This week’s emotional reprieve came in the form of corn.

I had dropped in to visit my neighbor Tom. I was traveling not from my nearby farm but rather from town, where I had just attended an extended meeting that — while it was led by good people for good reasons — was nonetheless overshadowed by the fact that down here at sea level our sails are often shredded by rank and distant winds belched from the mouths of fools.

It was in this state of mind that I turned up Tom’s driveway, a dirt two-track running perpendicular to the county road, up a gentle rise, then curving left toward a house and outbuildings hidden behind a ridge. In another vehicle behind me was a farm-raised man who could pass for a lumberjack and in fact knows how to be a lumberjack but has a brain for computers which he turned into the sort of success that could have changed him but didn’t, although he drives a pretty nice truck. He had heard my neighbor Tom had a homemade cannon. I had agreed to arrange a meeting.

Much of the corn in these parts has suffered this year. So much rain, and much of it right after the sprout. Swathes of bare dirt where the runoff swept away the plants that hadn’t already drowned. Humpy stands of varying height. And even now in the high sandy spots, a few plants starting to twist a bit for want of moisture. But the corn on either side of Tom’s drive is standing tall and thriving.

I killed the radio and the air conditioning and rolled the window down, thinking I’d use the quarter-mile to air out the van and my head. I wasn’t prepared for the sweetness that rushed in. The air was like fine-spun syrup.

The corn, of course. Slipping past the van just beyond my fingertips, warmed to redolence by the afternoon sun. I breathed deeply. Warm-drawn honey. Maybe a touch of cotton candy. I found myself smiling.

We had a good visit with Tom. It’s been a while now since he lost Arlene, his wife of 60 years, and lately his eyes have been giving him trouble, but once the stories start flowing he comes alive, spry in stance and spirit. That one about the crooked shovel handle that got bent from the county worker leaning on it, you can see him reveling in it like he never told it a hundred times.

I’d say it took us about two hours to work up to the cannon, but then Tom charged and fired it. You will get a sense of the bore on this weapon if you understand Tom shoots tin stew cans filled with concrete. The boom and blast had the desired effect on the newcomer, who grinned as wide as one can without the help of a dentist. Before we parted we talked about the state of the corn, how when we were young on the farm we’d sneak out into it just for the silence. Nothing but the soft rasp of the leaves. How the tassel-tops overtook the landscape, how at its tallest when it surrounded the yard and buildings the farmstead felt somehow secret, safe, and hidden. I recalled chewing the stalks, the pithy sugar of them. Then Tom went to his house and we went to our vehicles. At the county road it’d be a right-angle turn back into reality, so I took my time leaving, driving slowly down the narrow keyway cut through the sweet, sweet green.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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