Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Back to the Soil
Spring freshet is always a time of revival near the rivers, when winter snow begins to melt. The early morning mockingbirds and rushing waters distract from the task at hand; not wise when war, from its winter rest, begins to wake. On the first day of March, the 9th Virginia Cavalry was near Mattaponi River, chasing raiders once again, and I was riding with messages between units as we searched for the elusive Colonel Dahlgren. The high waters had separated the raiders, so stragglers and skirmishers were all up and down the river. Riding along the tree line, I watched the water flow with its flickering reflections of the rising seedtime sun, mentally planning the plantings that would resume once war ends.
I felt the jolt of white-hot pain in my side before I ever heard the crack of the rifles from across the river. My horse, thinking I had kicked her hard, reared up and right, taking off in a gallop. With my saccade, she turned so completely on her haunches in confusion that I was thrown into the trees. Minutes, hours, days; unconscious or awake, I did not know as I lay face down in fallen leaves. On my left arm, a cut through my shell jacket, blood beneath, but no pain, only perfect peace. Pain became a sensation, like heat; I was now unmoved by sensation. I was not numb, simply unmoved. I attended more important thoughts; so this is how it feels to die. Perhaps I could move, but did not care to try. No pain, no cold, no wet March ground; no grim feelings at all, only the sound of the rushing water, or the sound of blood rushing through me. That low whirring sound deepened the desire to sink deep into the soft soil and leave this war. No light, no fear; only the whispers of Fredericksburg, the obsculta of Gettysburg; all unmoving, all merging with my body and sinking deeper back into the rich dark dirt.
After a time with this calm quiet, I slowly lifted my hand to my face, touching my forehead just between my eyes, to locate my center of thought; I was still alive, but completely comfortable with returning into the earth. I did not long for life; all desire and regret were over. At peace, even if no one ever found me; I was the last deep snow melting into a warming soil ready to receive new seed.
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; seedtime and harvest shall not cease.
A hand reached down into the soil that I was becoming and pulled me into the sunlight. Silhouetted by the noon sun, I was sure the figure standing above me was Me; the alive Me; the Me that would not let Me leave. It was my brother pulling me back from a place that I could not leave on my own.
My brothers had arrived with a battery wagon to carry me home. They had searched, knowing that, despite my distractions and reclusive nature, I would not take hours to ride between camps. There would be no surgeon’s saw or prison camp for me that day; they tied me inside the wagon and immediately rode for home; neither army was large enough to stop them. My brothers have since returned the wagon to the front, but I am recovering here at home with my Marianna. I shall not tell her how close I was to sinking back into the soil.
While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. Genesis 8:22 ~ Webster’s 1833 Bible translation