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ON THE BACK OF OL JAKE

When I was twelve, I worked hard for nothing more that the smile from my father’s face. Every summer, when school was out, I would haul hay, move irrigation pipe and comb the fields for stray wires left from bails that had been thrown to the ground seasons before. As the burning sun would melt down upon the horizon layering colors of gold, blue and coral, I would begin to scan the field for Ol Jake. He would usually be in the field closest to our house. Ol Jake was an enormous Hereford bull my father had bought from a nearby neighbor’s farm. As I walked near him, he would stop grazing long enough for me to climb upon his back. I was thin and long limbed and would drape myself on him like a blanket and nestle the side of my head on the base of his thick neck. I never knew if it was his heart I heard or the beating of my own in my ear but this question and the smell of hide and earth would lull me to the most peaceful place I have ever known. It would always be about an hour before I woke again. By this time, this gentle giant, would have slowly moved, grazing his way across the field and I would find my home much smaller in the distance… (so small I could pinch its view between my fingers).

Lying on his back, I would open my eyes to see the waves of grass and tighten my arms around him to a hug. I loved Ol Jake. Living in West Texas surrounded by one field attached to another, I had not seen the ocean but from his back. I imagined drifting out to sea and how majestic it all must be.

Since then I have thought of him so many times. –Times when all seemed to come together through the vastness of peace, possibilities and closeness of belonging. Later, I crossed the North Atlantic in a single engine airplane, flying low enough to watch the patterns of the waves change by the smooth motion of the wind. It was if God’s hand brushed gently across the surface from one side to the other, leaving bouncing diamonds of the reflection of water and sun with each stroke. Without the borders of visible land, I flew through the stillness of the blue sky above the depth of a swaying ocean and understood for a moment, eternal life. Life forever moving and ever changing without beginning or end. With all of this, I remembered Ol Jake and this feeling I reached for a thousand times and the dreams that came to life from the back of that old bull.

– Nikki Mitchell

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