The night in its darkness communicates with my darkened room by way of french doors, through which pass cool air and a singular evening scent. It makes me think of adventures. I’ve just spent a long time playing with Scottie and Johnnie on our bed – it’s really as much the family trampoline as much as a bed – and I suppose a little of the childish way of thinking awakened in me. Such a night, when I was younger, would have been inducement enough to take to the out of doors, playing “Bear” and “Spy” or even “Horse”, which, unlike the other games, is actually a form of basketball played between two people. Bear and Spy involve hiding, running, and the exhilaration of make-believe terror.
It calls to mind an image. A party made of two families (the eldest girl of the other family is the one who saved my life in the pool) is sitting on the front lawn of our house, surrounded on all sides by corn fields. Lawn chairs and one picnic table are all the furniture. The adults are sitting there because that’s where they were when night fell, and night is no reason to move from a comfortable seat or break up a comfortable conversation.
We kids are restless; my Dad, for some selfless reason I don’t know, offers to take us all on tractor rides around the property. In the half-lit front yard it just sounds like an offer of a ride, but we kids, eager for any diversion, take him up on it. We pile in the little trailer hitched to the back of a riding-mower. The trailer is already half-full of field-corn cobs, waiting to be shucked of their hard yellow kernels. We settle uneasily on them and wait for the ride. The mere act of waiting releases all the giddiness we’ve been holding back, and as we pull out at five miles an hour, we shriek and fall over on one another as if we were riding a roller-coaster.
The ride becomes strange and silent as we reach the outer regions of the 4-acre estate. Out here there are fields and a strange little land known as The Rock Pile, where ancient boulders form a naturalistic stair-case leading to a large mound from which one can watch the sun setting. In between the smaller rocks, trees have long ago sprouted, and we children imagine that we have found paths among them. The paths we imagine are enough to imply meaning – The Rock Pile is a house, a country, almost an altar. Whole civilizations have risen and fallen there in our play.
We pass the Rock Pile and experience the sense of traversing the edges of organized society. Beyond us are the fields – the places where children who get out of sight of the edge wander for days until they die – unless they are intelligent enough to follow the rows out to an edge somewhere and ask the first passerby for help, but the mothers do not wish to lessen our fear of them by telling us that part. The silence there is not a dearth of sound. It is the product of something governed by inhuman laws that spring from within its own nature, at once the free-est and the most brute nature we encounter. We ourselves hush, trying to follow the dictates of that law, which nevertheless are inaudible to us. We are confronted by the nearness of expanse – immensity and immanence joined in humming warm invisibility. It is the strength of all those negatives that quiet us for a few moments.
Then my father swings around and we are heading back toward the party. It is impossible that we should go back to that human circle of sharing without taking with us something of the nigh we have visited.
Fireworks, I decided. Not of fire but of corn. The effect of fireworks. I show the other children how to husk the corn and we begin to collect kernels in the laps of our dresses and the pockets of our trousers. My hands have, days ago, passed the phase of being chapped and skinned – now they are callused (like my feet that run on gravel without trouble) and I shuck as quickly as I can, just to see how quick that is.
We arrive back to the party – we shout to the adults to watch us. We throw the kernels in the air, just out of the circle of the porch light. Falling random as rain, the yellow kernels catch a gleam of light that would otherwise disappear in the blackness. They are deep yellow flashes, scattered, leaping and falling, adorning the night, proving that it is not empty. That is the image that I see as I scent this air, which is not so very lake-ish tonight after all.