In the country
''Sorry there isn't very much to do around here, honey,'' my mother says as she clears a few dishes off the dinner table. ''Yes, I suppose you've almost forgotten what it's like to live in the country after so long in Los Angeles,'' my father says.
''Not having much to do sounds great to me,'' I say as I get up from the table on a visit to my home town, a little farming center in Oregon. ''Think I'll take a little walk and combine exercise with fresh air and seeing what there is to see.''
''Afraid that there isn't much to see,'' Mom says as she walks out to the kitchen.
I start down the asphalt road that led to the freight depot, potato cellars, and grain silos.
The westering sun is low, glinting into my eyes and giving a kind of indigo tinge to the east. The sky that had been brilliantly blue, with nary a cloud on this warm August day.
I walk by some little white clapboard houses facing the road, noticing their gardens with their tall corn, lush jungles
of zucchini and pumpkin, watched over by towering sunflowers. Their huge, heavy round heads are turned west in farewell to the sun.
Walking by the depot, I cross the tracks and walk along a dirt road, still facing the sun, which is now sending slanting shadows tinged with pink across the flat land.
I notice a sharp, pungent scent. Someone has pigs nearby. In wafts like this it is not unpleasant as it might be up close. The cleanness of the air seems to accentuate smells as a clear, white background emphasizes a sketch in black pencil.
The quiet is also a good background for sounds. I hear a kind of twittering coming toward me, right above, then away. Swallows are darting in bursts of fork-tailed flight as they feed on little clouds of gnats that rise from newly irrigated potato fields. Even higher, a silent hawk with widespread, unmoving wings rides the air currents and watches. I follow the road over the railroad crossing past the potato field and by a field of ripening barley; its heavy, bearded heads, like delicate brushes, are starting to lean from their weight. In areas the field is turning from pale, bleached green to gold. On the edge of the field a cluster of renegade wild sunflowers glow luminescently yellow in the lowering sun. The evening breeze strokes the barley, which makes a gentle, brushing murmur.
But as I continue on my way the brushing sound fades and I hear the trickle, rush, gurgle, of irrigation water coming down a ditch beside a windbreak of tall Lombardy poplars. Their leaves add a flapping, fluttering counterpoint while glinting in the sun. A flock of fat, waddling, domestic geese cease their convivial honking and probing for worms around the ditch to look up at me briefly before beating a hasty retreat.
Now the road leads me beside a pasture where blackbirds walk about and socialize. The water they wade in reflects their glossy plumage surrounded by the rose-gold of the setting sun. Two black and white cows stand at a distance regarding me blandly.
Now weeds along the road claim my attention. Here is pigweed, milkweed, tumbleweed, there are some nettles, and - what's that? It is wild asparagus, summer-grown into a green smoke cloud of fern. If only it were spring!
Turning the corner by the old grade school I start walking through the residential part of the town, admiring the poppies and petunias and delphiniums in people's yards. Suddenly I'm startled to see a little girl about 10 years old being pulled along by a half-grown sheep with a collar and leash. He is a handsome, spirited creature with Hampshire markings, black face and legs. As he trots along smartly he lifts his head and legs in a sort of prance.
''That's a pretty lamb. What's its name?''
Pushing a long strand of blond hair from her eyes as she streaks by, she calls back, ''Peppermint.''
After passing the new grade school, I come to my former principal's home and see his widow raking up grass from her newly mown lawn. She is a tiny woman in her 80s wearing a flowered dress, an apron, and a straw hat.
I stop a moment, telling her I've come to visit my parents and attend a class reunion. She asks about my children, I ask about her grandchildren, and after our little chat I turn up to my parents' home.
The irrigation ditch by the school playground is dark with water and thickly fringed with tall grasses and wild plants. One plant looks familiar and I stop and pick a sprig. It is a variety of mint, and the deliciously fragrant scent rises along with the rich, earthy scent of mud and fills my nostrils. I pick a bouquet, reaching out to gather stems covered with tiers of blue blossoms.
Another couple of steps and I will have completed the circuit to my parents' house. Holding the bouquet to my nose, I try to identify the mint more precisely. Spearmint? No. Peppermint? No. It has a musky overtone fragrance like pennyroyal. Maybe that is it.
I walk into the lighted living room from the twilight.
''Have a nice walk, honey?'' my mother asks, coming from the kitchen with her apron on, drying her hands on the dish towel.
''Sorry there really isn't much to see,'' my dad says as he looks up from his paper.