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Ghosts & Chickens Snickering

Saturday afternoon the blusters of the North plains blasted the Ohio valley relentlessly. Our chickens loitered on the leeward sides of buildings, with sustained gusts maintaining a minimum of 30 MPH for hours, speeding up to 60. The feathered hens drifted like tumbleweeds if they tried to venture from one shelter to another. Days like this I am grateful the previous owners of the farmhouse were somewhat notoriously dubbed "tree huggers" as early as the 1950's when they were booted out of the Lutheran Church for reasons one can only speculate on.

In those days planting a grove of bald cypress, ginkgo, hickory, chestnut, pecan, and about 30 other species both native and exotic might have been grounds to ignite rumors leading to excommunication from the Lutherans. Not too many tree-lovers cleared this river valley and turned the whole thing into farmland with no windbreaks. Most farmers allowed a few shade trees around the house, but never would have dedicated potential cropland to an artistic forest.

"All Leroy does is piddle around, taking care of his trees," said Grandpa as he shook his head 5 years ago, describing the guy whose parents built our Farmhouse, who now had constructed his own dwelling on the sand dune to the north, within hollering distance. Leroy was 78 at the time, Grandpa 81.

"Leroy's a damn tree hugger," said Uncle Huck when we were looking into purchasing the old farmstead.

"So am I!"

"Damn tree huggers. You all should move up to Michigan!"

More than 25 years ago, when I lucked into the job of driving a truck or tractor from Grandma & Grandpa's place across the river, through the notorious Kincaid Holler to the vast fields of Buffalo Bottoms, I observed Leroy building that house on a bare sand dune. Now it is surrounded by an emerging Garden of Eden, much like I've seen on the ranches of Back-to-Landers in Mendo like the Goodells up Lambert Lane in Boonville. When I first visited Leroy 5 years ago in August he had three kinds of peaches freshly harvested on the table, various apples, plums, apricots, grapes--also racks of fruit wine lining the walls. He'd quit drinking years before, he said.

Naturally we got along great, and he really liked Jetta. 80 years old, post-stroke, Leroy attended our first Hoefest four years ago and sat on a lawn chair by the bonfire with her and all kinds of girls dancing topless, hula-hooping. I know he was still occupying that chair when the White Lightning Boys started jamming at midnight.

The next day Leroy showed up with his sister and a bunch of buckets. "The hickory nuts are all over the ground," he said that September day while straggling hippies emerged to consciousness and either packed their camping gear or abandoned it. The four of us--Leroy, his sister, Jetta, and I tossed hickory nuts into five gallon buckets, checking each shell to make sure there were no holes. Jetta wore this dancing two-piece thing adorned with bells that some vendors had gifted her the day before.

"These nuts are twice as big as the regular wild ones," said Leroy.

"Our dad planted these trees," said his sister. "He discovered hickories in the woods somewhere that had the big nuts. Always said the local Indians had a grove of them at one time, only a few left."

We filled the bed of Leroy's sister's truck with hickory nuts, and she promised to bring us a pie some time.

Leroy couldn't attend the second Hoefest, and one day I witnessed dozens of cars parked under the apples and other fruit trees, the magnolias, spruces, and hard maples. I knew what those cars meant.

The winds picked up all afternoon Saturday, and I watched the pop-up camper under the pines in our front yard spin around 45 degrees towards the east. Tree branches waved frantically out the windows while Jetta and I chilled out alone, eating ganja cookies and enjoying the horror movie, Insidious.

"Horror movies are dumb," I said before she put this one in. "I'm not scared of ghosts, vampires, or zombies. I'm more worried about real living beings, like tweakers and cops. I'm actually on good terms with the ghosts around here."

Halfway through the flick, perhaps thanks to the cannabis butter in those cookies, I had to admit this wasn't some cookie cutter version of horror with naive sexy teenagers about to be hacked. "I can identify with these characters," I said. "They remind me of the happy, functional suburban couples who drive brand new cars, send their kids to private schools, and get free range eggs and organic vegetables from hippies."

"Shut up! You're not even watching!"

"I'm glad not to be a tree today," I said, gazing out the window after one too many cookies. "Yet I'm grateful the people who built this house planted those trees. I can almost feel their presence."


"The pop-up camper just spun around 45 degrees! The wind is howling!"

But in spite of my resistance to willingly suspend my disbelief, the flick gripped me, especially after Jetta closed the blinds to block off that western blast that rattled the single panes.

"Still, I'm more worried about real people than ghosts. Hell I think about the ghosts of this place every day. That's why I rebuilt the chicken coop--out of respect. O shit we didn't get the eggs."

You have to gather eggs every day if you're selling them to successful people, thus to avoid the horrifying red spot.

"Just wait til the movie's over," said Jetta, clutching my arm. "I don't want you going outside with all this wind. I hear THINGS in this house."

"No doubt the place is haunted, but it's happy ghosts. It's all well-ventilated, which explains most of the creepy noises on days like today. That wind is insane!"

"Don't leave me alone in here."

"Shit, Jetta, you KNOW at least one of the ghosts. Leroy thought you were hot."

"Don't say that!"

By the time the movie finished, the sun had long since set. "Oh, the eggs!" I grabbed the harvest bucket with the paper towels at the bottom and ventured out past the clothesline to the century-old coop that had later been used as a smokehouse for pork in the 1970's, Leroy had told me on one of the many tours describing how the farm used to be. The waning moon had not yet risen, and the night had turned pitch black, especially inside the coop.

Just because the ghosts here are friendly don't mean they won't fuck with you for fun, I told myself. Hens cooed their eery night soundtrack from the roosts. There's no reason to fear ghosts--especially these. You can't escape them. Everything you touch, every day, they built. They walked on every square foot of this farm. That seemed to be the point of the movie, Insidious--you can't escape. But what about context? Like who was the last person to gather eggs in this coop before our recent renovation? Who hung the latches on the doors? Why was the wind still howling? Sounded like the chickens were snickering, or were those hens? I knew they were laughing at me, whoever they were. Ghosts do have a certain advantage over the living when it comes to humor. The joke's on us. I returned to the house with an empty bucket and picked up the banjo. Jetta is learning to play, and we distracted ourselves with songs until the winds subsided and I had to venture out to the greenhouse to light the propane heater, as frost loomed immanent. Fortunately the sliver of moon had risen, though I winced when the gas caught fire with that initial, brief explosion.

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