I’m driving west on U.S. Highway 12 and the sun dances off the snow in the fields and it’s only the second or third time all winter I’ve driven out here with snow. Once I’m out of town, I can see across the flat prairie almost all the way to Marvin, and I’m looking for the bell tower in the distance. It’ll be a few miles before it’s visible, but I’m looking all the same. It rises well above the treeline but stands in a form distinct from the silos and grain elevators that emerge along the horizon. I anticipate the sight with some eagerness, ironic clanging symbol it has become of the quiet space of his presence that awaits me.
The brother greets me, opens my psalter to the correct office and lays the red ribbon across the left hand page diagonally. Always he stretches it across, always at the angle. While I can most often find the pages myself any more, it somehow makes me feel cared for when one of the monks locates the readings for me anyway.
I notice it’s quieter today, only the monks present. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and I imagine folks will turn out for the evening mass instead. I notice, too, the sun hits the stained glass higher, so the image is refracted at seat level. Spring is imminent. We’ve hardly had our winter. And I don’t remember noticing the colors making this slow descent in recent weeks.
I stay for lunch and we talk long about Mardi Gras and the King’s Cake. It’s a sweet, gooey mess on my plate and the brother tells me it’s a Fat Tuesday tradition. If your piece has the baby in it, you’ll have to host next year, he tells me. We laugh, and are all reassured that I don’t likely have the baby in the small portion I’d taken on my plate. Don’t worry about eating it, he says. You’ll notice it.
The brother has been here since 1958. We talk of the comings and goings of various priests and brothers, changes in the native missions, in the every day of the monastery. We speak of his moving stone sculptures in the hall outside the dining room, and I make a mental note to spend some time with them again on my way out.