SIX

The Farm

After the meeting that night I decided to postpone my "big decision" about getting into spiritual work and just start "getting my house in order," as Rose called it. I cleaned and organized everything I owned. I stopped drinking. I began trying to meditate. I kept a journal. I walked around the block at night. Almost immediately I felt better, or at least better about myself. Besides a boost in energy and confidence, I discovered that the more control I had over small things, the less nervous I was about my life in general. I even started getting insights into situations and human behavior I'd previously thought were hopeless or inexplicable. In short, the small things were beginning to prove themselves in my life, and I began to look forward to Roseís next visit with great enthusiasm.

Again, however, several weeks passed without Rose showing up at a meeting. One night while Augie and I were putting up meeting posters around campus I asked him when Rose might be back.

"Hard to say. Heís holed up at the farm writing a new book. He may not come out for awhile."

"The meetings are nothing without him," I said. "I feel like I need to see him."

Augie held a poster up to a telephone pole and slammed the staple hammer into it twice. "The road goes two ways, you know," he said.

"That almost sounds profound," I laughed.

"Yeah, well. I stole it from Mister Rose. He sometimes goes around asking people, ĎWhat do you know for sure?í just to see what theyíll say. People in the group mostly, but friends and neighbors, too. He told me once that with all the college kids and intellectuals heís asked, the only person who ever gave him a decent answer was an uneducated hillbilly farmer. When Rose asked him, ĎWhat do you know for sure?í the farmer said, ĎThe road goes two ways, and it ends in the marble orchard.í Rose loves that story. He still calls graveyards marble orchards."

"Can people just drop by the farm to visit him?"

"Itís better to call first. Heís not always there."

"Iíd feel funny calling him."

"All the more reason to do it."

"I donít know. Do you have his number on you?"

"Tell you what. Iím going down there on Friday to drive him to a lecture heís giving at Ohio State. You can come along if you want."

That sounded perfect and we made the arrangements. We were both in high spirits that night and we joked and laughed as we finished the posters. When Augie picked me up a few days later, however, he seemed agitated and his conversation was curt, much like it was the day he picked me up to go to Benwood. I waited for him to loosen up, but the longer we rode the more irritated he became. I sensed his displeasure was somehow connected with his feelings about the farm. I brought up the subject a couple of times, but he didn't respond and I didn't push it.

We took the same exit off the interstate as before but instead of proceeding straight up the hill we made a quick left at the traffic light and headed away from town. Augie's mood grew increasingly sour with the changing scenery and I realized that he just didn't like being in the country. He maintained a steady monologue of complaint about everything we passed. To him, the rocky trout stream that hugged the road was just another inconvenience, a flood hazard every spring. The winding, unpredictable roads concealed a drunken hillbilly in a pick-up truck around each bend. He pointed out every shack, every junker, every beached school bus and overgrown outhouse as if they vindicated his displeasure and sour mood. I gradually tuned him out.

The road grew narrower and more bumpy until the pavement disappeared entirely, giving way to a rutted dirt roadway that wound its way up a steep, rocky mountainside. The road made a ninety-degree turn at the peak of the ridge, opening up a spectacular view of the river and valley below. Augie had sunk into complete silence, so I knew we must be getting close. A little farther up the road we came to a collection of rustic farm buildings and Augie pulled into a dirt parking area nearby. There were two other vehicles parked there.

"Looks like Rose is here, all right," Augie said. "Thatís his car--the black Olds."

I looked around at the surroundings. Remembering Rose's house in Benwood, I had prepared myself for something less than a picture-postcard hideaway. Even so, I was stunned and disappointed.

The small, unassuming farmhouse was strictly functional and badly in need of paint. A foreboding, seven-foot high fence of sharpened locust logs ran along the road in front of the house, giving the effect of a stockade or fortification. Several small sheds built from cast-off lumber and painted an unusual shade of green surrounded the house, and an old blue school bus sat rusting in the weeds a few yards from where we pulled in. Augie kept the motor running.

"You coming in?" I asked hopefully.

"Like to, but I'm running late. Iíve got to pick up some stuff in town. Tell Mister Rose Iíll be back out in a few hours."

