Wounded Crows Don't Fly
crisp air bit at my face as I stepped off the train and onto the
platform that March day in the year 1959. A bag in each hand, I
carried the third draped over my right shoulder by its strap. Being
the only person to get off at this small, isolated farming town that
seemed to be deserted, I looked around the station for a sign that
indicated a public telephone. The train groaned and creaked as it
pulled away and seemed to be the only thing in the town that
represented modern civilization. I stared at it moving down the track.
The last hope of changing my mind was now departing, leaving me in the
middle of forgotten fields, lost souls and discarded dreams. At the
closed station window, just a copy of the train schedule was taped to
the glass and a note that read, "To purchase a ticket go to
Crane's hardware store." The structure seemed to be standing on
pure luck, as it hadn’t been maintained for years. Weather-beaten,
wood-planked sides, missing shingles, and windows so dirty that you
could barely see through them were all an indication of a building
long ago abandoned. After all, who would come to this place on
purpose? I thought.
After locating the
telephone, I paged through the directory looking for a cab company.
There were not many choices in the small Nebraska town, but after
locating the only one, I dialed the number and informed them of my
location and the destination. I wanted to be sure they would drive me
all the way out to the farm. After hanging up, I meandered to a bench
outside the station and slid the travel bag strap off my shoulder as
it had been cutting into my skin. I placed it beside the other two
bags, and after brushing the snow and dirt from the bench, sat down to
wait for my ride.
Remembering back to my
youth and life on the farm, never would I had imagined coming back to
work in the fields, care for the animals, and maintain the rundown
buildings. But here I was, with a degree in physics and mathematics,
going to work the farm like I had never left this forgotten land. The
sound of the cab brought me back from my reverie, and I picked up the
bags and brought them to the curbside. The driver promptly put them
into the trunk and closed the lid as I settled in the back seat. After
starting the engine, he turned his head slightly to confirm the
"The Zartner place,
right," I reaffirmed.
"Well, sit back and
relax some, that there’s a long ride," he said and pushed down
the handle of the meter.
We drove through the
countryside passing one farm after the next. I stared out the window
at the fields of winter wheat lined up one after the other, an endless
reminder of how I had once been its servant. Resting my head against
the car seat, I closed my eyes. In what seemed like a short time the
engine went silent and the driver announced our arrival. I hesitated
and looked out the window reluctant to get out of the car. The house
was old and weathered, and looked as though it could cave in at any
moment. As I stepped out, the familiar scent of the land filled my
nostrils with past memories that I thought had long been discarded.
Staring in disbelief at the condition of the farm, I couldn’t help
but think how it was life’s cruel and ironic humor that had brought
me back to this place.
"You gonna need
anything else?" the driver asked as he placed the luggage on the
"No. No thank
you," I replied and paid the fare.
The cab pulled away
leaving behind a rising dust cloud and me standing on the porch. My
brother had a full-sized sable Collie, who came running out of the
barn barking to let me know I was intruding on his home. He moved
slowly toward me not quite sure if he remembered who I was. My hand
slowly reached out to him.
Have you been keeping the farm going?"
He recognized the sound of
my voice. Taylor and I always had similar sounding voices and the dog
put his ears back, then with his tail wagging came to greet me. I
reached down and scratched behind his ears while staring out into the
empty fields. The landscape blew a chilly northern wind into my face
as if to welcome me back in a sarcastic manner. Picking up the bags, I
grabbed the handle of the screen door, which squealed like a screech
owl when it opened. Hemingway followed me inside. After placing the
bags inside the door, I looked around the house. It had a musty odor
and a dampness that seemed to hit from every direction. I wanted to
turn around and walk right back out and take the train back to Boston,
but I had made a promise and that promise I would keep. A man who
can not be held to his word is not a man. And what kind of brother
would I have been if I had not stayed to work the farm?
Walking into the living
room, I observed that almost everything was the same as the last time
I was here. The walls held remnants of yellow paint that peeled at
various places. Like a middle-aged man, the ceiling could no longer
conceal its sagging belly, too weak to continue the fight with gravity
and too old to care. The spacing between the floorboards seemed to
widen with every passing hour and as the sun bled through drab, faded
blue curtains hanging by thin air, I thought how it seemed time had no
meaning on the farm.
The wooden desk in the
corner of the living room stood like a monument that had seen its
prime and now is ready to be replaced by future generations. I noticed
a leather notebook along with various pages that had been scattered
across the desk’s top. Picking up the binder, I opened it to the
first page; "Journal" was written across it. I set it back
down and continued through the house picking up and inspecting various
pieces of the past. Then sitting down at the desk, I picked up the
journal again and turned to a page.
