Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Farm Ninja

When I was very young, it was much less common to see an airplane flying overhead than it became in my teenage years. In the quiet of my parents' farm, you could hear the jet engines even though they were impossibly far away, and you could follow the gentle white contrails all the way across the wide prairie sky. On a lazy summer day with a clear blue sky, it could almost be peaceful.

Unless your older brother told you they were bomber planes.

I remember us running with our heads hunched down and our hearts thumping, hoping to reach the safety of the shop before we were spotted and the bombs let loose. Maybe it was a crop duster, which would understandably be more alarming than a high-flying jet. It was the late 1980s; who knows what bits of media had rearranged themselves in my brother's young mind to manufacture the idea. In any case, the sound of a jet engine would thereafter grip me with the terrified need to hide, and I would run for the nearest roof—the house, a barn, a shed, even tucked under the hopper of a granary. Years later, when the first helicopter that I encountered "in the wild" hovered overhead dropping off bundles of oil-surveying equipment, I watched from a hidden vantage point and only scurried away when the helicopter was facing away from me.

At some point, somebody must have set me straight about airplanes, though I can't remember when or who. The impulse to hide from outsiders, though, had been instilled deep, and went far beyond aircraft. At any sign of an approaching vehicle—which were not frequent, as our kilometer-long lane was a dead end that only visitors, the schoolbus, and disoriented travelers would drive down—we children would tuck ourselves into one of myriad hiding spots and stay out of sight until the coast was clear. I'm not sure what the motivation was; it seemed to be a mixture of uncertainty, unwillingness to be involved in conversation, a sense of safety that came from seclusion, and the reinforcement that comes with years of habit.

I learned to be as invisible as possible, to see without being seen, to listen without sharing my own inner dialogue.

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