I got out and watched his white van bump and rattle down the dirt road until it was out of sight, leaving me standing alone in an almost eerie silence. I looked around. Besides the house and outbuildings there were several barns of various sizes and a rusty house trailer. After a minute or so I headed for the house and knocked on the front door. No one came. After another try I walked around to the back porch. There was a screen door, but the interior door was open to the kitchen. I peered inside.

"Anybody home?" No answer. I walked out of the yard again and looked around at the farm. The place seemed deserted, but I could hear the braying of a goat coming from the hillside across the road from the house. There were other barns and outbuildings on the hill that looked like they were part of the Rose farm, so for lack of anything better to do I headed in that direction.

Eventually, I found the source of the braying. Near the edge of a clearing a man was struggling to free a goat from some kind of entanglement. As I approached I could see that the goat, apparently staked out to graze, had managed to wind her chain around a small sapling until only a few links separated her from strangulation. As the man struggled to free her the goat did everything she could to stay tangled. I watched for a minute as he tried to pull the goat in the opposite direction of her entanglement. The goat sat down. Using all his strength the man got the goat to her feet and tried to chase her around the tree. The goat put her horns against his knees and stood firm.

"Can I help?" I asked as I cautiously approached.

"Yeah, hold her collar," he said, as if he'd known I was there all along.

He was in his late twenties, tall and wiry, with reddish hair and a certain frenetic look about him, as if he was running twice as fast on the inside as he was on the outside. His clothes had dirt crusted on them, and the butt of a pistol protruded from the back pocket of his jeans.

"Augie said he was dropping somebody off here today," he said.

"Yeah. I'm Dave."

He glanced up at me for a moment. "Larry," he said, not offering his hand. Then he gestured towards the goat with his chin. I gingerly took hold of what looked like a dog collar. The goat's hair was rough, hot, and uncomfortable to the touch.

Larry glanced at my tentative grip and shook his head. "You better hold her tighter than that or weíll be chasing her all over the farm."

I grabbed the collar with both hands and held on while Larry unhooked the chain. Amazingly, the goat stood passively in my grasp as Larry unwound the chain from the sapling. Then, forcefully and unexpectedly, Larry took hold of the goat's collar and started pulling her away from the tree. The goat bellowed loudly as he dragged her about twenty feet away then reattached the chain to her collar.

"There's a couple more in the same mess," he said. I followed him to the next entangled goat and we repeated the procedure.

"They're mad because they're staked out, and this is their way of getting even," he said as he unwound the chain from a tree stump.

"How come they're not running free?"

"They been getting into the cornfields. They're the dumbest animals in the world until it comes to finding a hole in the fence. Then they turn into goddamn geniuses."

"Cornfields? What else do you grow on this farm?"

"Theyíre not our fields. They belong to the Krishnasí."

We began untangling a third goat.

"Krishnas? Hare Krishnas?"

"Yep." He gave the goat a gratuitous yank. "They've got us surrounded."

I looked around. All I saw were trees and what to me looked like wilderness. I could see that Larry was getting a kick out of my confusion.

"Hundreds of them. Thousands of acres. Rose's farm is the only piece of land on this ridge they don't own." He gave me an ominous grin. "And they want this land bad."

We finished untangling the last goat then stood for a moment in silence. I looked into the dense forest that covered the hillsides in all directions, and tried to envision hundreds of orange-robed devotees pressing in on us. It was too incongruous. I couldn't bring forth the image even in imagination.

"Well, are they friendly at least? Spiritual brothers of sorts?" I said.

Larry patted the pistol in his back pocket. "I don't carry this for squirrels."

It was an unexpected answer. "A gun? Because of some Hare Krishna's?"

"This bunch around here is a little different."

As if to punctuate our conversation, a rifle shot suddenly rang out. I flinched and involuntarily ducked even though it was obvious the shot was not in our immediate vicinity. Larry got a big laugh out of it.

"Thatís just Phil. Raccoons have been getting into the garden."

"Thought for sure it sounded like a Krishna rifle," I joked nervously. Larry looked at me quizzically as if trying to decide if I was serious.

"Is Mister Rose around?" I said.

"Yeah. Down at the spring, I think." He pointed vaguely in the direction of the house. Thereís a path on the other side of the house. Just follow it."

"Thanks." I walked back down the hillside. When I got to the rear of the house I noticed someone kneeling by the garden fence with a rifle slung over his shoulder.

