Kent Meyers’ “The Makings” begins where Meyers grew up—on a “family farm,” that cultural memory, mostly extirpated in its purest form and a term now wrongly applied to corporate food-growing factories. These small farms comprised a chaotic mix of pastures, crops, outbuildings, and yards, woodlots and fencerows, ponds and marshland. They were homesteads where place names, as Meyers says, “sprang from the nature of the land itself.”
As farming changed, Meyers began to see “acres sucked dry of their mystery”: a squared off and tidied up world with streams dredged into ditches, wetlands drained and tiled, crop rows straightened so a boy could never get lost. And he recalls, “I wanted to journey, not merely to get there.”
Some farm children dreamed. Meyers made boomerangs and learned how to throw them. A boomerang was possibility, and throwing one successfully created a wondrous curve that was about the journey rather than the destination. It was, of course, an escape.
As a teenager, he read a book called A Sporting Chance, which set him to making primitive hunting weapons—not just boomerangs but spears, atlatls, bolas. Guns bored him: “They didn’t inscribe instantly vanishing lines on the air, didn’t shape French curves or trace time and happening.” Guns are for efficient killing, which is a “rote and repetitive thing.” The destination is a dead animal; the journey, well, there is no real journey.
His hunting would aspire to imitating and entering the natural world as the Inuit in sealskin kayaks play at being seal. He describes examining such a kayak in a museum in Alaska:
As I stood there, it was as if generations of murmured dialogue between human and seal took on physical shape, impressed into the kayak’s structure and curves. Even the flex and fat of the seal are there. . . . [T]he sealskin kayak’s frame is tied together so that it sways and gives, like seal, or water itself. Imitating waves, it absorbs them.
And of course, the tying together is an ingenuity formed by the available makings.
The catalyst is the “makings”—those things in the Inuit’s world, the leftovers and cast-asides on Meyer’s boyhood farm. He couldn’t have cared less what those leavings had been used for or how they got there; all that mattered was their “particular imagined future.”
With help from a picture of the biblical David, he made a sling. “A slung stone thins, melts, disappears. After a while you may hear it falling through the trees in the grove past the cattle yard—though sometimes you throw it so far there’s silence, and the stone, for all you know, has left the farm, or the earth, or the universe.” Indeed, Meyers saves some of his more ecstatic prose for the curve of the missile released, as in this description of a trebuchet experiment. “[We] tossed an eight-inch rock from here to way, way, way over there in one of the loveliest arcs I’ve ever seen on a thing tossed, the rock fleeing the trebuchet’s sling at the end of its long arm so liltingly it seemed melodic. I was hard-pressed to say whether the world gave that lilt and curve to us or we gave it to the world.”
“The Makings” moves in curves and arcs through various weaponry as well as topics as disparate as early nineteenth-century verse and S&H Green Stamps. But it always finds its way back to the idea of possibility—possibility and the simple assertion that anything made with care and used well can be linked to a deeper truth and a larger good.