I went past the field of sluggard;
Past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
Thorns had come up from everywhere,
The ground was covered with weeds,
And the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed
And learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest-
And poverty will come on you like a thief
And scarcity like an armed man.” –Proverbs 24:30-34
Strollin’, yes, strollin’ that’s what I seem to do best. I’ve found in my many years accompanying the subject that a man can learn much in a simple, observant stroll. Though, in my youth, I never seemed to be inclined to put much action into my learnin’.
I awoke that morning, some forty years ago, with a desire for wandering.
Nodding at my ma and da, I placed my hands on the doorknob.
But you know how those Irish women are. My ma glared at me with those feisty eyes of hers, and pointed to the table. I knew what that gesture meant. I may have been a grown man, accustomed to living the free life of a single scholar, but that did not mean I was allowed to leave the house without consuming some of my ma’s fry.
Sighing, I turned around and gently walked up to her, pecking her on the cheek before seating myself at the table.
“Cayce, did you really think you were going to leave without eating? You just arrived yesterday, and you’re already trying to amble about alone. You could’ve starved. All this education doesn’t seem to have done you any good. You haven’t changed one bit. Still the same bloody careless boy I raised.” She grinned down at me, her wrinkles curving up in a teasing fashion.
“It was delicious, Ma.” I pecked her on the cheek once more before setting my plate by the sink and heading out the door.
The cool breeze, swooping over the rolling hills caressed my face. It hugged my body in a simple greeting. It was glad I was home.
I gazed out over the fields of sheep and cattle, the rows of barley and wheat that my ole man has so carefully tended.
My family was a strong one. I was the youngest of six children all of which had moved on with their lives, but my parents remained there, caring for their land and livestock. They were opinionated people, surrounded by other farmers who tended to their land in different ways. My da never seemed to agree with his neighbors because land was an Irish man’s prized possession and my ma would never disagree with him.
I curled my bare toes into the soft, clay ground. Putting my hands in my pockets, I trudged down the bothrin that connected the surrounding farms to mine.
I stared at the ground for some time, just humming to myself. I enjoyed watching the ground.
You can tell a lot about a man by how his ground is toiled.
My family’s ground wasn’t perfect, but it was far from unhealthy. The cool mud squished between my toes, firm but free.
There came a point on my mindless stroll where the ground turned bricklike, molded into hardness. It no longer was open to growth, but had turned cold to the world, pricking the feet of all who dared to cross it.
My eyes wandered away from the ground. I knew the land. I stared out across the way before me cringed at what I beheld.
A barren wasteland is what it was, laid out with brown, dead plants and scrawny cattle. Rusted tools were sprawled across the field along with musty children’s toys.
This was the home of Jierney O’Braonain, his slapper wife Darcy, and their six thick children.
I recalled observing my ole man as he would interact with Mr. O’Braonain. He would communicate in a respectful manner, but his eyes never lied about his true opinion.
“That man is a tool, Cayce.” He would tell me. “He has no respect for land. Land, a man’s greatest possession. Never forget that, Cayce. A man who treats his land and raises a family in such a manner deserves no respect.”
As I looked out upon the land, I could see why my da would have had such a hard kneck towards that family.
Jierney O’Braonain was raised in an abusive home, or at least that is what I had been told. He grew up to be a hard man, but feared any form of discipline. He married the first woman who gave him more than a two second glance, and together they raised their six children without any morals. When had been growing up, Jierney would borrow from other farmers, too lazy to put any effort into his crops. Farmers no longer gave him any assistance, for it had been learned that he would never repay.
Darcy had never trained her children to do any more than roll in the muck with the pigs.
As I stared at their crumbling home, I noted that the twins were doing precisely that.
Two of the O’Braonain girls, stood near the twin boys, laughing as they covered themselves in mud.
Kyna and Alannah were their names. Their matted hair locked around their ears. They must have been in their mid-teens. They might have been pretty at one point, but by then, it was far gone. Rumors surrounded their beings that they were the village brassers, stuck in a life of sin as a result of their parent’s slothful ways.
The twins were the youngest. They were vile children when I had lived at home, and it appeared that nothing had changed.
They were called Hugh and Lee, and I could recall a day of their existence that they had some sort of parental guidance. It appeared as if they have never been bathed, spending their days tearing at the roots of any plant who had managed to spring out of the hardened ground.
A raspy yell echoed across the barren wasteland.
I turned my head towards the front of the house where the hunched body and cruel face of Faolan, the oldest son of the O’Brainoan’s stood. He had at one point had some sort of brightness too him, but his father’s temperament had drilled into him the idea that education was of no worth.
“Cayce,” he called at me. “Is that you?”
“Aye, it is Faolan. How are you?” I stepped towards him warily. No part of me had any desire to interact with the man, but the gentleman in me took over.
“Things are well as ever, Cayce, I hear you’ve been sucked into the stupidity of the university life.”
“Indeed, I have.” I grimaced.
“Have you heard about what happened to my hoor of a sister?”
“Which one?” I questioned politely, but I could tell by his stale voice that he meant Beibhinn.
Beibhinn was the oldest daughter and was Faolan’s closest sibling. She was about my age, and was the only good thing that had managed to come out of that family’s household.
“Beibhinn.” He responded flatly, confirming my suspicions. “She has left us to go work in the city.”
“How is that bad thing?” I inquired.
“She knows her duty is to pass on the tradition of agriculture. It is all of our duties, and as I’m sure you recall, she had quite a knack for doing so, she helped us through the plague.”
