FARMER'S ALMANAC by Christopher Klingbeil
I REMEMBER MY POPS telling me he was going to heaven before he scaled the rungs of our farm’s only silo without using his legs. I was ten years old, jaw-dropped and hopping with excitement, watching the old man pull himself skyward as if climbing a rope. His forearms, I remember, were the size of cedar posts, and later that night he slept very, very well.
It was the last night he’d spend with us.
This was all happening in November and way back when we thought it could still get really cold in Wisconsin. The creek alongside our farm used to freeze for Halloween and not re-open until Easter. You used to be able to walk across the ice no problem—you could drive a truck across the ice—so I’ve never blamed Pops for his death. He couldn’t have known the seasons were getting so mad. At least, I don’t think so. My brother argues otherwise.
I’m quick to point out that when Pops left my brother, my sister, and me at the breakfast table all those years back, he was packed to the gills with extra clothing against the morning cold. He’d stuffed spare mittens, two wool hats, a tangle of scarves, and the very sheets from off his bed into the pockets of his Carhartt bibs. He said, simply, he needed extra padding. Then, as with every morning, he walked outside to, in his words, wake the chickens.
Except that day he didn’t walk toward the barn. He made it halfway and froze, stood tall in the breeze cutting against him before he turned a quick head to the creek. And then he ran. The scarves and sheets trailed him like bright, oddly-tailored robes the colors of running water and right then, when they lifted in the wind, swirling, they drove Pops into the sky.
I thought it was another of his tricks. When the wind died and he’d simply disappeared, I just knew he was out there somewhere in the milky sky, the swirling snow.
But the jagged, busted creek ice soon told us otherwise. Like some coroner’s chalk outline of where his body had slipped through the ice, head-first and otter-like, there was an ominous black hole exactly the width of Pops’ shoulders.
It wasn’t a trick, but I couldn’t get that image of Pops in a watery swirl of bed sheets from my brain. I couldn’t understand what he’d meant to achieve with that costume and then I really couldn’t understand why, if Pops needed extra layers against the cold, that very winter we had a string of daytime highs in the 60s. It was the warmest winter on record.
My brother and sister had their theories, but the more I thought about it, I wasn’t so sure the old man hadn’t been up to something big. It was so ceremonial, the way he’d left us.
So I did my best to become equally ceremonial. I began to wear a lot of old hawk feathers in my hair—my hair was very long back then—and I remember spending a lot of time sitting on our silo and trying my hardest to understand whatever divine currents Pops had tapped into. With my hair whipped out as a dark scarf in the wind, I’d sit right on the button top of our silo and look out at this farm we’d wedged between the creek and the long, slow rise of the hillside to the south, and I’d think about all the corners and edges a prophecy could have to it. Like, why did some prophecies become true and others not at all? Why did some only work out half-way? Or why did some look like they’d been fulfilled, but only through a stranger’s set of eyes? My sister keyed me in. She used to sing:
Our land is two hands pressed together
at the wrists. Our fingers are cornrows
strung outward for the forest.
Where the heels of the hands meet
In that wet bend
beside the creek
we’ve built our home.
It’s where we wait His offering
And all of that became true. It made perfect sense of Pops’ intentions at the creek.
See, there was this huge drought the summer before he died, and then, after he died, there was that next spring flooding like we’d never seen. The brown waters pressed flush against our doorstep, and when the waters rose they washed across the welcome mat and that mat was never seen again. Our beds floated off their frames and drifted into odd corners of the house. My sister’s bed floated into the grain pantry; my brother’s into the bathroom to rest beside the claw foot tub; and me, I ended up sleeping against the stairwell to the basement where the rush of water down the concrete stairs drowned out the sound of my sister’s song, but where I could hear our Pops passing in every drop of water.
Now, one million full moons later, I am much older. The operation of invoking prophecy is much clearer to me. My hair is buzzed clean off because there is no snow in Wisconsin—no reason for insulation—and I still sit on top of the silo. I stare at all the rusty leaves that roll down from the forest and I think about how everything feels like a skeleton. The trees, when I climb down from the silo and walk beneath them, are all very brittle; and when the sun is going home for the night, I talk with him about this. Sometimes, he can make me forget how brittle the trees are because they become the color of orange brick in the sunlight, and their shadows stretch out so far I imagine no one could ever climb to their tops. And I feel as if I should not worry. If even the sun should fall beneath us and heat us as in the pan, I feel as if, prophecy of a return to our normal light or not, I might, for sight of this rust-brick forest, say these weather patterns are plain baloney.
But the sun, he never stays.
At home, my sister lights the ceremonial candles that are her life’s new work. There are more than a thousand candles in our house, but I tell her to make more (as she wants to cover our bases should the prophecies of returning light not be true). So far, I tell her, her candles’ light are like one fire bug against the sun—I know because I’ve seen the sun from our home’s highest heights.
