From the first terrific moments of my waking into full memory and consciousness, my father would point a large finger out over the land that was his land—he was the land and the land was he—and the land was that of my grandfather and of my grandfather’s great-grandfather and this land was to be my land.
Holding onto my father’s large finger, I’d look out over this old land—far older than I could ever be—and in all my magnificent childish wonder I’d hear my father say, “This is God’s country, boy.”
I’d see the land clear and true for the first time then and I’d tell myself, “Yes, yes. This is God’s land. How could it not be?”
I’d turn and look up to my father’s face and see the same lines of the land around his eyes and mouth, and when I faced the land once more I asked myself if one day I, too, would reflect the land as my father did. Would it weigh on my shoulders and shine in my eyes? I knew that it would. Yes. I knew that it would.
My father would hold me close to his chest with my little legs curled tight beneath his arm and I’d see the silence of the land engraved upon his face and in his weary eyes where he endured a kind of light that one can find on a fine evening in the stillness of a twilight’s last gleaming hour. His breathing seemed to me to flow with the rough music of the land before us and I wished then, and ever after, I could hear the songs of the primitive and preternatural land as my father must’ve heard it that day by the dawn’s morning light.
I’d let go of my father’s finger then and see him point out over a lean layer of fog to the rivers and hills and valleys, and on up to the mountains in the great distance that it seemed to me it would take years to reach them—and in many ways it did take me years to cross all that land before me then as a small child.
My father stretched forward his great finger towards all that land, vast and exhausting, and he sounded to me the things he pointed out: the giant windmill by the pond, the creek running through the waves of grain, the stirring of sugar maples and oaks, the half-moon in the dawn-time sky, and then he spoke of the ages and the ageless, and how serpents and beasts slithered and roamed in the shadows and in the night, and how I was supposed to grow into a man one day to fight and conquer these beasts—to tame them or kill them or teach them the proper place for a beast was at peace beside the man.
In my father’s arms, safe and secure, I couldn’t hear the words as they were meant to be heard. I had to strain to listen for the meanings in the importance of my father’s tones and gestures and how, I believed, he knew of all things in all places. It was then I became an extension of my father as he held me close and we both looked out over the horses gathering in idle hunger to munch the wild hay, and it came to me then that these were not the beasts my father spoke of often by the firelight, but these horses shifting in the light fog below us were as much a part of the land as the dirt and rocks and trees my father spoke of and he spoke of the horses slipping through the gentle fog as though they were my forefathers long dead and I was only then learning of all their histories which happened before my birth and the cold government of reason that came years later in my childhood.
The horses came up the ridge and cleared the mist and fog when my father turned to me, tapped his finger into my chest, and said,
“This land is your land, son. Never forget that. And remember that the land won’t love you unless you love it. You have to give yourself to the land or it’ll turn on you. You have to put that love in your heart first, boy, because no one can do it for you.” He tapped my chest again. “It starts in there or it doesn’t start at all.”
My father’s words came out low and mean and fast and I’ll admit he frightened me a bit, but even so he clutched me to his chest and I felt a revelation showing me a wealth of his affections for me, his son.
He was teaching me and I was trying to learn even if the meanings of the words came to me heavy and full and my young mind grasped them for as long as the words made sounds, and when I looked back to the range I found the horses and the fog gone and what remained was the land.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy). He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son, The New America: A Collection, Vanity of Vanities, A Time to Love in Tehran, and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.