Thursday, October 8, 2009

Field Observations

     For her next English composition, Sissey has to complete a series of field observations, record her findings in a notebook, and compose an essay using these observations. She plans to complete this assignment while on fall break by heading to her favorite coffee shop, Cafe Espresso, and spending several hours observing the actions of clientele as they come, fuel up on pure caffeine, chat for awhile, and then go out into the world pumped up on the only legal over-the-counter narcotic available in our society.After several hours of recording while sipping the best Italian cappuccino in Richmond, she'll be wired enough to knock out the complete assignment in one night!
     I told her I was an expert in field observations, having grown up surrounded by cotton fields, soybean fields, cow fields, garden fields, hay fields, There wasn't a field in town I hadn't observed at some point. It was not quite what she had in mind, but I felt compelled to share my observations with her anyway.
    Field observation #1: The field next door. This was the field that, as I have mentioned before, connected our house to Aunt Virginia and Uncle Henry's. In the spring, it would be covered in buttercups and Queen Anne's lace, which we would gather in bunches to take home to Mama, presenting our wilted treasures to her with the innocent pride only a child can possess.  There were turtles to catch and bunnies to chase, and at night, a horde of lightning bugs that could make a Ball jar glow better than a flashlight.  Never mind the ticks and cockle-burrs you had to battle in the process, it was well worth the effort. In the middle of the field, there was a pine tree that we would try to jump over every time we ran across the field on our way to Aunt Virginia and Uncle Henry's house.  That tree is a towering old fellow now, and it makes me sad to realize my leaping days are over.
     Field observation #2: Cotton Fields.  John Clarke and his family managed the cotton field on the right hand side of our house.  In the spring, it was deeply plowed for planting, and when the spring rains fell, that freshly tilled soil turned to the best black mud you ever saw. We would sneak into the field and stomp around, trying to see who could sink the deepest before Mr. Clarke caught us destroying his rows and chased us out. One spring day, after a particularly heavy rain, the field was in perfect condition for our latest escapade.  Our youngest sister, Ann, was easily manipulated into our schemes, since she would agree to anything just to get to play with the older kids, and that day, we had a plan that needed her cooperation.  We had convinced her that there was nothing Mama would like more than a great big ole chocolate cake, especially if she were that cake. Of course, she enthusiastically agreed, and we proceeded to roll her in the mud, slapping and smearing it all over her from head to toe.  There was not an inch of skin or clothing or hair that was not completely covered. Upon finishing our work, we led her up the steps of the front porch, and told her she had to stand  there, dripping mud while holding a stick on top of her head, which was supposed to be the candle on the cake.  We rang the doorbell, then ran and hid in the bushes to watch as Mama opened the door and Ann sang out "Happy Birthday." Mama was not amused.  It was not Ann that got into trouble that day, as of course, being the "baby" of the family she never did. Mama seemed to always know that Ann was just a pawn in one of our schemes.  Part of our punishment was to not only hose all the mud off of Ann, but to also scrub the entire front porch from one end to the other.  There were no more chocolate cakes after that.
     Field Observation #3: Pet Cemetery.  Although the fields were prime hunting grounds for all those turtles, bunnies, and bugs, we quickly found out that the lifespan of animals in captivity was short.  Also, living near the highway, the family dogs were prone to accidents while chasing the passing cars. Something had to be done with all the corpses, and the obvious solution was to create a cemetery for all of God's deceased creatures, domestic and wild. We gathered stones from the field, cleared a little patch of grass near the edge of the woods, and built the McElwee Family Pet Cemetery for All God's Deceased Creatures.  We rimmed the border of the burial grounds with the stones, saving the biggest and smoothest to be used as monuments, dug a few fresh graves, and opened our final resting place for animals.  It was a serious operation.  Upon the passing of a creature, the grave had to be dug, and a tombstone with the deceased's name had to be chiseled into a rock.  This task was completed with the aid of a hammer and nail. It was hard work carving  "Buddy" or "Rex" into stone, but they all deserved lasting memorials that ensured their brief lives were remembered into perpetuity.   After the final preparations had been made, the funeral had to take place.  We would get the family Bible, gather the mourners together, and march through the field to the cemetery in a solemn procession. One person was always anointed preacher for the service, and the ordained individual would read selected passages from the Bible and close the funeral with an appropriate prayer, sending the deceased into eternity with the blessing of Our Lord and Saviour and the appropriate amount of tears and grief. It was a sad day when we moved into town and had to leave the pet cemetery behind, since Mama had put her foot down and said "No" to our request to move the  corpses with us. May they all rest in peace.
     I will save the rest of my field work for another project. It is time now for Sissey to get to work on hers, and we are off to the coffee shop to observe the more urban side of wildlife.  Humans on caffeine will be as interesting as the wildlife we used to play with, just in a different sort of way. We are all, after all, God's creatures, great and small, interesting in our own unusual ways, worthy of observation, especially while infused with caffeine.

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