillside to continue their never ending quest for the perfect blade of grass. It’s dry and the grass is less then satisfying but they keep searching. The two new boarder horses seem to be settling in. Merry, the month old filly runs a bit and kicks out at the flies, but none of the others have the energy for that tonight.

As I stare into the distance, my eyes lose focus a bit and I reflect on a time when my days didn’t end like this. For only seven years I’ve been a farmer here in Arkansas. Before that, I was a city girl, living in Wisconsin and caring for four children, two dogs and a guinea pig. I shake my head as I recount the long and incomprehensible series of divinely directed events that led my family and me out of Midwest suburbia and onto a 160 acre cattle ranch in the Deep South. It’s been an incredible adventure filled journey, one with highs as well as lows. It has not always been easy. Leaving my family and friends, and adjusting to a whole new culture and way of life has been daunting for this forty-seven year old wife and mother, even though the farm life is something I had always dreamed of. At times I’ve felt lost, like I had no idea what I was doing or why. At times I’ve been exhausted from the work of it all or the blistering heat or the winter mud. And many times, the busyness and calamity of life has distracted me completely to the point that each day was a blur and the passing of it almost didn’t matter. But today, my attention is sharp and I’m quietly soaking in every detail of the summer scene before me.

I shake my thoughts back into the present and come to realize that I am not alone. About thirty feet directly in front of me, sharing my cool, breezy shade, is a lone, black steer. He’s chewing his cud as his tail swishes rhythmically at the flies on his back. He looks directly at me and for several seconds we have a staring contest until he gets bored and looks away. I continue to watch him and feel a smile come across my face as I think about how he didn’t get up when I approached his tree. He’s lying in the cool dirt with his legs up underneath of him, content and unperturbed. He doesn’t mind me here so close; we know each other. “Hi Junior,” I say.

To the right of Junior is a tall patch of grass that has gone to seed and I see a flurry of little, white butterflies flitting from seed head to seed head. The silence of their dance highlights for me the many sounds I suddenly notice are filling the evening, country air. The breeze is still blowing and I can hear its hush through the oak leaves. Several species of birds are calling and singing, a killdeer, a swallow, a finch, and all around me the cicadas are buzzing. Other anonymous croaks and chirps fill in and the arrangement becomes the perfect background for the quietness I am beginning to feel deep within me.

There are horses in this pasture too, and a donkey and one sheep. My eyes pan from fence line to fence line to make sure they are all there, all fine. They are. Behind them are the cows, dotting the far meadow, grazing in the evening sun. From a distance, with the low sun hitting their orange hides, they almost give off a metallic glow. I wonder if there are any new calves. Beyond the cows is the creek where my daughter plays, dry this time of year, its existence declared by the many old oaks, sweet gums and sycamores lining its banks. I look to the left, into our yard, and quickly pass my eyes over the shed that needs painting, the weeds in the flowerbed, and the last branches of a fallen tree that still need to be cut up and burned. I see my house and know that my family is there, inside, waiting for me.

Before long, this whole picture starts to sink into my consciousness and I discover that tears are streaming down my face. I am surrounded by beauty and serenity and I feel like I am melting into this place, not from the heat, but from something else much more comfortable. I’m melting in, right here, right now, from a deep and wonderful sense that I belong. I look down at my feet and the dirt road they are planted on. Planted. Here. Rooted. Right here. I belong here, on this farm, in Arkansas, on this road, in this shade, in this moment. I am a part of this place now, and it is a part of me and I feel overwhelmed by a sense of peace.
I don’t move now. I just want to feel…and sense…and be. I want to take it all in and be enveloped by the comfort of this farm I’ve grown to love so much. I want to be who I am, where I am, right now. I remain silent and still for a while longer as the tears continue to flow and I realize how grateful I am for this moment. “Thank You,” I whisper, knowing I am not guaranteed another. But that’s okay. This quiet moment in the shade of an oak tree has been a gift from God and I will keep it. And someday, when I am in a different kind of moment, when peace and nature and belonging do not surround me and when I am feeling overwhelmed by senses that bring me a different kind of tears, I will have it and I will remember.


  1. Lisa, This is just beautiful..You need to write a book. You have a way with words..Sylvia

  2. Fantastic. You brought your readers into your moment and planted them there too... :)

  3. Lisa-
    That is wonderful. It makes my crave for such a life. You should consider writing a book.


  4. Oh my goodness...I enjoyed this walk with you, Lisa! The Lord has blessed our lives in knowing your family and we are so happy that you're "here on this farm, in this place!" Love, The Vallee's

  5. Lisa,

    Beautifully painted with your words- you are a good writer- I can't wait for the book. I feel the same way about my little 10 acres here in the midst of 7000 acres of state forest- G-d has blessed me with nature, children and the best wife i can imagine. But not many 100 degree days here in New England......


Thank you for commenting on my blog post! If you like my blog, become of member or subscribe! (Check out the side bar on the right.) You can also share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or email. I appreciate you!