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How Quick We Are to Forget

The weather has shifted, and early mornings carry the softness of the emerging season. It’s still cool when I awake, still dark-ish, and I make coffee on the wood stove, then milk, this morning in just a tee shirt, the new sun almost hot on my back. By 7:00 I can hear a chainsaw in the the woods down the road. Then a second. It doesn’t bother me so much. I don’t mind chainsaws. They’re loud, but I guess they make sense to me.

We don’t go out much (well: no one does), and I miss those inconsequential meetings of circumstance, the ones that used to happen when I ran to Willey’s for a box of screws, a tank of gas, and one of those 50-cent orange creamsicle bars the boys and I are so fond of. I’m not so good at the intentional socializing these times demand, though I’m working on it. And though in many ways I appreciate this new, slowed-down version of my life, I can’t quite comprehend it yet. It’s like the tempo’s all wrong, and I haven’t quite figured out how to play with the band.

Yesterday, I took my first swim in the pond, barely a week after the last snow. The water was cold, but not as cold as I’d expected. I walked barefoot back through the orchard, dripping onto the newly-lush grass, which is getting noticeably taller every day. I’ll let the cows onto it soon, and they’ll eat it down in no time. God. How quickly everything can change. And how quick we are to forget.

Really enjoying this one from Drive-By Truckers. Sounds like summer to me. 

 

 

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It’ll Do

In the morning there is a dusting of snow and more falling, albeit so lightly I have to look carefully to see it in the air. I halter Pip to the stem of a young birch and milk in the pasture, my right knee pressed into the soft ground, the small flakes melting into the heat of her flank. I can hear the mountain stream running strong with the melt that’s still flowing out of the high woods. I can hear the steer, Saul, rummaging through the pile of hay I’ve heaped before him. I can hear the twin streams of milk hitting the bottom of the pail, and the change in tone as the milk accumulates. My nose is cold and I press it into Pip’s side for warmth. It’s the simplest of pleasures, the tiniest of comforts. But for now, it’ll do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By Nightfall

Snow falls. Wind blows. Overnight the skies clear and in the morning it is cold and sunny, the trees twitching in the diminishing wind like a cat’s tail: back and forth, back and forth. I walk up the mountain road, intending to turn into the woods, but the sun full on my face feels so good that I keep walking, and before I know it I’m at the top of the mountain and heading down the other side. It occurs to me that I could just keep going, down, down, down into the valley below,  and over the river, and not far beyond that a whole other state. New Hampshire they call it. Live Free or Die. It has a nice ring to it.

But of course I turn back (I always turn back). The sun no longer in my face, the wind rushing around me, the road slick where traffic has packed the snow to something like ice. Through the bare trees, I can see westward to the white-capped peaks of the Green Mountains. They don’t look so big. They don’t look so far. I bet I could be there by nightfall.

I enjoyed this interview. You might, too.

 

 

 

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Another 30 Cents

In Monday morning’s pelting rain, I’m on an errand run for essentials, this time passing a man gathering cans along the roadside. He is 60, give or take a few circles around the sun, and dragging a large garbage bag in the dirty snow, though he’s leaving the trash where it lies: He’s here for the money, five whole pennies at time. The rain is beating on him. The cans are everywhere, scattered across the rotting snow like shells on a beach. Lots of Twisted Tea and Bud Light. Easy pickings. I pass what I assume is his van parked in a small pullout, a black Ford Econoline with a piece of hand-lettered plywood leaning against the rear bumper. Watch out for the Vermont Land Trust is what it says, and man-oh-man am I curious to know more. So curious, I almost stop. I even have my foot on the brake. But the rain. And, you know, the virus. So I carry on, counting the as yet ungathered cans as I drive, adding in my head, and wondering (because I can’t help myself) what he’ll spend it on. Gas for the van, I think (and yes: It really is 1.50 at Willey’s). Maybe some Hot Pockets for dinner. Perhaps a six pack. Definitely, a six pack. So I add another 30 cents to the tally.