"Hello," I yelled from a safe distance. "Anybody home?"

A young man with a thin face looked up.

"Just me," he said, then bent back to his work. As I approached I saw he was skinning a raccoon. It was my first exposure to the insides of an animal.

"You must be Phil," I said.

"One shot, forty yards," he said, pointing to the wound with the tip of his knife.

"What are you going to do with him?"

"Hang the hide on the fence. Iíve been reading where it'll keep the other raccoons out of the garden."

As he spoke he slid his knife under one edge of the skin and started peeling. I felt suddenly queasy and turned away, pretending to take in more of the surroundings.

"Mister Rose around?"

Phil looked me over before answering, as if uncertain about my capacity for tramping around the farm. Finally he pointed to an overgrown path leading away from the garden towards some woods.

"Yeah, down that way, at the spring. Youíll see him."

As I started out he called after me. "Watch out for snakes," he said with a laugh.

The path took me through an old pasture that separated the house from the woods. It was overgrown with saplings and prickly weeds that seemed to get more dense as I neared the trees. At the edge of the field was a wire fence strung between crooked locust posts, and a wooden gate made of discarded pallets. On the other side of the gate the path widened into what appeared to be an old logging road that went deep into the woods. I walked a few yards and heard the sound of running water coming from the other side of a steep embankment. I looked over the edge and saw the spring, flowing through a steel pipe that protruded from a somewhat lopsided cement bunker. A steady stream of clear water poured from the pipe into an old porcelain bathtub fringed with algae. Bars of soap and shampoo bottles were lined up on cinder blocks next to the tub, and several frayed towels hung on nearby branches. Mister Rose, however, was nowhere around.

I was hot and sweaty, probably more from nervousness than from my short walk, so I climbed down to the spring and stuck my head into the overflowing tub without first testing the water. My heart nearly stopped. I would never have believed water could be that cold without becoming ice.

I hurriedly dried my hair on one of the towels then climbed back up the embankment and continued down the logging road, which became increasingly narrow until it was little more than a deer run. When it finally disappeared I sat down on the edge of a steep hillside and stared at the valley below.

A break in the trees provided me a clear view of a beautiful, sprawling farm that occupied the whole valley. A wide creek wound through flat green fields where herds of black and white cattle grazed in the afternoon sun. With its large, freshly painted buildings, contented livestock, lush pastures and well-maintained fences, the neighbor's farm in the valley represented everything the Rose farm was not. Suddenly, I understood Augie's aversion to this place. Like Roseís house, his car, his clothes--like everything that surrounded him--Rose's farm was stark, austere, comfortless.

Suddenly, there was a voice not ten feet behind me.

"Well, if it isnít little Davie."

I was so startled I literally jumped straight to my feet from a sitting position. "Mister Rose," I stammered, my heart pounding. "I didnít hear you."

"I thought Iíd see how close I could get without you coming out of your coma," he said.

"Larry said you were at the spring. I came down looking for you."

"Yeah, the spring house always needs repairing," he said with a wide grin. "Augie built it." We both laughed and I began to feel more comfortable. We made small talk for a few minutes, then he started walking deeper into the woods. I fell in step beside him. As we walked he spoke about the land. He told me when the logging road was cut, how far his property extended in each direction, and where to look if I wanted to see deer. We skirted the edge of a steep ridge then descended a gradual slope and crossed a small stream. On the other side was a large clearing. As we emerged from the trees I noticed quite a few junked cars and trucks rusting in the weeds.

"This hereís the racetrack," Rose said.

I laughed at what I assumed was a euphemism for the farm junkyard, but he continued to explain.

"I had a deal with a few guys awhile back to have a racetrack built here on my land. This is as far as it got before things went sour."

As I looked around I saw that there was a distinct oval track around the perimeter of the field where the weeds were shorter and no saplings had yet grown back.

"In exchange for using my land I had the rights to all the concessions in the place. It wouldíve been noisy on race days, but I was always looking for ways to support the family."

We continued our walk, eventually crossing the dirt road and climbing the hill towards where Larry and I had freed the goats. We picked up another logging road that wound through more dense woods, and as we walked Rose talked about everything we passed--the goats, the gates that needed repair, the budding plants and trees.

"This here looks like moss, but itís actually patches of tiny evergreens," he said, bending to stroke a ground-hugging plant.

