She squints in the sunlight, shades her eyes, stands on tiptoe in the rambling front yard of the old Iowa farmhouse. Even when she looks along the fence line as far south as she can, to the place where the gravel road bends west, she can’t see them, but she knows they’re there – hay bales almost twice her height, hay bales resting row on row in the fallow field where red-winged blackbirds build their nests. It’s a long, dusty trudge, but she’s going there today. Along the way, she reaches up to clasp her daddy’s hand, just to be certain he’s there.
She finds the hay bales even more imposing when she reaches them and stands in their towering shade. Around her, the thrum of insects; above her, limitless blue; within her, something that compels her to grasp thin twine, bury fingers in clusters of fragrant hay, hang on for dear life as small feet flail in search of a toe hold. It’s an upward battle she’s determined to win.
When at last she gains the summit, she’s rewarded with a breathtaking panorama. Verdant summer fields undulate before her and fade away into far forevers. This spot is the highest elevation in the county, and it feels like she’s standing on the shoulders of the world. The vista is indeed spectacular, but she hasn’t scrambled up here for the view. She has come for the jump.
It’s a family tradition, hay bale jumping. For years she has watched her siblings, five and eight years her senior, stretch much-longer legs to leap from bale to bale down the length of the field, a thrilling sight to behold. This year, she’s finally big enough to join them.
And this first jump will be the hardest.
Because hay bales need space to dry in sun and wind, the long rows do not touch. In between each row lies a two to three foot gap where tall grass grows. Hidden in the grass below, she knows, are sticky webs and worse, the spiders who spin them. Knowing they’re there is a powerful incentive not to fail.
If she hesitates, if she lingers too long, her fears will multiply – the gaps between the bales will widen, the shadows grow more sinister, the spiders’ ranks increase. She’s made it this far; she’s not going to back down now. She can’t look down, she mustn’t. Instead, she quiets a fluttering heart, summons her courage, holds her breath, and leaps. . .
Like a young gazelle, she arcs through the air, braids flying. She’s suspended between earth and heaven, momentarily weightless. . .
And joy waits to catch her with outstretched arms.