Fall on Harold's Farm

by Roy P. Johnston

Strong sunlight spilled through the heavy green cloth curtain and sat squarely on the older man's face. The face was still strong and got all twisted up at the unwelcome intrusion. Harold moaned as he rolled over in the small bed, very plain and not much bigger (or comfortable) than an army cot. "What the hell time is it? I swear I'm getting lazy in my old age." The words went unanswered as that the only other person in the room was a miniature Jesus hanging from a small wooden cross that was well polished and gilded with gold.

Outside, Harold turned his back to his trailer home and stood in the garden to relieve himself of the nights accumulation. He would have done it in the bathroom of course except that - well, it was getting kinda ripe in there and he would have to clean it out soon. Doing it outside didn't bother him none, though, and he didn't think that much about it. Just as much privacy here on the farm that can be had anywhere else. Unless you counted the occasional crow or hidden field mouse. So he stood there with his thoughts bare chested and nothing covering his bottom but a pair of longjohns. Things were a little slow this morning and he had plenty of time to think.

His current preoccupation led him to thinking about a story his father told him about his grandpap. Getting up into his seventies, his grandpap had an awful time doing his morning business. Often times Harold's dad would see grandpap propped up against a certain apple trying his best and being miserable for the longest time. Of course Harold was not in the same situation. Harold's plumbing was just getting a little rusty. Grandpap probably had something serious like maybe kidney stones. When the stream finally came, Harold made sure to keep it well away from the garden's electric fence put up to keep deer out. Ten years ago he had an experience with an electric fence that he was not about to repeat.

As he finished his business, Harold looked around him. The farm was set upon a hill with the trailer on the very top. From this vantage one can see for miles around, in every direction, into the woods and the surrounding hills. This view extended almost completely for 360 degrees. It was a nippy October morning with night frost making the yard seem like a strange silvery carpet that sparkled in the sun. The skin on Harold's bare arms tightened as winds blew strong and cold over the hill top. The frost would burn off in a couple of hours but the day would probably only reach the low 60's. Harold figured it wouldn't be long before he would have to fire up the heater.

The farm was set on some beautiful land but Harold hardly ever noticed. It was the same sight he has seen for much of his life. He grew up here and he has lived here the past three years since his dad died. But today the spirit was in him and Harold looked around and marveled at the vastness surrounding him. He quietly thanked the Lord, for this seemed like one of those rare days where God has painted the world perfectly. Today the world certainly did seem painted. The right amount of rain and cold had made this year's maple and oak leaves turn with a thousand colors. Around him, Harold saw a brilliant tapestry of reds, oranges, yellows and purples. Every hue of these colors existed in the distant forests. The most distant forests suffered only a slight temperance of their brilliance being veiled by the blue misty haze of the sky.

Harold looked to the west where the farm sloped away, over the small cedar grove, past the old barn and past the acres of already cut stalks of corn. Harold picked out a cleft in the hills where the small coal mining town of Laurel stood. He could see no houses, buildings or streets, but he knew it was there just the same. To the east, he looked down and saw a beat up blue Ford rambling along on Conclin Road driving towards Conclin Township. He thought he recognized it as Jimmy Morgan's Truck. Harold's property ended at the road and across the road was the Stith's house, near the edge of the road but already in the woods. When he looked up and farther out he could see Jonesburg, the county seat that was ten miles away. Again, nothing distinguished it from the rest of the forest except the new Co-Gen plant up on top of the hill and a visible patch of Highway 84. The Entire place was surrounded by color and Harold got all inspirational and was achin' to get into those forests.

After Harold finished a quick breakfast of eggs and oatmeal, he quickly put on a pair of work pants, flannel shirt and his orange front brimmed hunting cap with last season's fishing tags attached at the top. Once he got back outside, Harold walked slowly and carefully down the dirt driveway to the barn. He has had a bad back and it gets to hurtin' in the morning after getting up, especially on cold mornings. The barn was a rustic lookin' thing, with weathered planking that had holes and rot in places. Two large sliding doors covered with rust spotted tin marked the entrance for the tractor. The barn housed a Super H tractor until Harold's father died: now it's home to Harold's two fishing boats. Harold looks at the dilapidated garage attached to the side of the barn where the ground slopes steeply. The garage is perched on stilts made of concrete blocks and looks like it's gonna collapse and he reminds himself again that he'll have tear it down next spring. Harold steps into the barn through the small door cut in the larger left-hand door to check on his boats. He had no use for the old tractor: he doesn't farm the land himself just as his father didn't in his retirement. For a while now neighbors have paid them rent to farm on the family land. As Harold checks the covering on his boats, he consciously becomes aware of the musty sweet smell of hay and pigeon droppings that permeate even on this chilly morning. He'll soon put up the boats for winter but he'd like to make a couple more trips to the lake if he can.

