The following is an excerpt from April Vinding’s new spiritual memoir, Triptych, releasing this month.
As I wondered at the airy sawdust just below the springy wet surface, Dad walked across the yard from the barn, his face a tanned triangle under his green hat. I was surprised when he stopped in the yard. I saw him often enough: he spent most of his days just feet from the house where we girls did crafts and made cookies, but he worked with the pigs or tractors alone. We only interacted on my ground— in the kitchen, at bedtime in my room, or over dinner—never on his. We shared atmosphere but not space, like two lions naturally distant from each other precisely because we were the same species.
After a couple flights on the swing set, Dad slowed me and my feet skidded on the dirt, my toes wiping the soil crumbles back and forth as the seat swayed. He squinted at the sky and watched a line of geese flash over the yard, arrow across the field and sail toward the distant trees. I watched him look at the birds. He looked back down from the sky, his eyes still squinted at the corners: “What do you say we walk to the woods? See what’s out there.”
The woods were behind the house, a crease in the rippling fields, locked in by acres of worked land. The only way to them was to walk over the fields. I was not allowed near the field that bordered the yard, but at harvest time, yellow cornstalks flew from the combine into the grass and became my brooms and magic wands. I played with them around my stump, knocking the stalks against its sides and tracing the tangled grooves in its weathered flank with tips of leaves. I nodded and we started across the grass, his crusted boots and my pink tennies.
I kicked the leaves as we walked and spattered my shoes with the leftover rainwater locking the leaves together. The field ahead of us was grooved like God had raked it. At the edge of the yard, tufts of seeded grass perforated the line between, marking the boundary. Dad stepped cleanly over them and the seeds caught on my corduroys.
When we stepped into the field, my knees pumped and lifted up and down the waves of soil while Dad’s boots skimmed the ridges. Uncle Jeff had come to help with what small harvest there was and all the fields around the house were quiet, waiting for the snow.
Another angle of geese called above us. The house and yard looked like a framed picture from this side, a small protected image. I walked up and down, crusty broken stalks bumping my shins and ankles, holding Dad’s hand under the open sky. We walked slowly over the stubbled field, a moving wisp breaking the lines on the earth that marked tasks to their places.
When we reached the edge of the fields, Dad lifted me and I put my arms around his neck. My toes bumped against the work gloves in his pockets and the trees ahead held up the clouds like the beautiful, heavy nests of hawks. Soon we stood on the edge of a brook, Dad’s boots washed clean of the manure, my hands empty of swing chains or dolls. We could go see the trees, walk through the woods, and pick up stones or walnut husks. He could step across the creek and we could see where the geese flew when they left the parks and lawns, what they did when they didn’t have to find food and protect a place for their chicks to sleep.
But when he looked back over the creek to see where we were going, he paused. He squinted at a small red square floating against the cluttered branches at the edge of the trees. I tried to find what he was reading, but only saw a spot of red. I couldn’t read the words, but the sign was clear. We shouldn’t cross the brook; it was time to go back home.
Dad talked to the trees as we both looked past the brook. “Maybe I should get back to the new piglets—and we wouldn’t want to scare the geese away from their nests.”
When we stepped back into the yard, Dad set me down and I went back to the swing set to push down the slide. Back in my yard I felt safe and adventuresome, protected by the house and the aspen fluttering over the slide, with the cattail as a new prize to add to my kingdom. I laid it down on the end of the dimpled slide and Dad pushed me again on the swing.
Soon, he had to go back to the barn. He thanked me for going on a walk with him and gave me a kiss on my cool cheek. Then he slipped his work gloves back over his hands. He walked back to the barn, his head up, angled toward the edges of the grass and field and brook. His brows were folded, but I couldn’t see what his eyes were focused on. As he crossed back to the gravel of the barnyard, a line of geese called overhead. I looked up at them and suddenly felt confused, not sure if I was happy to be in the square of my yard or not, not sure if I was happy to have left it. Dad watched the geese fly into the woods before walking through the door of the barn; I went over to crouch by my stump, hungry for rippling places with centers, heavy with so many lines.
_____ Read more from April Vinding's spiritual memoir,
Triptych, by purchasing it here. Photo credit: April Vinding
April Vinding is the author of Triptych, a spiritual memoir, and teaches writing at Bethel University. She received an MFA from Hamline University and lives with her family in leafy, literary Minnesota. More at www.april-vinding.com.
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