Order. The arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other according to a particular sequence, pattern or method. A state of proper readiness or preparation or arrangement.
Rhythm. A strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound. Movement or variation characterized by the regular recurrence or alternation of different quantities or conditions, as in the rhythm of the tides.
Order and rhythm, the compass and sextant of my days.
So now the holidays were over. The tree had been struggled back into the corner of the attic where it would lie peacefully in pieces until next December. The refrigerator and pantry, the cake plate and cookie jar had been cleared of the food that appears only once a year. The green-leaved and red-berried branches, dried into crumbling tinder, had been tossed into the edge of the field to further fade and decompose. Order had been restored.
Rhythm, however, was still eluding me. The days and nights of holiday activities that disrupt, however cordially, the tempo of life had ended, but I remained off-balance, out of kilter, emotionally and mentally disoriented to the new year.
I decided to go to the gym. On the treadmill, my feet would adopt a stride of hard and steady steps, my lungs would draw in air and force it back out, my elbows would move back and forth like side rods on a locomotive. I would actually feel my heart beating inside my chest. Exercise would be my metronome.
But I got detoured. Two big diesel trucks and an excavator had arrived at the farm to remove the burned-out shell of the cotton picker that, for the last week or so, had stood sentry at the exact spot at the edge of the field where it had flamed then smoldered.
Every morning and afternoon I’d passed it, stopping a couple of times to take photographs, changing my mind about what it looked like — a prop from an apocalyptic movie set? a prop from a dinosaur movie set? — and feeling a bit forlorn that I hadn’t been there to see the conflagration.
With a somewhat childish delight I noticed Daddy standing just off the road in the bedraggled rows of picked-over cotton observing the reclamation. If he could watch, so could I. For a few minutes. And then I’d get to the treadmill.
The two of us, arms folded, gave a respectful distance to the two men whose job it was to clear all evidence of the fire that had triumphed over 70,000 pounds of metal. There was a lot of incremental raising and lowering, pushing and pulling, stretching out and pulling back in of the excavator arm, making the whole process look like nothing so much as a Pixar movie projected large across the January sky and underscored by a soundtrack of diesel engine and hydraulic pump. The power line strung directly over the picker added the dramatic tension.
At the two-and-a-half hour mark, with not much apparent progress having been made, my attention wandered. I reached down to break off an unpicked cotton boll, swaying in the unseasonably warm breeze at the end of its brown chopstick of a stem. I pulled the boll from its star-pod and began rolling it between my fingers, felt the hardness of seeds hidden in the whiteness. Dividing my attention between the men wrestling with the machine and the seeds bound tightly in the soft white fibers, I extricated one, two, three … 14 seeds.
“So can these be planted?” Daddy interrupted his careful supervision of the two men and glanced quickly over at my upturned palm, cupped to hold the fuzzy seeds.
“Oh, yeh.” Ginned and cleaned, he explained, those very seeds could eventually make their way back into the ground to start the cycle all over again. A cycle with a rhythm that is old and enduring, sure and certain, regular and reliable. A rhythm that allows for drought or disease or a cotton picker that catches fire and lights up the sky like the county fair, all without missing a beat.
The gym could wait for another day. I closed my fist on the cotton seeds, took a deep breath of warm winter air, and felt the gentle pump pump pump of a heart in rhythm with its world.