Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


A Year of Morning Thanks

A Hog's Ear

I didn’t know where I was going Saturday morning. It’s become a ritual, getting up well before sunrise, typing something for awhile, then, an hour before dawn, taking off west toward the hills along the river.

Sometimes I know where I’m going; sometimes I don’t. This Saturday, I went straight west out of town, slowly. The Tracker is a little skiddish in four-wheel drive, and I had the time.

I remembered a friend telling me about a great lookout from the west side, a couple miles north of Hudson. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years. “One of the most beautiful lookouts around,” he’d told me, so I figured I’d try it.

I found the road toward the river and turned back east, following the ribbon of gravel, only to find a brand new house going up at the edge of the bluff. No one was living there yet, but there it stood, big and beautiful.

The road beyond it, the road that descends to the river, wasn’t plowed. I’ve got four-wheel drive, but it was still half dark and I had no desire to get stuck. Hunting season is long over—I could be out there for days, I figured, and I hadn’t brought my cell. So I parked the car and took off down the hill, walking.

I’ve got lots of cold-weather gear. I’ve been shooting pics in winter for four or five years now, so I wasn’t worried about freezing. I followed the rutted path—somebody with four-wheel drive didn’t mind going down that steep hill—for maybe a quarter-mile, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to see much from the flats. To my left was a steep bluff; I guessed the view from up top would be glorious.

Now I’m no mountain goat, the snow was sometimes knee-deep, and I kept breaking through the light crust of ice, all of which made walking enough of a chore that by the time I got on top I was bathed in sweat, literally, my camera bag around my shoulders and the monopod hooked on my arm. I looked around. It was perfect.

Dawn was coming in a perfectly clear sky that had only a six-inch belt of haze at the horizon, just enough to flatten the sun, when it rose, into the shape of a fat man.

I pulled out the cameras—both of them—and started shooting. And then I saw them—directly in the line of fire, two sprawling hog confinements steaming like fresh, hot meat in the bright orange glow—I mean, right there, as if just delivered from the sun’s own birth.

Awful. Just awful. There I was sweating like a trooper, sucking wind something terrible, snapping pics frightfully, hoping against hope that I could do something with the view, when those two noxious confinements appeared, bathed sumptuously in the bright glow of sunrise.

It’s getting harder to find open land along the river. People keep building homes along the bluffs, in the scrub oak, while just above the river bottoms, brand new hog confinements go up like flattened poison toadstools.

For years, of course, people around here used to say when the air got ripe, “Smells like money.” And it did. I suppose it still does.

But I can’t tell you what a downer it was to find, in my 300mm lens, a couple of roasting houses sending up ripe steam in the glory of the dawn.

There’s a moral lesson in this picture, somewhere at least. The fact is, I’m no vegan. I love ham and cheese. What’s more, I can’t go back to Wisconsin without buying summer sausage. Brats—I was raised on ‘em. Bacon?—unhealthy, but I love it, the thicker the better. Ribs?—sure, this weekend?

I love pork. Just not in my landscapes.

Those things just steamed. Look at ‘em. So did I.

No, this morning I’m not thankful for hog confinements, even though I’m guessing they’ve paid for a ton of tuition at the school where I teach.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, about how to say thanks for one putrid vision of dawn, and this is all I can think of: I’m thankful for being reminded, last Saturday morning, that this world I live in isn’t primeval creation, for being reminded that there’s hogs in Siouxland too, and the beefy guys who care for ‘em. Neither me nor my camera can pretend that humankind isn’t here. Adam and Eve are long gone, but there’s life here that has to be dealt with, and try as I might on Saturday mornings, I can’t get away, really.

And this. No blessed camera of mine can make a silk purse out of a hog’s ear.

3 comments:

Real Live Preacher said...

Do I ever know this sorrow. My inlaws built a house in colorado. From the front you see a mountain. From the back a plain leading to a river with a mountain beyond.

Some rich buy bought all the land around the river. He didn't like seeing a few porch lights from the folks in my in-laws' neighborhood. So this SOB hired bulldozers and pushed an 8 foot berm up against his fenceline. Now from down around the river, he can't see their lights, but he blocked the view of he river and mountain for about 100 homes that had been there since the 70s.

Really chaps me.

Laura E said...

I can almost smell those hog confinements just from the picture.

Jake said...

Chops? Ribs? Brats would be great, if you could find decent ones outside of Sheboygan County.

Say when? How about this weekend?

Let me know.