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Working Our Way Back Home
by Atina Diffley
With the ease of water poured from a glass, the posthole digger slides through the top 20 inches of prairie soil. This is old loam. Composed of centuries of prairie grass roots and decomposed leaves; fertilized by fire ash. Life on the prairie must have felt permanent to the sentient beings who lived here. As I enter the clay-gravel subsoil the digger begins to resist and complain. The bites are smaller and lack the satisfaction of the deeply rich, dark topsoil. My tiring arms decide it is deep enough to hold our clotheslines in steady permanence.
It is not the first time I have dug holes for this pair of steel posts.
Initially it was in Eagan, on my husband's 5th generation family farm. I put them up on the west side of our home where they kept a vigilant eye on the suburban sprawl creeping ever closer like a moving wall. They waved drying diapers and long johns in an attempt to scare back the approach; but the signal was misinterpreted. My son's fluttering white nappies were perceived as flags of surrender. The bulldozers came first, pushing all the trees and plant vegetation into piles, which were burnt. Then they scraped and flattened, carved streets and drainage. Those mighty city builders, who know no respect for permanence; swallowed whole in one gulp our living, working, family farm. When the houses arrived they came with covenants to create a sterile - elitist society. Outdoor clotheslines are against the law.
Starting over on our new farm in Eureka Township I planted these poles in a muddy strip in front of our house. It was spring. We'd been here 6 weeks and between the busyness of moving and spring planting, not having a dryer or a clothesline, I hadn't done laundry in all that time. I set the entire day aside, needing to wash nearly everything we owned beyond what we were wearing. I didn't use concrete to set the posts, as I knew the location was temporary. As we settled in and figured out where the makings of our homestead would be placed, their permanent home would become obvious. The soil was soft, wet loam; the holes dug easily. I set to and by 3 P.M. was hanging the 10th and final load when a heavy pair of jeans pushed the weight over the soils holding capacity and both poles crashed inward; landing the entire washings into the bare, muddy soil. Yes, I sat down and cried.
Over the past twelve years we have worked our way through that mud to made our stake on this prairie knoll. Sheds and barns built, berries and orchards started. Our human attempt at shaping permanence. Every time we created the next project the poles were in the way and had to be moved. I longed for the day when I could finally put them in with concrete and know they would stay put for the rest of my time here. Somehow they symbolized for me everything we left behind when the bulldozers destroyed our farm in Eagan. We would finally be home again when the concrete dried secure around these posts.
Now the moment has arrived. The dry concrete mix flows like the passage of time into the wheelbarrow; smoothly at points with moments of lumps and slow downs. Stirring in the water to create a smooth mix stimulates my memories of all we have endured as a united family to reach this moment of permanence. With mingled sweat we planted, hoed, cultivated. Cold rain running down our backs, we pulled our boots out of mud and moved through the fields as a harvest crew. We built buildings, dug root cellars, repaired tractors. We have accepted loss and celebrated harvests. Through it all the mutual goal of creating our home propelled us through the seemingly endless toil. With this concrete we are putting the roots of permanence into this soil - unto this land. 16 year old, Maize, holding the steel post steady in place; my partner, Martin, shoveling the gray cement into the prairie hole; 20 year old Eliza, tamping the cement - working out the air bubbles; Little Blake "helping" with his tiny shovel - leaving his fingerprints. No longer are we refugees escaped from suburban madness. We have worked our way back home.
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