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Monday, September 5, 2011

Child's Eye

“To an amazingly successful weekend!” 
Melting into our cozy chairs (the only two in our little cabin) Linda and I raised our glasses---sidecars bursting with the juice of black cherries, planted by God and fresh-picked from the Land---then let sip after luscious sip send us down memory lane. 
My dear friends, Heather and Kim, had now driven away with their families;  ten in all, including their 5 children (Mackenzie, Kiley and Nolan on Kim’s side along with Riley and Ryan on Heather’s).  Before they’d arrived for their Labor Day weekend of Land camping, my biggest fear was that the kids would be bored.  “What are we supposed to do?” I feared hearing from them.  After all, there’s nothing here but the Land, just us and the bugs, berries and birds.   Together with Kim and Heather, we’d posited and planned several possibilities.  But then came the rains---one day of steady, soaking rain followed by a second, turning gullies into rivers as it shook the shed where we huddled---washing away all plans for adventure hiking, fort building and sumac-ade.  I looked into the Mackenzie’s eyes, trying to pierce her thoughts, probing for the dreaded 13 year old “can we go home now?”
Who would have thought that later, after another cherry sidecar sip, I’d ask Linda, “What was your favorite part of the weekend?” to which she’d reply, “The kids and their mud mountain!”
See, to my eyes, the rains only brought a mucky mess.  The shed, where we huddled, looked across the driveway, over the new home construction site to the mountains of excavated dirt.   
“What are we going to do with all this dirt?” I asked the excavator two weeks ago. 
“You could pay to haul it all away,” he replied.  “Or we can find some place on your land to spread it.”
And now, these waste piles were crumbling under the relentless rains.  If you wanted to create a miniature for a movie featuring a village-swallowing mudslide, you couldn’t have done better.    We adults tried to put on our best faces. 

But thanks to the genius of creation, a child’s eye sees what mine cannot.
Mackenzie, eldest of all the children, ventured forth, shovel in hand.  Barefoot, she followed the trail--- blazed earlier by the dogs, Scout and Happy---through ankle-deep muck oozing against the foundation, to the dirt piles, now converted to twelve foot high hills of mud.  Up she climbed to the very pinnacle and there stood, the proud and mud-streaked queen of the hill.  

And soon, the younger four, her loyal and inspired subjects---each first begging me for, and receiving, their own scepter (rake, cultivator, post-hole-digger)---mucked their way up to her kingdom.  Now I cannot describe to you just what it was they did there on the hill.  My eyes have apparently become blinded to the nature of such unabashed joys.  But they could still see the child’s joy itself.  What could be purer?  What could be holier? 
Riley, eldest of the boys, must have perceived my befuddlement and decided to translate their joy. 
“Do you know what Disney World is?” he asked.
“I’ve heard of it,” I shrugged.
“Well, if Disney World is a 9, then this is a 9 and a half.”
“What’s a 9 and a half?”
“Mud Mountain!”

So there it is:  Mud Mountain, a waste pile to my eyes, almost perfect to Riley’s, to the child’s eye.  I have so much yet to learn about life.   And perhaps I already know most of it.   Perhaps all I need do is learn to see again, through the eyes of little Mike.
“What was your favorite part of the weekend?” Linda asked me after more than a few black cherry sips.
I replied without hesitation, “The look on Lia’s face as she drove Little Blue.”
Lia was a guest of Kim’s at our Land camp.  Newly arrived from Spain, she taught at their kid’s Spanish immersion school.  Earlier in the day, she’d told me she could never live here (on the Land).  Too lonely.  I understood.  I really miss my Minneapolis next-door neighbors.  Later, as the sun set at the end of our long driveway, she came to understand why I’d endure such loneliness, an understanding that may well change Lia’s heart forever.
For the first time in her life, she sat upon the seat of a tractor, our Little Blue, our 48hp New Holland TC45D.  With delight (and a little fear in her eyes) she steered west toward the sunset.  Now, it wouldn’t be fair to call her a child.   After all, she just graduated from the University of Barcelona and was now a teacher.  Yet, as I stood next to her on tractor step, jostling up and down as we rumbled down the headlight-lit driveway, I recognized a thrilled twinkle in her eyes:  a lingering child’s light, unclouded by the certainties of adulthood. 
“Is it always like this here?” she asked.  She struggled to communicate what she perceived.  Not only the power coursing up through the steering wheel, but the red upon purple glory of the western sky, the vastness of the sea of grass as we rolled by, and this precious moment that she and I were sharing together. 
All I could do is nod “yes”.
Then---and I’ll never forget it as long as I live--she touches her hand to her heart and proclaims, “This is life.”  I nodded again, understanding completely.  I could see it in her eye, her child’s eye:  pure joy.  And yet we were also communicating, connecting as knowing adults, that we’d just shared something that few ever do:  a sliver of a moment in heaven, the heaven that is right here on earth, everywhere actually, but often so much easier to see and hear and feel here on the Land. 
So I want to express my gratitude, to you who yet see through a child’s eye.  From the top of Mud Mountain I shout “thank-you!”


  1. Mike, I LOVE this! I'm committing right now to thinking of this whenever I see a Mud Mountain this week! Sounds like life is good for you and Linda - so happy for you both!

  2. Absolute fun for our entire family! From Mud Mountain...Chainsaw carving...Adventurous hikes...Driving the Tractor!

    Our washing machine is NOT so excited about Mud Mountain. Even though the clothes and shoes are clean. The stories and adventures live on!

    We look forward to our next adventure on The Land!

    Heather, Riley, Ryan, Kevin, and Happy