"Iím glad to get a chance to talk to you today, Mister Rose," I said. "Some things have been on my mind."

"Yeah?"

"Itís nothing I can put my finger on, really. I guess Iím just confused about what I should be doing. I don't know how a person on a spiritual path should act."

"One of the worst egos you can have is to get on a spiritual path and think youíre a spiritual person. A person on a true spiritual path never knows how to act. He just acts. That's the reason I don't act the way people think a spiritual person should. They'd try to copy me, and when they got so's they could imitate my actions they'd think they were spiritual." Then he laughed. "They try it anyway, but I keep 'em guessing."

"I guess the main thing thatís bothering me," I said, "is whether to come to the Intensive this summer." Periodically, Rose held "Intensives" at the farm, and the one planned for that summer was the talk of the group--a chance to live and work with him every day, not just once or twice a month at meetings. Everyone, it seemed, was going but me.

"My problem is that I have to earn enough money this summer to pay for law school in the fall. I donít see how I can do both."

"Well, sometimes it does seem like everything's working against you, that's true." Rose spoke reflectively, almost to himself. "Back when I was in my late twenties, for instance, I couldn't get anything to go right. All the time and effort I'd put into the search, and I had nothing to show for it. Instead of rewarding me for what I thought was a spiritual lifestyle, God seemed to be punishing me. Other people had money, security, families, and all I had was a bald head and rotten teeth."

I didnít catch the meaning of his example. "I mean, I wonder whether going to law school is such a good idea after all," I said. "It seems like a law career is incompatible with spiritual work."

"Stick with it," he said firmly. "We need one honest lawyer in the world. Besides, you're not cut out to be a wood-chopping monk. That's not your path."

I was both intrigued and unsettled by the certainty in his voice.

"Maybe I'm fooling myself, Mister Rose, but I feel like I want to find some answers. Maybe not as badly as you did, but badly enough that I don't want a career to get in the way."

"You don't know what might get in the way and what might cause a breakthrough. You never know what a person's destiny is, or how that destiny might play out. Like when I wanted to get married. If I'd have found a wife when I was looking for one, I feel certain I never would have had my Experience.

"A couple years afterwards, though, I ran into a woman who needed a husband. She was pregnant and the baby's father wouldn't marry her. I said I would, so we got married. Funny thing is, I'd seen this woman in a dream, years before. In the dream she was walking down the road towards my farmhouse in a red dress. I didn't know her--never seen her before--but when I woke up I said to myself, 'That's the woman I'm going to marry.' Incidentally, when I met her later, she had on the same red dress from the dream."

He talked for a few more minutes about dreams, and speculated about their source and the validity of the information that came through them. I felt he wasnít answering my questions, or if he was, I was missing his point.

"I guess what I want to know is, do you think I should come to the farm for the Intensive and not worry about work and school?"

"There is no way to predict the interweavings of destiny. You do what you feel is right then accept the consequences. My father shot and killed a man because he thought it was the right thing to do. In a strange way, this may have been a contributing factor to my spiritual vector and my eventual Experience."

"Your father killed a man?"

"A man named William Porter. Killed him because he pushed my mother off the sidewalk. He didn't kill him because he was angry, or to prove he was a tough guy. He did it because his wife was pregnant, and he believed that a man has an obligation to protect his family.

"He didnít even try to get away with it. Walked straight to the police station and turned himself in. The prosecutor wanted to make an example of him, but the jury only convicted him of second degree murder. He was sentenced to nine years. The day after he was sentenced, my mother went to Charleston and camped out on the governor's steps. Literally camped out there, day and night, refusing to leave until the governor gave my father a pardon. She was pregnant with me at the time and it was the middle of winter, but she wouldn't budge. She stayed on those steps for two and a half months in the cold and snow and was prepared to die there if she had to. Eventually they caved in. The governor didn't want a frozen pregnant woman on his hands. I've still got a copy of that pardon around somewhere.

"Later in his life my father sometimes said that each of his sons reflected the mood of our mother as she carried us--and all four of us were different. A lot of the mountain people around here believe this--that a childís character is formed in the womb. I believe it, too, to a certain extent. In my case, I believe I was marked by two things: the fact that my mother was forced by circumstances to be celibate while she carried me, and the iron determination she had as she sat on those steps in the snow."

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