The Beat of Hoven
By: Leighland Hooks
The time of harvest marks one of two very busy times in the agricultural year. The first, naturally, is planting and maintaining the crops until harvest. After which, field rotations and those at fallow share the burden of use and disuse. Throughout the growing season, fields must be sprayed, trimmed, weeded and kept alive through storms, floods and pests. But, harvest is where heroes are made and generational skills are tested.
Harvest is usually a period of joy mixed with danger. It seems to be cyclical of the canning and selling of the summer’s labour and the loss of fingers and toes. Accidents do happen reaping and sowing grain. Fire remains a very real threat to farming communities. As combines turn lazy circles, collecting and chewing stalks, it is not uncommon for over worked machines to spark or clip a rock thus bringing excitement and life to the dry fields. This is the case in Hoven, where in one week, two fire broke out only a few hundred yards from main street. The tumble weeds and southern gales held the flames like a lover, keeping the embers nurtured through dark times until they were strong enough to carry on by themselves.
The open plains around Hoven are home to whole herds of tumbleweeds. Growing up in central Minnesota, we never got to see them. I thought they just existed in movies until I saw real ones in Rapid City. Now surrounded by a nest, I find endless joy watching them spar with the wind. Jac just looks at them as a common sight, she’s seen many of them from her previous year on the road with CTCSD. I see them as something like hamster wheels. Carrying seeds and little insects where ever they go. Stopping just long enough to say hello and observe you then kindly move on (as prompted by the wind). The skeletal sage also marks a time of sleep. Once green and alive, these bones roam the prairies as warnings for the harsh Dakota winter to come. A time to move on.
The thing about Hoven is that it’s called “The Cathedral on the Prairie”. At first glance, I could only imagine it was some strange farmer metaphor about serenity and salvation. But, as we came over the hill on highway 14, sure enough, two gothic spires rose from the flatlands.
“Oh, cathedral on the prairie.” I stupidly say
“What did you expect?” Inquires Jac
I tell her my ideas
“I guess that makes sense too. Why would you think that first?”
“Would you expect a gothic structure just to rise out from the fields?”
“Well, no. But, there is a huge grain co-op here.”
“Yeah, like a pilgrimage to Mecca only it’s Pioneers and cow-pinchers to Hoven.”
And I could see them. Thousands of gaunt souls and livestock dragging across the high plains desert like plows to the Oasis and promise of Hoven. And to this day, droves of hunters flock to Hoven to hunt pheasant. Not only the state bird but also, also the source of the states most predominate income ($25 million annually). With that, the four-horseman ride all along the range to cut down creatures for sport: deer, puma, bison, fish, the sick, the elderly but pheasant, the most popular.
This holy city inhabits about ninety people but draws others for miles around to store grain and to hold mass. A dense collective of the faithful joining bodies and spirits. The communion of life in the human experience wrapped the isolation of the plains. Drowned out by the sound of threshing machines and trucks. Barely tactile, ever slipping away and returning as tides that leaves pools with life teaming just below the surface. Just below…
The children of Hoven are excitable. They meet us with sideways glances and cautious eyes. We must look strange to them, laughing and being generally over excited for a children’s show. Also, we’re from Sioux Falls. The most populace city in the state. To the kids, Sioux Falls might be the same as Italy. A far away rumored place that only exists in textbooks. The two places (Hoven and Sioux Falls) are not that far apart, but just far enough over the horizon to be worlds different. (There are many noted differences between those who live in Sioux Falls and those who do not. Some slickers think they’re shit don’t stink and any farmer knows the smell.)
The grown-ups, busy with the season, are pleased to have us here:
“We had Missoula last year so we thought we’d try a local company that’s cheaper and better.” Says Ladeen, head of the Hoven PTA.
Being the outstanding businessperson I am, I say:
“Yeah cheaper. But better is up to you guys.”
Ladeen, Jac and I share awkward laughter. I was never a good sales man.
We’re staying at the Weber’s hunting lodge, the “Hilton of Hoven”. High ceilings, video games, booze and plenty pictures of dead things. Jac and I create a nightly ritual of drinking vodka tonics and sometimes playing pool.