Taylor worked patiently
fitting together the last run of copper pipe and then used the torch
to weld the seal at the joint. He had already dug the trench from the
water tank to just outside the kitchen window, and all that was left
was to lay the pipe in the trench and connect the fitting to the
icebox. After finishing the welding, he took off the welder's shield
he borrowed from Mr. Crane and set it to the side. He tightened the
brass fitting to the icebox joint and stood up.
"That should just
about do it. Now if this contraption would only work," he said
aloud and hurried across the yard to the water tank. The windmill
turned and pumped water from the natural spring over two-hundred feet
below. Its steady creaking noise was an indication that it was working
and turning the shaft. Taylor reached down and opened a valve. The
water began to move through his freshly laid copper pipe and he walked
along side the trench inspecting for leaks. When he approached the
house and looked at the fitting leading into the kitchen he smiled.
"Look at that. No
Leaks! And Henry said I’d be wasting my time."
A few hours later, he
opened the icebox and took out a cool pitcher of lemonade. After
pouring a tall glass, he enjoyed the cold refreshment while sitting on
the porch imagining what exciting tasks tomorrow's day would bring.
With his journal opened, he logged another entry.
July 23, 1937
The possibility that I could achieve perfection
in some diminutive task has been an incessant anguish. Although
there is no real proficiency of anything in particular, the day is
spent imagining an elevated physics theory, a new electric
invention, a literary work of art, or a musical masterpiece. I
have but one veritable skill, that of an obsessive idealist.
It is the fate of such an enthusiast to observe
the timelessness in the movement of a clock, to see beyond the
perimeter of an unadorned page, and to deliberate the meaning of
vacuity. This burden to search out such intangibles is a lonesome
one, however it is not without its accolades. Failure upon failure
does not matter when the possibility of achieving a dream is near.
This day, like so many before it came with new
and exhilarating possibilities; a chance to test the skills of a
scholar with no diploma. Armed with only the will to differentiate
from others who are all too aware of the boundaries of their
existence. They have long succumbed to the notion that destiny has
been etched into time’s granite and it can not be altered or
Staring at the page, my
mind was a complete blank. I unbuttoned my coat and hung it on the
back of the chair. Then read it again. What was he talking about?
I wondered if Taylor had finally gone insane. He had always been a bit
odd. Ever since we were kids, Taylor would come up with the strangest
things like the time….
"Martin! Martin, come
"What? What do you
Martin stopped Old Grey
and released the shoulder harness to the plow. Walking through the
wheat fields, he searched for where Taylor was calling, but couldn’t
see him anywhere.
"Where are you?"
here!" he called. A leg rose up out of the field like a waving
flag marking a newly discovered land.
Martin pushed his way over
to him through July’s wheat. It had grown taller than normal that
year with the steady rain and warm weather. It was a good crop and had
kept Martin busier than usual. When he reached the place from which
Taylor had called, he pushed the stalks to the side and found him
lying on his back staring up at the sky with his arms spread out from
"What are you doing,
"If you lie here and
stare at the moving clouds, when the wind blows the wheat it feels
like you’re moving backwards!"
"Are you mad? I have
chores to do and so do you! You better get up before Father comes out
here and then you’ll see how it really feels to move
Martin was angry because
he always had to do most of the work. The little scrawny Taylor had to
do only menial chores and usually screwed those up. Martin had to be
the responsible one. Martin had the broad shoulders and could carry
the extra weight. Martin was the smart one. Martin, Martin, Martin!
How he loathed hearing his name called every minute of the day. For
once, he would like to be the irresponsible child and just sit around
counting the clouds or watching the birds fly across an endless sky.
Looking around the old,
dilapidated shack, I wondered how anyone could live this way for so
long. The smell of rotted wood, musty curtains, and old books hung in
the air like an abandoned library. I stood up from the chair and went
to the window to push open its frame. A cool breeze rushed by my face
and blew one of the pages off the desk. I started to turn when I
noticed scratch marks in the wooden window ledge. Upon closer
inspection, I could see that something had been carved into the wood,
probably with a pocketknife, and had been done quite some time ago.
The letters were barely readable, and I squinted to make out what was
"Martin came fo—Martin
came to," I read the first words with some difficulty and
squinted harder at the remaining scribble. Then I saw it. My eyes
burned and I tried desperately not to lose my composure, but as I
closed them a tear fell. I wiped it away and stared at the etched
words. "Martin came to visit today 3/22/1935."
I ran my fingers over the shallow grooves
thinking back to the day when I had come home during my last year of
college to bury our mother. Father had passed on several years
earlier, and it had just been Mother and Taylor to take care of the
farm. I had to get away from the Nebraska country life, so upon
receiving a scholarship from Boston University, I made my way to the
East Coast as fast as that train would take me there.
Why not pick up an E. Motketsan's novel?
Get your copy from these fine retailers