Whip Poor Will

I sat back on my heels to rest for a moment while weeding my lawn-turned-garden. Gazing at the stand of oats behind our farmhouse, I noticed shimmers of heat rising from the field. Each plant was busy forming beautiful, small grains. A breeze swept past, cooling my skin. The invisible force gently teased and tussled the crop, making the blue-green plants dip and sway like waves in an ocean.

Eight-year-old Niki and four-year-old Tammie sat nearby on the grass in the cool shade of our farmhouse. Thankful they were happily playing together, I went back to weeding the ground cherries, tomatoes and cabbage. As I worked, I thought about my childhood growing up on a farm.

Having a campfire in the woods was one of the summer highlights for me as a child. Once my neighborhood cousins and I reached a certain age, we were allowed to occasionally go to the woods in the evening by ourselves to have a campfire picnic. We brought foil-wrapped potatoes to bake in the fire, butter, salt and pepper. Other goodies, if there were some in our kitchens, included hot dogs and marshmallows.

When the cows were milked and let out of the barn, they came to the woods. The nosey beasts stood in a semi-circle around the gully where we had a campfire ring next to a boulder. Snorting, mooing, making waterfall and plop-plop sounds, they watched us as the sky grew dark and their eyes glowed iridescent blue-silver in the firelight.

Although we knew walking home in the dark cow lane would be fraught with the perils of stepping into fresh manure, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Bright stars twinkled overhead. The scent of growing corn filled the air. In the distance, the sound of a train rumbling through Stratford receded into the distance.

I couldn’t exactly reproduce my childhood experience for Niki and Tammie, but I wanted to provide something similar. The farm we were living on now didn’t have a woodlot. I sat back and gazed at the oats. Next to the field on the lawn, stood two raggedy-looking pine trees we’d use for our woodlot. It wouldn’t be too hard to make a ring of rocks and find some firewood to burn. Taking mental stock of my kitchen supplies, I nodded. We would have a campfire tonight.

Cleaning up after the weeding was done, I picked up the phone and invited Diane to join us for a campfire party. Certain friends are more fully in your life at the times you most need their love and support. The Lord had sent Diane to me during Arnie’s and my farm years. Always ready and available, she heartily agreed.

As the sun began to drop low in the sky behind the oat field, Niki and Tammie helped me make a ring of stones near the old pine trees. Pulling our Red Flyer wagon, we went in search of fallen branches and twigs to burn. The search led us to stop and visit neighbors making the experience even more memorable and enjoyable. Streaks of deep orange and purple filled the western horizon as I set the wood on fire.

Food always tastes better when toasted over an open fire. Conversation made sitting in the dark next to glowing coal with tongues of flame is more fascinating. A dark shadow approached our group. My husband Arnie materialized in the gentle light of the fire. After a short visit with us, he returned to the house. Sitting around a fire wasn’t his thing.

In a distant woodlot a whip-poor-will began to sing. The four of us were transfixed by the beauty and mystery of a small, drab bird with a beautiful voice singing in the dark. This was the first time my children had ever heard the repetitive bird. Diane asked, “Doesn’t it ever need to stop to draw a breath?”

While that was the only campfire we ever had at that farm, I remember it with the same fondness as the campfires of my childhood. Not only did that curious bird provide us with priceless entertainment, but also dewy grass was the only thing we stepped on during our late-night trip back to the house.





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