116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On a recent cold morning I was awakened by the raspy calls of dozens of jet-black American crows, once again in a frenzy in a field in front of my house. I don’t know why they gather here, and I try not to attach any meaning to it, though the scene of black birds swarming in front of skeletal trees up by the road feels like I’ve wandered onto the set of an old Hitchcock movie.
Snow in ditches around here has turned black. My first thought was that microscopic residue from tire-wear caused it. Wrong. The sooty blackness on top of snow in ditches comes from black Iowa topsoil swirling about from nearby farm fields, which is what a friend first suggested, a friend much brighter than I, a woman, of course. Have I mentioned how much I love women? A woman once said to me, “Talking to you is like talking to one of my girlfriends.” That, my fellow travelers, is a compliment of the highest order. Men, take note.
For just a little while a week or so ago the small amount of snow around here was perfect for making snow sculptures. I gave up on snowmen when I was 12, turning instead to snow-people and snow-animals. On this day I wasn’t wearing gloves, so I quickly threw together what I call my five-minute cat, one already returning to a watery state when I snapped the photo. Ashes to ashes. Some of you might properly and correctly guess the cat’s name. Luna.
I’m running headlong with this prose, as usual, not really sure if there is any point to be made, never sure where it’s going. I conclude nothing, offer no advice, no melodrama, no admonitions, no politics, yet here we are, you and I, just waiting to meet, maybe on a quiet street, or in a busy grocery store, or at an adjoining table in a simple restaurant, places where we can chat, share a moment or two of smiling sweetness and, despite likely never meeting again, warm ourselves, away from our aloneness.
Today at a nearby grocery I handed a young cashier some cash, saying, “Check my work: I’m a local high school grad.” He laughed. Despite being many decades apart, we chatted briefly about our shared experiences, then I said, “Even if you didn’t get a good education, I hope you had a good experience.” He stopped, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I didn’t have either one.” I never know what to make of these encounters. Sometimes I think I should simply keep my mouth shut, however these brief interactions with others often remind me that we never truly know or understand the lives of those we meet.
Here in the bleak midwinter, under a cold, gray sky, it’s a time for listening to sad music and I’ve resurrected one of my favorites, a song written by Jamie Cullum and Clint Eastwood called “Gran Torino.” Performed on piano and sung by Cullum, the song gives me great pause, helping me to explore the beauty and subtlety of deep grief and intense longing, longing for the company of those who have gone before. The lyrics ache and whisper, “Your world is nothing more than all the tiny things you’ve left behind.”
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.
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