I'm in Norris, Tennessee watching a mule trudge round and round as he crushes sorghum cane. He's been trudging for hours under the rays of the proximal September sun which feels like a broiler on my skin. The mule, however, seems unperturbed by the heat. His pace is unhurried and patient. He neither slackens or quickens. Entranced, I watch his powerful body, his long, doleful face and big, soft, muley eyes. His eyes seem unfocused, at least outwardly. He's on auto pilot.
As I watch his impassive face, I wonder if his eyes are really unfocused. Or, are they focused inwardly instead? Does a mule have an inner landscape and if he does, what does he see there? Another mule, perhaps? A friend with whom he shares a pasture or barn? Does he recall the sugar or apple someone might have given him earlier in the day? Does he look forward to finally being done with another day of work, being unhitched from his traces, and enjoying the freedom to move his body, legs and head in a direction of his own choosing?
Is he aware that his life is dominated by walking in circles on auto pilot?
And how about my own circles? Pushing the same useless stuff round and round the house; washing, soiling and rewashing the same dishes; finishing one meal only to begin thinking about preparing the next one; washing and folding the same pair of jeans and bleaching the same white towels; walking in endless circles as I traipse through the woods and neighborhood, lost in my own circular thoughts; driving to and from the same grocery stores, gas station, gym, and thrift shops; rising and retiring in the same bed every morning and evening; emerging from the dark womb of the universe at birth and journeying back to what will surely be the same unconscious darkness when my earthly journey is finished.
Do I hold any awareness of the endless circumnavigation of overlapping, circular paths in my own life? Am I on auto pilot too?
The last words of Jesus were, 'It is finished.' When he uttered those words, I sense that he knew what 'it' was. Honestly, I don't know what 'it' is and I'm afraid I never will. My biggest fear is that 'it' will be nothing more, or less, than endless, loopy circles.
I watch the mule again. Sorghum juice trickles from the grinding stones into a large, iron cauldron. Off to the side, the farmer is boiling and skimming another batch of juice. When the first batch is boiled down to the perfect sweet, syrupy consistency, he will remove that vat from the fire and begin boiling and skimming the raw juice the mule is presently crushing.
It's late September and the sorghum season is ending. At our house, we will consume several jars of the ambrosial stuff in the next few months, pouring it on cornbread, biscuits, waffles, peanut butter sandwiches and ice cream. I will season many pans of baked beans with it too.
Then, next spring, a new sorghum season will begin. The farmer will plant, cultivate, harvest and process another crop of sorghum, the same elixir on which my mother raised me and I have raised my own sons. And so will begin another overlapping set of circles I and my family share with the farmer. I notice that my circles are never isolated, but seemingly must over lap with other beings and on this particular day in late September, even with the round abouts of a patient and beautiful mule.
Be well and good luck. And I ask you one favor: please share my website address, www.dogwooddaughter.com, with one person today. Many thanks.