Sometimes things just are what they are; bridges, telephone poles, gas stations, and a thousand other things filling needs instead of dreams and purpose instead of folly. And if they are more than merely useful, even awe-inspiring, like sunsets, and vast, near-harvest cornfields, they are so commonplace they no longer beg a second look. But sometimes, objects, places, and moments are more profound than we give them credit for.
I was sitting on some friends’ front porch the other day, situated between the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains to the south and the mighty St. Lawrence River to the north. A beautiful spot to be sure. And as the sun settled down for the night, it brought with it, fading strands of yellow and orange light, washing over and around the house. The colors of the gloaming stained the new split-rail fence with a dripping-brush full of authentic earth tones, as warm as the shades of the Instagram filter, Mayfair. But the picture before me, with its vivid hues, was a true #nofilter image. The last of the day’s light formed a cross-stitch pattern across the land, mingling with the timeless greens of the cornfield, the weathered browns of Amish barns and Belgian draft horses, and in its weakest state, barely touched the orphaned-gray sky to the east.
This was a stunning sunset, similar to the ones seen along the mountain-ringed beaches of Hanalei Bay, Hawaii, or those painting the high walls of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, as well as a thousand other sunsets having grabbed at drop-mouthed tourists along the deck rails of hundreds of cruise ships. We have all seen stunning sunsets in places either exotic or not. But for me, this sunset was different. As it’s light sank into the adjacent cornfield, its power only seemed to magnify.
Within the hour, the black and white noir of night had replaced the sepia colors of dusk. Shadows cast where once light beamed, and the sound of chirping crickets had overtaken the squawking crows. More striking to me though, was the stir I felt in my soul and the flutter I felt in my chest. The once peaceful resignation of day’s end had been near-bullied out by an overwhelming pull toward the cornfield. I laughed to myself, and a little out loud as I thought of the mid-1980’s movie, Children of the Corn, and even muttered something about “build it, and they will come,” from the film, Field of Dreams. But this was neither an ominous magnetism or a nostalgia-filled calling. It was more a feeling of tranquil need. The need to be surrounded by that which is beautiful from afar, and the need to commune, with something more important than myself, even if chiggers, ticks, and other creatures threatened to pop my cliched philosophical bubble.
As soulful needs and practical cautions auctioned from opposite shoulders, I armed myself; not with bug spray, a jacket, or a stick, but with a 1974 Martin D-35 guitar, a bottle of locally-aged 601 Bourbon, and a guttural feeling that a song awaited me. I hiked into the corn, picking the middle-most row, and then walked it until I thought I had reached the center of the field. I hoped to arrive there long before I got thirsty. Let’s just say that I felt thirsty quicker than I expected, plus the bottle was heavy. So somewhere near the middle of the rows, even if not at dead-center, I popped the cork and plopped myself down beside my guitar case.
The words began to flow, maybe because I had dutifully followed my muse, or perhaps because my muse felt guilty about the potential of me becoming mud-soaked, chigger-bit, and drunk, all without ever getting a song in. No matter the reason, the song was there. I played a fast Travis-style fingerpicking pattern on my guitar and did my best to write words down on scraps of paper I found in the pick holder of the case. The universe treated me to something far grander than a stiff drink and a supple song, and to me, that’s saying something.
Though my ass may have been on the muddy ground, my head was awash in a shower, the Perseid Meteor Shower to be exact. It began early and with a frequency rivaling it’s man-made, Fourth of July counterpart. Maybe it had such a dramatic effect on me because I was outdoors in Amish country, where there are even fewer lights than other rural areas. Or perhaps it was due to me being so far north, about six miles from Canada as the crow flies. I didn’t ponder the why of life as much as the what. Instead, I just took another healthy swig of bourbon, laid back in the mud, and maybe in the chiggers, and God knows what else, tucked the neck of my guitar between two stalks of corn and picked and sang and wrote, and maybe even cried, but only a little.
Over the next hour, “I saw my old man bolt across the sky and my grandparents too. I saw a pipe dream that I once held close and that one perfect love affair I blew, back when I didn’t have a clue.”
That night in the cornfield was not sad. It was not happy either. But it was absolutely everything in between. So, when I speak of porches, sunsets, and cornfields, and sing of shooting stars, regrets, and loving memories, I can relay one fact of life that can be both a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing I think.
Things are what they are until they are not.