One day on the farm

There were clear beads of dew hanging motionless at the edges of the small, white flowers. My mom playing tour guide in the background, I stepped into the bathtub, secure in its wood and tile nest, and touched one drop of the dew, which turned out to be sap; nearly as thin as water, it had only the faintest feel against my finger as I reached out and left the flower scent against Kate’s neck, just below and behind her right ear.

My visit ran too short, as usual on my annual visits home. Visiting with my parents since leaving home for college has been an exercise in extremes – either we overstay one another’s welcome, their familiar sighs and shower hairs oddly grating in my apartment, or we understay, leaving just as the faint strains of a family’s machinery starting to move starts to come in.

The Wisconsin hillside on which my mother and stepfather chose to build their home sat in fertile delirium today, even though southern Wisconsin has been under drought for months now. My mom’s garden a well-organized riot, a collaborative demonstration of eggplants (white, purple, and light green), corn, somewhat obscenely shaped red peppers, thyme, lemon balm, beans, all growing fat and happy through black plastic sheeting and just down the hillside from the solar panels. Come fall, deer would eat the garden bare if not for the fencing surrounding the half-a-tennis-court-sized patch, metal wire in a grid big enough to reach my arm through. The well providing my folks with water has plenty of water, and it shows.

Even outside the garden the grapes are ripening, and the apples, too. We walked some of the outskirts of the 133 acres, sampling different trees’ apples, luxuriously tossing those too tart or too old (30 seconds become too old) into the brush and shaking the next tree for a taste, sweeter from one, redder from another, all of them slightly warped or curved but having had nothing fall on them but rain, and nothing fed to them but dirt.

Inside the well-insulated house, the night’s dip to 60 degrees still eddied around the kitchen, but outside, the sun had quickly warmed the day to a pleasant 80, and we walked the fields with my best friend’s mother, basking in her exclamations about the apples, the eggplants, the dozens of eggs the chickens lay in a day, even as we’re snaking our hands under their feathered bellies to bring in the morning’s catch. (a dozen by 11 a.m., and another 5 by 1:30 in the afternoon.) As my mother says, it’s often easier for me, the extrovert, to see the wonders in this place through someone else’s eyes, and through Judy’s eyes the place is a marvel.

For the city-born, warm organic eggs and brilliantly fresh, vibrating produce are minor miracles in the grocery store, a kind of manna dropped in daily and taken through the 12-items or less line, they’re that good. I had forgotten just how it must look, the nonchalance of tossing apples aside with one bite gone, our shirts overflowing with peppers. Food comes from these places so naturally that it seems hardly necessary to comment on the plenty; an artesian well of firm plant-flesh.

Later, we sat out under a walnut tree eating corn, roasted peppers, and grilled chicken, the weathered feathers from the chickens we were eating moving under the picnic table. Teriyaki and barbecue burps as we drove to the airport.

Flight to Detroit unremarkable, but Detroit’s new international terminal a sleek, modern marvel, every surface finished and every carpet stretching from wall to moving walkway. The few trees are safely held in chair-sized, molded, plastic pots, and the maps of the terminal had bright red LED indicators to show where the tram, running above our heads more silently than anything outside could, glided at this very instant.

The fountain at the crossroads of the terminal was remarkable – a black granite oval 20 feet wide and maybe 15 deep, oval, crisscrossed by a latitudinal grid, like looking at the North pole of a globe through one eye. Perfect holes scattered across the surface of the stone, through which perfect arcs of water, like solid plastic traced parabolas to the splashing center of the oval. The arcs stopped and started, dancing and throwing sections of themselves through the same shapes over and over, but never the same combination twice. The jets would go off in patterns, little splashes synchronized, the arcs following each other like gymnasts. When they were all on at the same time, I could see little variations in water pressure, surely not a part of the design.