As Harold stepped back outside and past the barn he became a bit more fluid. He pretty much walked off his backache and he felt in an even better mood. He look at the old farm house twenty five yards to his right. That is where he grew up and learned to be a man. Now it seemed to be consumed by grasses and the gnarled, untended orchard. Now there were windows with gaps at the top because the glass ran with time to the bottom of the pane. Part of the roof was collapsed and the house was no good anymore except for storing junk and hiding snakes. The orchard made good use this year though. From those old diseased trees came some wonderful fruit. The apples got big enough to make more than a mouthful and were not riddled with worms like most years. The green gages produced wonderfully this year. Being almost like a plum, Harold loved green gages for they were more delicate (that why you can't by em in a grocery store) and more sweet. He gathered and gave away buckets of that fruit. The first day he ate so many that he regretted it for much of the next day. Green gages are similar to prunes in more ways than one: they have much the same effect on bowels as plums do.

The road ended by the house and really ended before then with it being all over grown. Now Harold was stomping though the cut field aiming for a cluster of trees with red and yellow foliage that would be his entrance to the woods beyond. As he made his way into the woods, Harold got an old familiar feeling that told him that he was home. He felt a little warmer as the trees cut the wind and the ground was warmer. There was no frost here. He walked about a half mile to a small creek that marked the boundary of his land. The other side was owned by the Carnes. Of course they claimed much of this side was theirs too, but they always been after this piece. Harold jumped across the creek. For hours, Harold wandered about the forest. He never thought about getting lost. He knew these woods as well as the Lord knew the few remaining hairs on his head. As far as he knew, he may have been stepping in footsteps he made over fifty years ago. This had been his long time haunting ground. As a child, he'd be hunting here with his little brother or teasing or trying to escape teasing by his army of sisters. Harold peered up though the boughs as much as he watched his step. He could not help but think that heaven must be something akin to this. He saw the sun piercing and lighting the colored leaves 'till the forest shown with gold.

As he walked, he crossed many different properties. Many times he knew who's land he was on as they were his neighbors and friends. Sometimes he didn't know and didn't much care. Except for getting permission to hunt, he thought of these woods as his. He rounded Rabbit Knoll and stopped by to take a look at Stonington Pond. He remembered the old farmer that owned the pond and for whom the pond was named. The farmer is long since gone and the lake is owned by another family. The kids that come here to swim probably have no idea of where the pond got its name. The pond was no more than a damned up stream making the surrounding banks marshy with weeds. When he was little, he used help every few years with other kids to remove the silt that would make the pond too shallow to swim. It looks like that hadn't been done in a number of years.

As Harold wandered, he kept a lookout for tree rubbings. It was getting to be that time when the bucks would be rubbing trees to remove the felt off their antlers. As he found trees, he'd tied them with and orange streamers. Soon he'd come back to put salt licks nears some of these trees. When hunting season came around, he'd know where the deer would be but he didn't mind a little insurance. Some of Harold's family thought him a little strange for always spending his time hunting and fishing by himself. That didn't make him angry at them. Instead he just wished they understood what he got from it and that they would have something that filled their life as much as sporting filled his. Some doctors had labeled him a manic depressive but doctors get some strange notions sometimes. He wasn't manic depressive! It seemed to Harold that it was quite usual to feel like he sometimes feels. After all, he's been through war. He's been though divorce and he has seen his little Michael die. A man accumulates weights throughout his life. Is it so unusual that occasionally he would feel the heaviness of those weights?

As Harold headed back home, he started to climb a steep slope. Slippery with fallen leaves, he made his way slowly using the trunks of young maples for support. By he made it to the top he was breathing hard. Then all at once he felt it. Pain raced down his left arm. It was like a thousand tiny daggers jabbed into his arm. At the same time, his chest cramped and constricted seemingly trying to pull itself into a fist. This made breathing difficult and Harold gasped for air. He became lightheaded and his legs turned to gel. He was on the ground several minutes before he realized it. The attack subsided and Harold felt weak and sweaty.

Harold tried to get up but could not. His knees would not hold him. Instead, he crawled. He knew that this wouldn't do him any good but he couldn't do anything else. Maybe his son will come visit today and find him missing and come get him. Maybe his brother. He'd give alot right now to see his brother. Sweat dripped down his nose and his left arm became useless. It was strange that it was numb now as much as it hurt before. Harold covered ten yards when the second attack set on.

Harold was on his back, whispering so light that it could not be understood. He was looking at the sky up though the colored canopy of the forest. How beautiful, how remarkably beautiful. The golden forest light surrounded him and he thought, "Please God, let Heaven be like this." Harold stared up into the golden light. The light turned red and then all he could see was red. The red turned deeper, darker, becoming purple, fading into black.


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