Friday, September 08, 2006

An Ear of Corn

Having abandoned corporate America for the wild life of farming in the land beyond the Highlands, I have also landed in the not for profit sector. When not chasing cattle I am working in a complex relationship with the local college and research institute and a housing association to help people address fuel poverty--spending too much of a too small income just to keep warm, barely. It is another big adjustment because I know very little about how things work here--people's homes, lifestyles, and heating and lighting technology are all still baffling from time to time. But I can build on previous skills and so I am staying, hopefully, one step ahead of the people I am meant to serve and learning as I go. Much akin to pedaling even on the downhill slopes.

Among the benefits of my new job are an organic veggie delivery service. A nearby enterprise raises great veg in polytunnels and as a service distributes them to local area. The delivery folks no doubt are used to enthusiasm when people get their packets--there is always a surprise depending on what is bountiful that week, but the new deliveryman was taken aback when I found an ear of corn among my lettuce and tomatoes. I picked it up and smiled from ear to ear while exclaiming, "Corn!"

That one word (maize is what it is usually called over here) delivered in an American accent was enough to tip him to the fact that I was not a lunatic, just a displaced American and a veg enthusiast. He responded more or less in kind,

"Aye, and if you cook it within 6 hours the sugars will not have started turning to starch."

Still cuddling the corn, I smiled even broader, if possible, and said, "I'm from Indiana." And then realized that he would not know that Indiana is synonymous with corn and so quickly added, "They grow corn there. Lots of it."

I could not expect anyone in Caithness to understand what that one ear of corn meant to me. It felt like Robinson Crusoe on his wee island getting a chest washed ashore that contained a letter from home and a new set of clothes and a razor and the one thing that he had been missing the most. I felt like the teleporter was working and the occasional link with Indiana was actually going to work. I felt connected.

We had a good laugh in the office about my enthusiasm for corn, but I thought my husband would understand what it meant to me. I called and said I had corn and would cook it and we could have corn the way it was meant to be. I should have known then that he wasn't really listening.

When I got home, he was out in the steading. I went upstairs to change and before I was back downstairs again, he had sat down to a meal he had been simmering for some time. "What about the corn? I thought we were going to sit down together and have a proper sit down dinner." He gave me the look that says he has only half listened. In fact, I am probably invisible. He has a way of looking and talking apparently with you, but his mind is really somewhere else. His mind was in the barley and he was just going through the motions. My heart sank. He disappeared back out to the barley without even noticing that my heart had slipped somewhere down about my ankles. In fairness, if he had noticed, he would have done something. Maybe not the right something, but something. His heart is in the right place, but he does not realize how painful the not noticing is.

I am now feeling every inch of the distance from the kitchen back to Indiana. I eat my ear of corn standing up at the counter in the kitchen. And then when I feel the distance that acutely, I find myself wandering back to familiar paths. If I were back at my old house and felt this way, the cats would have greeted me at the door, or at least one of them. There is no pretense with cats. You know when they are looking at you that they are paying attention. I could walk out the door and stroll around the neighborhood. I could probably hear my neighbor Cindy's laugh as she walked around or talked with neighbors. I could fall into one of those conversations or just wave and walk by. I might stop in at Michelle's house for a glass of that wonderful sun tea that she makes. I know that this train of thought needs to be stopped because that house, those cats, that whole way of life is gone. The antidote is in my feet.

I take my well worn walking shoes (trainers as they are called here) and head for the sea: "Reconnect with what attracted you in the first place" is some of the best advice I received for homesickness and loneliness. I pick my way as carefully as possible through the manure and mud on the bit of farm road around the new barn, past the field now with rolls of straw where I first walked with a gang of cattle at my heels more than two years ago now, and then to the tall grass to follow the tracks of the vehicles down to the sea.

The rabbits have been working overtime to devise complex networks of burrows and befuddling entrances and exits that would put the anthropormized rabbit warrens in Watership Down to shame. The white scutch of their tails flashes in the tall green grass as I startle them into activity. There are few birds until I get near to the sea.

The tide is coming in, so the steps that stretch into the sea far below the grassy fields are caught between earth and sea. I climb over the tumbled rocks--each one a story in itself-- on the beach and step out onto the great, stair step stretches of sedimentary rock. I linger over a tide pool here and there. The colors of the algae and the rocks are stunning. I make too much noise ever to get a good look at the little fish who dart away to seek the shelter of an overhanging rock. I venture closer to the water being careful not to step on the limpets waiting for the return of the water. I go to the edge and tell myself that I will stay until that far rock is covered by the incoming tide. The water comes so quickly that the rock is covered and the water is coming closer, or so it seems. I return to the safety of the driest part of the steps and sit and watch for awhile. The smell of the sea is refreshing. The regular rhythm of the waves breaking on the rocks and the bright sun glinting on the water soften the ache for lost people and places.


6 Comments:

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

"Reconnect with what attracted you in the first place" is good advice regarding relationships with people too. I will remember that advice, for sure.

 
At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Marilyn Bancel said...

I'm with you every bite, every step. I live by the ocean and bay, which I need to breathe, even just knowing they are there—my connection to me, wherever I am.

 
At 6:47 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

hey, miss piggy, as if you needed advice on people--but I know what you mean. Yes.

 
At 6:49 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Marilyn, who could ever imagine that two Hoosiers would wind up so connected to oceans? I didn't even see an ocean until I was 21. I thought the coean was just like Lake Michigan but a little bit bigger. Yes and no.

 
At 12:23 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

this afternoon I finally began reading Michael Pollach's latest book "The Omnivore's Dilemna" and needed to come back here, smiling, to re-read your description of cradling the corn close.

and a nod, too, to the need for the winds and tides untamed - I grew up in Michigan, and now, having lived most of my life w/i view of the Pacific Ocean, I can't imagine being without it's impersonal grandeur.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hayden, what is it that conjures us midwesterners to the water? Another former Hoosier now living in San Francisco recently wrote me of her love for the ocean. I read one of your older posts about a fried Twinkie and it made me laugh/cry for the familiar and the lsot and they we connect. I don't know that author but I think I will steer clear. I am reading Milan Kundera, Ignorance but doing it in small doses like a food you are not sure whether you like or not.

 

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