A neighbor has died from the Coronavirus. Not just a neighbor, but somebody I am proud to call – a friend. This is him, Jim Banks, and his wife, Eva. His wife has contracted the disease as well. We are praying for her. There will be no funeral because of the disease, but I wanted to share a story that I wish I could have shared at the funeral.
My wife and I had just moved to “the farm.” It was like moving into a real-life version of Green Acres, the old TV show. Only better.
Green acres is the place to be
Farm livin’ is the life for me
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside
I hadn’t lived in Manhattan, but I had lived in some pretty big cities, but I always yearned for the countryside of my boyhood. And at the farm I thought I might have found it.
There are only about 40 houses… well, actually, old mobile homes converted into houses… on about 140 acres of old Southern woods at the farm. There are trails all through the woods. I was walking along one of those trails, reliving my childhood in the backwoods of South Carolina. There were squirrels running through the trees, birds squeaking and squawking, along with deer tracks and some other tracks on the ground.
And then behind me I heard what sounded like something out of the movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Ooop, pop. Squeak. Ooop, pop, Bang. Ooop, pop, Screech. It was Jim, riding along in his old gas-powered golf cart that – I found out later – he had rebuilt at least a dozen times. I stepped off the trail to let Dick Van Dyke, or whoever it was, go by. He stopped and, thank God, turned off the engine.
Now, this wasn’t the three-syllable, country twang ‘howdy’ you hear on parodies of Southerners. It was a straightforward, two-syllable version of ‘hello.’
“You new to the farm?”
I explained how my wife and I had bought the place as a second home but then decided to move out permanently. Even though the house was basically just a converted trailer, we liked it nevertheless. Most importantly we liked the natural setting and the woods. Jim was only too happy to talk about the woods and the trails and the history of the place. He clearly loved it.
Then about halfway through his explanation about how ‘the farm’ came to be, he looked down.
I looked at the ground. I could see the deer markings easily and there was something else vaguely in the dirt but I couldn’t tell what it was. He continued talking. A lot of people, including him, he explained, believed there were Indian mounds and artifacts around the area. He looked down again.
I squinted at the ground. I was not about to admit that I saw nothing. He continued, telling me about how the lake had different run-offs for the lake overflow. There were three different run-offs and I might find some things in those run-offs. Then:
I couldn’t help it. I leaned down more than a little bit this time, looking at the ground. I didn’t see a thing. He continued talking about the farm. His comments about the tracks were just his observations, sort of like me saying “it’s awfully cloudy today.” He was simply making an observation and making conversation.
He started up the engine and then went Chitty Chitty Bang Banging away. As soon as he was out of sight and couldn’t see me, I got down on my hands and knees and looked at the ground. Again. And Again. Deer tracks? Yep. Something else? Sort of. What? Heck if I knew, but Jim did.
Jim was an ‘environmentalist.’ Now, I never said that to him, and if anybody ever said that to him, he would deny it. But he was. He did not just believe in Mother Nature. He lived in Mother Nature. He loved Mother Nature in the most natural way Southerners do, because it’s part of them and they are part of it.
I would run into Jim many times over the years as I hiked through the woods. He would always stop and chat and each time, and without really knowing it, he would educate me. Sometimes it was a lesson in plant life. Sometimes it was an insight into animal life. And sometimes it was a piece of folk lore.
After each unintended tutorial he would simply say, “Well, I gotta be getting along.” And off he would go until the next time when I would get another lesson about the environment.
I think I will head out into those woods, and maybe get down on my knees again. No, not to look for racoon tracks. No, for another reason