Sunday, July 6

It’s hot out. I’m not sure what month it is — July, at a guess, but with Kansas weather what it is, it might be anywhere from June into early September. School’s out, I know that much. High summer is what it seems like in memory, the grass shifting towards that pale, pale golden brown, hissing and trilling with insect life. The sky vast and clear. Me and Beau are going fishing.

We’re young, but not too young to drive, at least out in the country. It’s sometime in the 1990s, which means I’m a scrawny kid, probably not a hundred pounds, and Beau inevitably plays football. I read a lot — more than anyone I know, in fact — and probably I am beginning to get into computers in a really serious way. Beau is a year or so older, stronger and faster than I am, funny, locked in a constant struggle with his father, destined eventually to become a big farmer and make a lot of babies.

We take the red Chevy (model year late 1970-something), already well faded out to a pale orange, through the gates east of the house and head up into the pasture. The suspension is shot. There’s a round hole in the center of the roof of the cab, ineffectually patched with black electrical tape. A tiny calendar with an adhesive backing is stuck to the dash, emblazoned with the logo of some co-op, elevator, or supply store. The seat cover is made of the rough, scratchy stuff which used to be ubiquitous in farm trucks with bench seats. Beau drives and I get out to open and close the gates.

The gates: A few of them are made of single livestock panels, warped and distorted to some greater or lesser degree. At least one was actually manufactured as a gate. The rest are strands of barbed wire stretched across posts and hooked to the nearest fencepost with loops of wire. The older posts are hedge. A few here and there are post rock.

There’s etiquette. First, you know that leaving a gate open is one of the cardinal sins. If you screw this up, the cattle will go somewhere they shouldn’t, and no one will even have to tell you you’ve been an idiot. Second, somebody’s got to get out (or, if riding in back, jump down, swinging wide out over the sidepanels and landing hard in the grass) and open the gate, wait for the truck to roll through, close the gate (maybe struggling to pull the top loop of wire taught across both posts), and then jump back in the truck.

In the bed of the truck we’ve got a tacklebox from the back porch at the house, the rods, a couple of plastic buckets. Much of this gear is ancient and decaying: The kind of stuff that you remember from earlier in a childhood that usually has to be retrieved from cluttered back rooms and collapsing sheds, spaces full of spiders and yellowjacket nests, all smelling of fertilizer, mothballs, God alone knows what else.

In the end, we’ll catch some fish (even a couple of good-sized bass), but not very many. Mostly we’ll work our way around the banks of the ponds and mess around with tackle and talk and stand quietly for long periods in the buzzing heat. In some way I’m utterly unable to communicate, this memory will for decades afterwards contain one of the points that seems to define the geometry of my life.