I nodded my head in understanding. “I’m sorry to hear that, but I suppose she has found a knack that suits her more.”
Before Faolan can go on a rant, I nodded my head in respect and headed on my way.
As I continued down the path, I recalled the plague vividly.
Everything had been wiped out overnight. My family awoke to a murdered harvest. What little hope the O’Brainoan’s had of earning a living was completely washed away.
Beibhinn, in her non-inherited kindness had managed to bring forth some sort of food out of the nothing to save her family.
I smiled at the thought that she had found a way to not pass on the tradition of poverty and slothfulness her family had been so insistent on and brushed the thought of the O’Brainoan’s aside.
Suddenly, my toes found themselves sinking into healthy soil.
I turned my gaze away from the narrow horizon, and found myself on the well-known plot of land of ole’ crazy Mr. Eamonn.
He was a kind-hearted man. I had never quite understood why my ole man regarded him as a lunatic.
“It’s insanity, Cayce.” My da used to ramble. “I don’t think the man sleeps. He just sits on his porch watching his land, wasting his life away. There has to be something up with the man, don’t ever go near him, Cayce, ya hear?”
Being the respectful lad that I was, I never disobeyed this demand of my father, but now as I looked across the almost heavenly field, I found myself walking directly towards the wrinkled farmer who had never taken his eyes off of his land.
“Ah, Cayce Nolan, I’ve been waiting for you to pay me a visit.” The man’s blue eyes seemed to stare straight through my soul.
“Excuse me, Mr. Eamonn, but I do not understand. I have never come to see you before.”
“Yes, you have, my boy. Every time you have walked through my land on one of your curious strolls, your mind has visited me. Your eyes have asked me thousands of questions. You have just not given me the chance to answer them until now.” He grinned wisely as if he had just caught a child doing a playful act.
I stared at him for approximately thirty seconds before I realized my mouth was gaping wide. Pinching my lips together, I reasserted myself and tried to restart the conversation.
“Well, then Mr. Eamonn, I have some questions for you.”
“You’re not going to run away this time?” He chuckled to himself. “I know what your father thinks of my farming strategy.”
The man had caught me there. Every time I had ever made eye contact with him, I had run. Run because I was afraid of what my father thought of him, but when the whole earth seemed to have been wiped out by the plague five years ago, one place had been left standing and that was the land Mr. Eammon. Rumors had stated that it was the result of sorcery that saved his land, but my conscience disagreed.
“No, sir.” I held my ground. “I want to know how you managed to save your land, and why you never sleep.”
The old man’s eyes smiled at me, and there appeared to be this wisdom behind is sallow iris that outdid any knowledge I had ever attained through books
“Let me begin by asking you this, lad. It is my understanding that your father has taught you clearly that land is a man’s prized possession did he not?”
“Yes, sir.” I scooted my way into the rocking chair beside him.
“Your father was right in telling you that. The one thing that has caused the most deaths and started the most wars is land. If you have land, then you have something to take pride in. You must care for it as if it was a child or it will go nowhere.”
“That is understood, sir.” I replied. “My father has always done that, but not to the extent of never taking his eyes off of it as it appears you have.”
“Now, lad, does it look like I have any other responsibilities? I have never been married, never had any children of my own, and whether it is out of judgment of my farming or jealousy towards my continuous profit, I appear to have no friends to visit with. The Good Lord has blessed me with one thing and that is my land, and I intend to care for it to the best of my ability.”
I shrugged my shoulders in acknowledgement.
“I have observed the neighboring farmers’ ways all these years. Why do you think the O’Brainoan clan has turned out the way they are and with a barren crop at that.”
“It was a lack of guidance, sir, a lack of love; I guess you could even narrow it down to a lack of supervision and observance.”
“You are correct. It burdens me that those children have such careless parents. Now, I have watched you and your family extremely close. Your father is a good farmer, a good husband, a good father, and overall a good man, but he does have his failings, as all men do. Every person in the agriculture business must learn to always be observant of what the sky, animals, and earth is telling them in regard to future blessings or set-backs. The night before the plague, all three of us your da, Hugh, and I were sitting on our respective porches. Hugh was drinking a glass of brandy while his children rolled in the mud, your father had his head turned away from the land, watching Hugh with disgust. I’m not blaming him for I would have been doing the same if my first instinct was not to listen to nature. Meanwhile, I was observing the sky, and planning for what I must do to salvage my crop.”
“What are you insinuating?” I asked, concerned that he may have insulted my father.
“I am trying to explain to you that my crop’s salvation was not a work of sorcery, as some seem to believe it; rather, it was a work of observance. I had learned long ago that slothfulness never brings any fruit other than more laziness, and that judging is in fact the opposite of observing; it causes negligence. Your father forgot his morals in the breath of a moment, and in that breath, lost everything, but nature does not punish forever, he is prospering again, but he has not ceased to judge. I tell you, dear lad. It would be good for you to learn from your observances. I see the wisdom behind your walks. Do not allow the knowledge given to you to go in one ear and out the other.”
Mr. Eamonn nodded his head at me to indicate that he had said all he wanted, and I nodded back in return. “Thank you, sir.”
I stepped off the porch and wandered home, his words ringing in my head.
I never forgot the lesson I’d learned that day; it taught me more than any book ever could. That I could learn more from observing, and act more from that knowledge than any man could from hours of toil if he proceeds to enjoy a moment of vice.
Now, I sit forty years later, still recalling Mr. Eammon’s advice as my grandchildren run joyfully around my feet, and my land is filled with prospering plants, still observing, still learning, still applying lessons in my heart from the wanderings in my mind.