I know where swallows go on mid-August afternoons when the heat bears down on these fields. They swim the air above the grasses, hundreds of them, I could not take them all in, hundreds swinging, creating geometries, criss-crossing paths, arcing the 200 yards from from tree-line to tree-line, making undulations and rivers and coursing at tempos that changed with each upswing, turn and flow back. The trail I cut carries me to the center where I can stand up straight on the highest ground and where the birds ignore me, just a stick, a swiveling briar to them. Thermals carry the insects up and the birds feeding, feeding, fattening, already on the migration route to South America, and across the road more hundreds on telephone wires over a pasture, resting in long strings.
The trail meanders for 300 yards, across the field, east to west, to the mid-tree-line where it turns and follows the thick brush down to a cross-over to the far field. It slices quickly, pivoting 10 degrees, 30 degrees or more, so when I run the dogs here, they must slow to navigate the corners following the stones I toss submarine style high and skimming along the blue sky. The uncut goldenrod and rose bushes, pokeberry and thistle grow taller than me sometimes, but Wolfie sticks to the course, curve by pintailing curve. Luna follows the arc of the stone and plunges into the thick mess as if this game were life itself, and for both of them it is — the moment by moment life they know best, their charging bodies thrilled to be intent.
I began to cut the trail in mid-July, just after Nice, when I could not stop thinking about the children who had died. I had to move, to sweat, to make myself mindless, and weights were not enough, nor chores, nor prayer, nothing, so this: I lifted an old mat of a heavy rug and unfurled it and smashed it down four feet by the next four feet, again and again, and stomped down the thick stalks, the sun pouring down, thistle seed attaching itself to my arms and face. I did this for three weeks, two dozen, three dozen feet a day. Exhaustion helped. And quiet. And being enclosed by big trees on all sides so no house or car could even be glimpsed. And the birds who came back, who came near when I stopped to rest. It helped to swing a brush-axe high-low high-low to clean the short spikes and lances, to trim the path to a smoother green. It helped not to think but only to be a collection of muscles in stir and flux.
This is fattening time. This is sorrowing time. We get through it however we can.