My one remaining grandparent died on Tuesday August the eighth. He was ninety-two years old. His name was James and he was a farmer abiding the glacial ice of a farmer’s winter; that season of a hundred solitudinous moons where scarecrows step down from roughly hewn crosses to dance in the brief expanse between here and there.
Just after 1 a.m., a willow tree in the middle of a hayfield during haying season allowed the breeze to lift the hem of its skirt once more, inviting James to lay himself down, above the fray, bathed in the balm of shadow. The sky was blue in every direction except the distant west, where clouds promised rain.
The scarecrow rests. Eyes fixed upward. He is not the scarecrow we know. He is not raw-boned. His limbs are not lithe. The wind did not move him. In his time, he was stout enough to carry a yearling colt on his shoulders. He was built to work the earth, and to learn from the earth. The books he read were written in the ripples of wheat fields, in the glinting coins on the surface of the bay, in the nebulous edges of clouds, in the dewy eyes of animals.
A congress of crows lines the fieldstone wall that James’s father built around the cemetery. They are quiet for once. Respectful. They know exactly what went into the making of the scarecrow; all the lost crops and the lame horses. They know how the seasons, with their cruel vicissitudes, forged the roughly hewn cross to which the scarecrow was tied. They know about the sacrifices and the failures and the small victories that trembled like teacups in the hands of fate.
Clouds have gathered, positioning themselves above the family of James. These are good people, and their tears will mix with the rain that soaks the barley. Each of them has their own roughly hewn cross and their own respectful congress, if not now, in the future, when the glacial ice of a farmer’s winter steps their scarecrows down.