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Borderlines: Sketches from the Empty Quarter

By GK Harkness

January 11, 2023

It’s cold outside today. And I have a cold. Management is under the weather a bit too. Seems like a good day to stay at home and polish words instead of doing something constructive.

Respecting the Past

Kiowa County, Eastern Plains

In the summer of 1983, my elder brother and I purchased the half-section of farmland that surrounds three sides of a small rural cemetery. It’s an unassuming piece of real estate; five acres of buffalo grass and blue gramma that someone long ago bequeathed to the community for a burial ground. The earliest arrival seems to have been in 1886. No lofty views from a hilltop, no winding streams, or shady trees. Just native prairie. That is as it should be, since most of the residents there once were, and again truly are, people of the sod.

This season marks thirty-nine years of our family growing crops on this field, and whenever possible we have tried to do so respectfully, carefully, and quietly, so as not to disturb those sleeping nearby. In that stretch of time, I’ve become aware that the old adage asserting flowers can’t grow in a field of stone simply isn’t true. I often discover a visitor’s wreath or ornamental remembrance where a determined wind has carried it on over the fence line and deposited their loving floral tribute out among the cornstalks, wheat stubble and fallow.

Now and then, I stop my equipment, gather up the undamaged artificial arrangements, and walk them back across the boundary. I have no idea from which resting place they came, so I leave them with the oldest residents, those rarely, if ever, visited by anyone. Sometimes a curious deer, cautiously watching from the weathered cedars on the perimeter, takes note of this activity, observing and bemused, as if to say, “How odd, I’ve already sampled those, and they aren’t very tasty.”

The truth is, while taste isn’t as important as intention, returning them at least feels good.

A fair number of old friends and acquaintances lie interred beneath this land, some I’ve helped carry and deliver into its embrace. As I and my companions age, and the prairies slowly empty out, arrivals occur more frequently than I would prefer, and without doubt, more will find their way to this secluded spot.

Not long ago and purely by chance, this song from The Steel Woods found its way into my tractor cab as I was sowing into that adjoining field the seeds of hope for yet another crop.

But then, perhaps, not entirely by chance.

Rock That Says My Name

“I talk to the people that lie beneath these stones

Imagining they listen makes me feel less alone

I pick up the broken flowers, sometimes I dig a hole

Welcome in the new ones, introduce ‘em to the old”

Respecting the past is an uncomplicated way of hoping for a better future, or at the very least knowing that the seeds we plant today may well grow into something that will outshine ourselves.

Those that reside here are more than just letters and numerals on tombstones. They are the past that becomes our future. It’s good to remember where and what we came from and where we’re all going.

Stop by sometime and tip your hat to the rocks that say their names.

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