I begin this November day the same as I begin every day now here on the farm. From my bed, I rise with the sun and walk toward the dormer window that sits high above my bedroom floor. I clutch the sill to steady myself as I step on a footstool to get this morning’s weather report. Today, I see snow blanketing our farm. My mind drifts back to that November morning years ago when I learned of the power of a single snowflake.
I was living in Madison and couldn’t shake the memory of my friend’s suicide. It had been a year since he had put a rope around his neck and jumped. I had seen him a few days before that. I saw no hint of what was to come as he joked and called me “Brother Wayne,” as he always did. Though I knew a recent divorce and health issues had to be bothering him, he never talked about them. He left behind a dispassionate note about how his possessions were to be divided and his bills paid.
At the time, I was struggling with my own mid-life crisis. I felt I was wasting a life that was supposed to be so charmed. Why else would I have cheated death three times, if I hadn’t been destined for something great?
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My first brush with death happened next to Sister Silo. I was 13. Each fall day after school, one of my chores was fill a feed wagon with corn silage. Our concrete stave silo was too small to feed our cows through the winter, so at harvest time dad built a temporary silo of snow fences formed into circles and stacked three high. I’d pull the wagon next to it, hop from the tractor, toss a fork into the silage above, and then scale the fencing to the top. On this day, the fork must have hit the top of the fence, flipped around, and dived toward where I was standing. But I didn’t see any of that. After I had taken a step toward the silo, I felt a “whoosh” behind my head. When I turned, I saw its tines buried in the ground, mere inches behind my left heel.
The following year I was hunting rabbit with our .20-gauge shotgun, along a fencerow heavy with brush and tall grass. A rusty-wired line-fence still separated our farm from our neighbor to the east. When a rabbit darted out, I released the safety and brought the shotgun to my shoulder. When the rabbit veered back into the brush, I charged in after it, only to see the cottontail hop through the fence to the other side. With shotgun in my left hand, I reached for the wire fence with my right when a loud blast shattered the October stillness. Brush had pulled the trigger of my shotgun, whose barrel was pointed near my head. The pellets had ripped through the bill of my baseball cap.
Five years later I was on the Madison Beltline driving to work for my Saturday job at Treasure Island Department Store. My attention was not on my driving but on the beautiful fall colors and the golfers teeing off to my left on Odana Golf Course. By the time I turned my eyes back to the road, I was barreling toward a car, stopped, dead ahead. I slammed on my brakes, frantically jerked my 1962 red Chevrolet into the left lane, barely missing the rear bumper of the car with the four gray heads, yanked the wheel back to the right while careening past their car, when I heard the train rumble past my rear bumper.
I felt blessed to be alive, but blessings, I believed, brought obligations: I was supposed to do something special with my life. As I neared 50, coping with my own divorce and struggling to write meeting minutes much less the great American novel, I asked myself: Why didn’t I die when I should have?
I hadn’t slept well for weeks when I awoke in the middle of that November night. Two o’clock. Three o’clock. By four I was desperate from exhaustion. I had to get out of my house. I dressed in the dark and then wandered out the front door onto the sidewalk. A light snow coated the streets and treetops. Ice crystals glistened under the streetlights. I moped ahead with hands shoved deep into my pockets and eyes fixed on my shoes.
After shuffling along for several minutes, I thought, I can’t go on like this. What am I going to do? I needed answers and felt an urge to yell to the heavens. When I lifted my head, I saw the snowflakes had grown the size of golf balls, cascading down, plopping on my head, my face, and my shoulders.
“What do you want from me?” I demanded to the sky. As I drew in my next breath, I inhaled one of those monster flakes. It took my breath away. I couldn’t get my words out.
I had to smile after I acknowledged the snowflake’s direct and quick reply: Suck it up and get on with it.
This blog is a book in the making. If you're a new visitor, read Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story. You can also find a copy in Prologue.