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©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ode to Clayton

I love this photo of my Unlce Clayton, taken back in his 20's - Everyone needs a real life hero, and my Uncle Clayton is mine. He used to say to me 'You're either born horse or not, and you and I are horse'. Horses and watching him be with horses was our bond.

His farm was like a magic fairy land for me, full of the right smells and sounds that I found dreamy and juicy. Uncle Clayton was a natural horseman before they wrote magazines about it, a man of few words, calm, with real dry North Dakota humor.

Once he carried on a joke with me for a day before he let me in on it - We were sitting at the kitchen table of his farm looking out at the pastures, and he said, with toothpick in mouth and seed hat cocked to the left, "Well, looks like that old haymaker is out again", I looked out and saw an old antique farm machine in field, and agreed, "Yea, I see it too." He carried on with me all day about that 'old haymaker', until finally, he let me in on it that the haymaker was the sun.

I think of him more than ever now that I'm on a farm of my own- he died in the mid '80's at 62 from cancer. I don't think we necessarily had a spiritual connection on a soul level, but we did have a human one, and many times here on the farm, especially with the horses, I wish he could just come and stand by me and watch - he would know what to do when I wasn't cuing Sky right, or he'd guide me on how to help that sheep in labor. I just assumed he knew everything, and of course he didn't, and learned what he did know from years of living and working his North Dakota land, the hard way. His 100 or so acres are still there, and Aunt Emily still lives there, near his daughter, my beautiful cousin Connie. It's just down the dusty road of the now defeunct town of Akra, where my mother was born along with Clayton and 5 other brothers.

Every time I hear Iris DeMent sing "Our Town" I well up with tears. To watch Clayton work a horse was like watching grace and dignity in two living beings, coming together in one dance. He was a natural and always was. I was able to tell him, about two years before he got sick, that he was my hero - it just came up naturally one day out in one of his barns, I can't remember how. It was sort of one of those awkward things you say to a relative, mumbled, like I was talking to a movie star, but it came and went - and I'm so glad I said it.