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Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005 05:38 pm

prairie notes 1-27-05

Harry was my close neighbor. “Close” in rural lingo generally refers to an adjacent landowner, as opposed to folks living several miles away who are still considered neighbors. The distinction is purely geographical.

Harry occupied a tiny one-room cabin, situated precariously at the edge of a bluff, whose most notable feature was a front porch that crept several inches away from the house with every spring thaw. Inside, one usually found little more than a small coal stove, a couple of straight-backed chairs, what passed for a kitchen, and a foot-long rack of clothes. In all of the years I knew him, I never found anything resembling a bathroom. That bothered me a lot, but I never developed the courage to inquire about it.

Harry was not especially impoverished; he owned 100 acres of good farmland and seemed able to buy whatever he wanted. He simply didn’t want much.

During the warm seasons he spent much of his time fussing over the wide fence row that encircled the property, carefully noting each species of wildlife that thrived in that kind of “edge” habitat. Bluebirds, cardinals, and brown thrashers were always in abundance there, along with rabbits, foxes, deer, and countless other creatures. Harry kept a running inventory of all, checked the nests daily, and severely lectured any critter that threatened to upset the delicate ecosystem. He ranged over the fields, tasting the soil and checking for evidence that all was well there. Everything his hands touched seemed to gain energy and thrive.

From Harry I first heard it said that no one could be healthier than the soil that produced one’s food. We spent afternoons walking the land together and talking in the shade with a glass of cold well water. He was then well into his nineties.  

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