“We’re livin’ the high-life Jac. Now we just need a shuffle board court to complete it.” I say over my drink suited for people in their eighties. Eventually we start playing Wii sword fighting with hordes of virtual combatants. I use this opportunity to hone my Jedi skills. The dark side prevailed at level six. The Force is not strong in this one. Average at best.
In the mornings, I watch the dust and tumbleweeds in the seasonal winds. Now seemingly stronger without the crops to buffer me from the gales. One morning, a small tumbleweed stopped in of the kitchen window, rocked against the wind just long enough to take a look and ask how I was doing. I didn’t answer which the little guy must have taken sharply because rolled right on into his day. Given that I had to start mine.
The week needs to be filled, the kids need more rehearsal and the characters need developing. Ben, who is playing one of the cousins, decides to make his character into a nerd. Of his own accord, he produces black glasses complete with jock tape. Jac and I find this hilarious and ask him to say common phrases as his nerd. It is a voice so nasally and coupled with the underwhelming sounds of a science textbook, we couldn’t stop laughing. I get him to say:
“I says to the guy: Ukulele? More like Urkle.”
I may have peed a bit.
The performances go pretty well. For the community and extended community of Hoven, we gave them a good one.
Earlier that day, I took the time for a short trip to the cathedral. Built in the late thirties, after some sort of disaster, the sanctuary doubles as a local historian. Every event of the town’s history, from marriages and funeral to celebration and honorary ceremonies have been and are still held here. The cathedral is the centerpiece and slick sinew that holds this place together. It is a house of St. Anthony, the patron saint of miracles. Quite fitting for the rigors of farm life. I ask St. Anthony for a light and ten bucks. The statue, complete with a friar’s horseshoe, only smiles back gently as if to say:
“No you asshole. Get a job.”
I chuckle, salute the saint and push through the fortified heavy oak doors. The door, with surprising quiet, closes and clicks behind me. I realize I’m alone here. Only the old marquee style lights fitted to the arches hum with company. I walk around the edge of the pews being careful not to disturb the bulletproof silence. Saints and apostles cover the walls displaying their tales of love and fear faithfully in pretty glass and marble railings. I fell as if I should say a prayer at the altar. None came to mind.
I take my leave down the broad concrete steps at the entrance, and there inscribed in pink granite stand “The Beatitudes of Matthew”. One reads:
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
After the show, the teachers and parents invite Jac and myself to go “Uptown” (which really means going up the street to the liquor store which is also a bar). We are met with cheers and applause! Jac laughs in slight embarrassment and I do a bow. It feels good to have our presence welcomed but strange travelers make temporary celebrities.
Nonetheless, drinks are bought for both of us. The women sit at a table and talk in polite tones whilst the men stand at the bar, boisterous and happy. The men welcome me with toothy farmer smiles and caliced hands. I feel inadequate, I’ve always hand soft hands and been skinny. Literally half the person of the average plowboy. My advantage has always come with a charming smile and soft tone not brute force. However, in this case there are all to excited to tell me about themselves! Where they have been, what they want to do, business ideas and most importantly: where they want to be.
All the while, beers are being bought with frightening frequency. Parents of appreciative children, people who saw the show, people who know people that saw the show all seemingly plotted together to line the bar with drinks for me. I try to refuse the third round:
“Guys I really appreciate the beer but, I need to take it easy tonight.”
“Oh really? I think there’s a spare seat at the ladies table.”
The ninth round gurgles down to meet its friends. I know all to well the fate of drinking too many cheap beers. The mornings are payback: Hell hath no fury like Miller Lite. But it doesn’t matter now or will it the next day or ever. I am laughing with them, sharing with them, forgetting the past and blurring the future. A piece of advice floats my way:
“When I was your age I was so concerned with getting married and having kids. Now I have those things and two grocery stores and the only thing I want to do is leave here. I wish I had spent more time traveling. You’re doing it right. Never stop and drink up young man.”
With a cheers the tenth round begins and the night spins on.
26, Oct. 2011