Sister doesn’t think it’s a good idea for me to be climbing our silo.
But this is how she always replies. Full of concern and worry—more worry even than me. The forest, by the way, is not a fun place for her either. She doesn’t like to wander too far from the house because if the creek floods while she’s gone she might never get back home. Who knows where her bed will float without her?
I tell her that she doesn’t have to worry. I put on a brave face. I tell her that I am our home’s most able-bodied explorer and that the setting sun thinks all my preparations for a ceremonial return of snowflakes and a regular winter is nearly complete.
Still, my sister says, We can’t be too careful. And she stays awake most nights pacing between her candles, making sure we don’t catch fire in our sleep.
It’s a nice type of worry on her part.
Over breakfast, on the other hand, our older brother entertains worry in an awful way. He speaks of selling the farm.
I, of course, do not like this idea. The farm, as Pops used to say, has been in our family long enough for languages to have changed. The barn was raised with a tongue now gone from us and I always wonder what that would sound like—two tongues in my mouth talking at once. I can hardly imagine.
This, says my brother, is reason enough. Let’s sell.
I say, How come you never talk about the ancient things anymore? Have you forgotten?
He says, No, I haven’t. We used to have that—all sorts of old sayings. We’d say, The corn is neighbor-tall by Independence. ut now, he says, Independence equates to something like your dirty ankle.
I say, Is this why don’t you speak of the ancient things?
My brother huffs and throws back his head. He talks to the cracks in the ceiling, saying, I asked a man in the pharmacy store a week ago to relay his favorite memory of snow, but he had none. My brother shakes his head, telling my sister and me that, The man recalled a long story about being wet. I had to tell him he was thinking of rain.
This, I say, definitely worries me. But, even still, I don’t think we should abandon hope and my preparations.
My brother slaps his hands on the breakfast table and stands up. He crosses the room and stomps into his boots. Hope-schmope, he tells me. I got to go to work.
And with that, he’s out the door, scrambling across the yard to yell at our chickens and our crops and to ask them why they no longer produce.
I know why. Not that my brother will listen to me, but I know that what we need is to take a page from Pops’ book and really get intimate with the elements. Nothing will produce without intimacy.
And Sister agrees. In fact, it was practically her idea. I didn’t even know what intimate was until she showed me. But then I knew that I’d always known.
So this is it. My brother’s running on a wheel that’s grinding ruts into the ground by overworking the dry fields. He’s only making things worse and worse, and when I tell him this he says he doesn’t care. This can only be because he’s so upset about being alone—as sister refuses to remind him about intimacy—and now my brother wants to ruin everything and make everyone else all alone. Like a rodent in a short-wall maze, sister says, he’s forgotten how to use his spine to stand straight and navigate his way. He’s so blind he doesn’t see he’s drowning in land that loves him. He doesn’t even notice the sun, she says.
And she’s right. I know, because when the sunlight gets big and warm and I climb to the top of our silo—using my legs because I’m not as strong as Pops—I look out at the orange country and at my brother in the fields, tossing dirt clumps at our pale corn stalks.
The stalks are so brittle, they simply explode. And then the dry ground is even more exposed. It’s not a pretty sight. My brother even, seems to tire after only a few throws, and it’s an odd thing to see someone who was, just like the corn, so strong, but who’s now working inside a weaker body. And I wonder about when he’ll remember that old tongue and that oak-backed body he says we all used to have.
In fact, I’m beginning to think that there is no snow because we’re all becoming weaker. We’re unfit for the weight of a good snow. I yell this to my brother—that we must do the opposite of give up on climbing and of getting stronger, closer to the elements that Pops himself became married to. But my brother pretends not to hear me.
So I say, Fine. Go on and burn and be alone and forget about communion.
And then I pray to the tree line. I talk with the sunlight and ask once more for a little relentance. I cross my legs and rub my bald head and I chant into the sky, saying, Snowflake, snowflake, snowflake. And even after my tongue has dried to the consistency of dead leaves I do not stop saying snowflake. I say it a thousand times, and I then repeat it a thousand more because it has to be our faith in that second tongue, capable of communing with the elements, that will prevail.
CHRISTOPHER KLINGBEIL is from the United States and has lived all over it. While not pursing MFAs at Colorado State and Boise State, he has most recently worked as a government lumberjack, building trails in the US’s National Forests. His writing has been published in Slush Pile Magazine, ditch, alice blue review, and, once upon a time, received an Honorable Mention in The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest. is a former and prospective student, a has-been travel agent, retrospective mail artist, temporary transcriber of scholarly texts, permanent turophile, and aspiring mental health professional. During all this, he daydreams about moonlighting as a writer.