A Leap of Faith
ROBIN ADJUSTED THE BLANKET ON THE TOP OF the hill overlooking his vineyard. He had called me the day after I spurned our appointment by the water tower, undaunted. “The sunset’s really something from here and we might see the Three Sisters.” Over the eastern horizon, three snow-capped mountains looked like silver forks piercing pink and blue clouds. Below us, grape vines in straight neat rows marched up steep rolling hills. A fast-running creek below the vines fed a large sparkling pond. I told him how it reminded me of a story of the perfect spot, from a book by Carlos Castaneda.
Before I could finish he said, “It’s a series of books on the teachings of Don Juan. There’s a chapter where he describes finding the perfect spot, where he had to roll around and around until he found it.”
I stared at him, beginning to understand what he meant about antennae. “He rolls around for hours,” I said.
Robin overlapped my story, “He rolls off the porch.”
“And then he’s on the ground,” I added.
“And when he finds his perfect spot, he knows it. And he stops moving.”
We sat in silence for a long minute. “How did you know about Castaneda and the story about the perfect spot?” I could barely hear my own voice.
“I told you before, I know you.”
We talked about Castaneda and what his books meant to me and how I loved the way the author saw significance in the mundane. We talked about spirituality, and I told him I liked fairy tales as a kid and how I’d done a lot of rolling around on my own porch, searching, struggling for everything.
“Struggling for what?” he asked.
“To know God, to know my father, for love, happiness, identity, the perfect chocolate bar, you know, the usual.”
“I know,” Robin said.
He told me how his parents bought the land back in 1947. Raised sheep for thirty years. Never ate a single one. Couldn’t eat the profits. They were literally dirt poor, living in a Quonset hut up on a ridge after the old house burned down. The hut was supposed to be a brooder house for chickens but the family moved into it instead. His dad said it was temporary. Twenty-five years later, they were still living in that tin can until the kids bought their parents a manufactured log home.
As for the sheep, coyotes and domestic dogs roaming in packs used to tear the sheep apart for fun. Some mornings he would come out and have to shoot ten, fifteen sheep dripping with blood, in shock without ears or udders. He couldn’t take it anymore. The first thing he did when his parents turned the farm over to the kids was to get rid of the sheep.
“So you planted grapes?”
“Long story short, a Frenchman called up one day, wanted to buy the family farm. Didn’t say why. Of course, it wasn’t for sale, but after a little snooping around I learned he wanted it for a vineyard. What did he know that I didn’t? I checked out the climate, soil, elevations, south-facing slopes, it was perfect. So we turned the pastures into a vineyard, and that hill over there?” I followed his pointed hand and scanned the tall, dense Douglas-firs cresting to the horizon. “It was bare, too. Planted a sustainable forest.”
“That was a pasture? You planted all of those trees?”
“Uh-huh, 45,000 of them.”
“You made a forest.”
“Yep. And dug out that pond down there for swimming.”
I focused hard on Robin for the first time, wanting to see, really see, the man who had such an explosive sense of beauty. His body told the story. A youthful face, not so much in texture, but in expression, like a school boy. A rugged tan. Laugh lines folded by perpetual optimism fanned out in white pinstripes from the corners of his eyes. The back of his neck, sun-scorched. Little dings and cuts scarred his fingers and knuckles, as if he’d been wrestling recalcitrant tractors all his life, but his fingernails were short and clean. No designer label jeans, factory distressed to look worn and faded, his jeans were worn soft from years of use. And there was something about his right arm. It seemed different from the left, injured in some way.
Just then I spied an insect near the blanket, green as the blade of grass it seemed to guard, upright on its haunches, forearms closed together. “A praying mantis.” I turned on the blanket to take a closer look. “What do you suppose he’s praying for?”
Robin lay on his stomach and watched the insect with me. “You said you like fairy tales.”
“Yes, do you have one for me?”
“No. I have one for me,” he said. “You’ve noticed my right arm, how it’s not like the left?” I nodded. His forearm seemed welded to his elbow in a permanent right-degree angle. To shake hands he lead with his shoulder to give the stiff arm length. He transferred forks or glasses to his left hand to eat or drink.
“Years ago, I played high school football. Five-foot-nine, I was the smallest guy on the team. So I tried twice as hard. One day, I hit the ground so hard, I pulverized my wrist. It shattered. Couldn’t be fixed. It fused into one solid mass of bone. Never could bend it after that. Then rheumatoid arthritis kicked in. Clear up to my shoulder.” He tried flexing his wrist; it only quivered.
He continued, “When I was younger, I used to love the fairy tale about the seven swans. Do you know it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Seven brothers cursed by a witch and turned into swans. Their sister had one year to knit seven sweaters out of stinging nettles to turn the swans back into her brothers.”
“Yeah,” Robin said. “Even as her fingers bled, she was able to knit six-and-a-half sweaters. When the swans flew down to her a year later, she threw the sweaters over them and, one by one, they turned back into men. Except for the last swan. His sweater wasn’t finished.”
I saw where Robin was going with this. “Yes,” I said quietly. “One brother ended up with one good arm and the other arm was a . . . a . . .”
“A wing,” Robin said. “That’s how I think about myself, one arm like a wing.” He sort of chuckled and nibbled on a blade of grass.
My heart broke. I was in love, not with a swan, but a Robin—a beautiful Robin that planted a vineyard and a forest and dug a pond and made a paradise.
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