In April when George Wingert plowed his field that bordered the Falling Spring Creek, it took only two or three passes to start him singing and three or four more for the crows to gather in. The crows, who lived somewhere in the woods behind George’s barn, would appear first at the field’s edge, then above the field, then directly in the field where they would hop along and glean the newly-turned furrows.
My mother claimed the crows’ quick arrival had more to do with George’s singing than with any grubs they found, and maybe that was so. I know the singing found me. Because the moment I heard George’s voice incoming on our side of the creek, I would drop everything and go.
There was a limestone outcropping near the center of George’s field, and that’s where I started. I would settle among the rocks to watch and wait. As the field was rectangular, so the pattern George made with his tractor and plow was rectangular: up, across, back, across. With each complete pass, the pattern grew wider, the smell of the just-turned earth stronger. When the crows dropped in to follow with short flights and bickering, they too went around. And when finally I climbed down from the rocks to join behind the crows, we were four going around—tractor, plow, crows, boy. And as I remember it, so too the sun, the sky, the earth—everything—my entire world seemed going around.
As for George’s singing, his voice easily heard above the tractor, it simply was. In the long flat section of field adjacent his barn, George would leave his seat and sing standing up.
“Then sings my soul my savior God to thee!” he sang, head back, the palm of one hand face-up in the air.
I was seven, eight, maybe nine, and as I listened, ankle-deep in the creek-bottom loam, my soul knew joy, too. Exceeding joy. It’s just that it came with a slight pain in my chest.
Yes. Even for an eight-year-old boy.
Because of joy. In this instance for the first of the plow days; for the field being plowed; for the singing ploughman; for the black crows, who, when I would fling them something (a pebble, a worm) would carom off each other’s air, snag their prize, and set off for some place I knew I would never know.
That’s why. The never know part. Because singing ploughmen and flung pebbles can never be fully known.
And the astonishing thing is how the pain is a “one-size-fits-all.” Eight-years-old, eighty-years-old—it’s right there in the chest. The only difference is our response. What we do to make it go away.