Rusty. An old, rusty, clunky piece of abandoned equipment, of indeterminate purpose and uncertain origin. Something you might find abandoned next to a ramshackle barn, choked with weeds and waist-high grass. It once, clearly, must have served some mighty purpose, some grand, whirring, chugging, kalloomping kathumping purpose full of a barely restrained yet resolute determination to forge ahead, to bend the power of combustion and kinetic energy towards some meaningful end.
Now it sits, rusting and forgotten, except perhaps by some eccentric photographer who vagabonds around the country on a shoestring budget with a care-worn but sturdy camera looking for just the right images of Old America for his next coffee table book.
That’s my writing. I feel like it once had some steam, some momentum, some sense of energetic purpose that propelled me forward, that spun the gears and flywheels and great kalloomphing belts and pistons and shuddering steel of my creative engine. Now…spiderwebs. Nettles and foxglove and morning glory binding the gears and clogging the pistons.
But, maybe, one day some young grandson of the farmer comes to visit, a boy of 9-ish, still young enough to be entranced by the possibilities of maybe, possessed of an imagination not yet worn down by a cynical world that demands everything must be as it seems. A young man, bored with the rambling discourse of adults, who escapes to a refuge in the fascinating graveyard of old farm equipment and a tumbledown barn full of the mystique of the ancient.
He wanders, bored at first, among the castoffs of another era, the mechanical legacies of a world modern technology has left behind. Wading through rough, country grass, burrs and prickles clinging to his city clothes, he climbs up into the long-abandoned cab and sits in the dark leather seat worn smooth and brittle from years of use and disuse. The levers and knobs and pedals and dials all portend tasks of such amazing complexity that surely only an elite few could every have truly mastered them! Suddenly the hazy view through the cracked and dirty windshield fades from its unimaginative vista of old clotheslines and a sagging back porch, instantly transformed with vivid clarity into a churning bustle of activity as the mighty engine roars to life and a great spinning clockwork of gears and gyroscopes and crackling, steam-vented energy begins to drive the great beast forward.
In his young mind’s eye grand swathes of wheat fall before the mighty threshers! Towering mountains of earth and ore crumble and are subdued by the heaving, belching monstrosity which clanks and grinds and lurches forward, unstoppable in a single-minded devotion driven by diesel and steam and the unquenchable imagination of a 9-year-old boy released from the shackles of a plodding, safe and predictable course of instruction by bored teachers and mindless administrators.
His sentence to a boring summer with his grandparents has been commuted, his pardon provided by the latent magic of rusting red steel and the warm smell of afternoon sun on fields of ripening grass, by a wind heavy with an incense of sun-baked earth and time-worn wood and hay and leather, by the cool escape promised by an abandoned barn’s seemingly fathomless interior.
The great machine is at first a mighty tank rolling over the trenches of a hated and fearsome enemy, then a great harvester gathering in food for a hungry nation, next a magnificent machine worthy of Captain Nemo boring cavernous holes deeper and deeper into the earth in search of elusive treasure and undiscovered civilizations hidden at the center of the world.
I’m trying to be that boy again, to reclaim that young mind, untrammeled by expectations and restrictions and preconceptions. To see beyond the rust, to give the machine new life, to believe in the power of make-believe to create a new reality. To reclaim a lost sense of grandeur and magnificence and simple, innocent optimism that so often gets smothered beneath the weeds and dust and thousand other things that can clutter up a life, sometimes.
I want to hear that engine roar to life once more, to see the pistons churn and the smokestack belch forth great gouts of steam, to feel the thrumming might of some pawing, stamping beast pulling at the traces, eager to plunge forward toward a task it was born and bred to perform.
I want to bring the machine back to life.