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Long Way From Here

Opening day of rifle season. At 3:30, I hear our younger son rise and start a fire in the cookstove. I drift off, but 20 minutes later am roused again by the sound of something frying, spatula scraping pan. At 5:15, I rise, too. Lay a couple sticks of wood on the coals the boy left behind, make coffee. Sit a while. Do chores. The kid’s long gone, leaning against a tree somewhere. Or maybe still hiking to the tree he has in mind. He’s got his driver’s license, got his truck, got just enough work to keep the tank half full most of the time. Well. That happened fast.

I clean up fencing and store it for winter. Split some firewood. Drink a second cup of coffee, then a third. The other boy is off paddling some river in Maine. The wife is off scouting trees for basket material. The cats watch me split, one perched on the hood of the car, the other on a rock. I imagine they’re imaging the fires to come, how they’ll splay themselves across the floor in front of the stove in the most inconvenient spot possible, the one I never quite have the heart to chase them from.

Later, I ride my bike. It’s snowing a bit, but just a bit, and the cold air feels good, drills right into my face like a low voltage electric current. Up Flagg Pond Road, past a bony German Shepherd who tries to run alongside me, but his hind legs aren’t working right, and he stumbles. Then onto Gonyaw Road, where I spy a woman sitting on the ground near the roadside, and I think maybe I should ask if she needs help or something, but she smiles and waves. She’s just sitting, just watching the world go by, or whatever portion of the world goes by on Gonyaw Road, which can’t be too awful much. But enough, I guess.

The houses all have smoke coming out their chimneys. The sky is low, clouds layered one atop the other. Pressing down. Winter feels close now. I think of that old dog. I wonder if he’ll make it to spring, which suddenly seems like a very long way from here.

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Won’t Mind At All

The snow goes as quickly as it came, melting fast under an atypical warm spell, mid-60’s and sunny five days running. In the dark one balmy, star-studded evening I hike with my friend Tim up the rooted, rocky trail that scales Mount Hunger, to a sub-peak known as White Rock, where we stand and watch the sky and the twinkling lights of the villages below.

I try my best not to be transfixed by the unfolding chaos – the rampaging virus, the chaotic election – but wow. It is truly something to behold, and even in the swirling midst of it I have the sense of living through an era that will define eras to come. Though I guess that’s always true. I guess it’s just more obvious now.

On the radio I hear an interview with an author who wrote a book about living with an implantable cardiac defibrillator, and she reads a passage from when the defibrillator malfunctions, shocking her to the ground and she can smell burning and she realizes the burning smell is her. The insides of her. And she lives (I mean, obviously, here she is, talking about the book she wrote), and I think it’s remarkable what we can endure. 2000 volts gone haywire in our chest. The smell of our own burning innards. What a thing.

This morning the clouds moved it. Still warm, but you can feel the change that’s coming. There’s snow in the forecast, as there should be. I won’t mind when it arrives. I won’t mind at all.

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A Long Time Ago

There is snow on election day, five inches or more. Soft snow. Cold snow. Good snow. I ski at first light, straight down the gravel road, along the shoulder, where the plow has cast what it cleared from the center. That familiar cadence, the push-and-glide, the quick breath. Down past Dan’s, and onto Skunk Hollow. In nearly an hour, I see two cars. It’s still snowing when I return. The light is hazy. I feel buoyed.

Later, at the end of the day, I ride my bicycle a half mile to the town hall to count votes. I’ve never done this before and am surprised by how gratifying it feels to unfold the ballots, then divide them into neat stacks of 25 (four stacks, plus one stack of 14, comprising the 114 total cast in this little town; an unprecedented turnout), then record the individual votes, a tick mark for each in the appropriate column. It is so pleasingly analog; pencil and paper, the mask-muffled murmur of voices from the other two teams of counters, our breath made visible in the condensation beading on the old single pane windows that line the east wall.

It takes barely an hour, and then I’m back into the dark, riding home in the cold, right past the ski tracks I left in the morning, which already feels like such a long time ago.