Music: Springsteen doing Ghost of Tom Joad with Tom Morello. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wherever it Wants to Go

In the new snow I drive the truck off the mountain and over 20 miles of back roads to our friends’ wood shop to pick up a load of sawdust for the cows’ bedding. The snow is unwelcome but not unbeautiful, it swirls and darts in the air as I drive, and the colors of everything I can see through and beyond the falling snow seem brighter and full of promise. The road is less rutted than usual for this time of year, surely due to the reduction in traffic. The small town I drive through is eerily quiet, businesses shuttered, the coffee shop displaying hopeful signage advertising take out espresso and pastries. There are four cars parked along Main Street where usually there might be a couple dozen.

I haven’t driven much of late, and it’s nice to be out, to be moving at such speed. Climbing the hill on the far side of the quiet town, the snow still bearing down, I push the gas pedal to the floor, then slow again to turn onto another back road, where I soon pass two men skinning a pig. The pig is laying in a small utility trailer, and I might not know what it is but for the hind trotters hanging out the back. The snow under the trailer is rich with blood. The men are bent to the task.

I load the sawdust, tarp it down, and head back the way I came, driving more slowly now, in no hurry at all, feeling like I could drive forever and ever on these little-travelled roads, like maybe they’ll eventually take me somewhere – anywhere – that remains unaffected, all hustle and bustle and bare faces, handshakes and hugs and slaps on the back. I’ll stop for pizza and beer. For ice cream and avocados. I’ll fill the truck with two-dollar and seventy-cent gas and pay the damn $60 and not even complain.

I pass the men, still going at the dead pig, and soon after, roll back through town. Only three cars now. I watch the truck’s reflection in the darkened shop windows; the windows of the truck reflect the reflection of the truck in the shop windows, and I can’t see myself in the driver’s seat. It’s like the truck is driving itself. It’s like I could just take my hands off wheel and let the truck take me wherever it wants to go.

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Waiting to Fall Apart

The days tick by. Snow melts, then it snows again. The sun comes and goes. The list of what’s important shrinks, a vanishing horizon of the shit we thought mattered. There is birdsong in the mornings. I don’t know what kind. We walk and walk some more. Rinse and repeat. High up on Silver Road I run into Dan on his four wheeler, and we talk across the width of the dirt road, twice the recommended six feet. No one’s buying logs, he says. Gas is a buck-fifty at Willey’s, he says. He speeds off. I amble on.

Back home, I split wood for fires that won’t burn for seven months or more. The boys are down in the orchard shooting clays, their guns booming over and over again. I hear their laughter between shots. I imagine how some years from now, they’ll look back on this time. And how will they regard it? How will any of us? It’s one of those questions with no answer, so I let it slide and set another round of wood on the block. It’s ash, and it splits so easy it’s almost as if it were waiting to fall apart.

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Keep Carrying On

In the evening, I walk up the mountain road to check on the pumpkin. It’s warm – maybe 45 degrees – and the sun is still just high enough to feel warm on my face. The road is muddy and rutted, soft beneath my boots. The mountain stream runs fast with snowmelt. I pass the town hall, then the church, then Bob’s hayfield, where at least a dozen deer graze at nubs of overwintered grass. I don’t bother stopping to watch them; they’re out there every day now. I saw them yesterday; I’ll see them again tomorrow.

It takes me nearly an hour to climb the hill. Three cars pass. Well: One car and two trucks. It’s no one I know, but I wave anyway. On the shoulder of the road, I spot a five dollar bill, and stoop to pick it up, then pause: the virus. But upon closer inspection, I can see that the bill has been there for a very long time, only just revealed by the receding snowbank. So I pocket it and carry on, already forming a story of how it came to land there, and feeling unaccountably lucky. I mean, it’s only five bucks. But still.

At the crest of the hill, I find the pumpkin. It’s moved a bit as the snow has melted out from underneath it, and something has been eating at it. It’s no longer orange. More of a deep beige. Not much to look at, really.

Back down the hill, sun low and barely visible through the trees, dark coming on fast. Much colder. I stick my ungloved hands in my pockets for warmth, wishing I hadn’t come quite so far, wishing I’d been smarter about when to turn back. But I wasn’t, and now there’s really nothing to do but keep carrying on.

 

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In the Midst of it All

At the very height of the mountain road, atop a fast diminishing snowbank, someone has deposited a single pumpkin. It is small but very orange, and it delights me no end – the simple fact of it, sure, but even more so the imagining of how it came to rest here. Was it lobbed from the open window of a passing car? And if so, what kind of car (surely a Subaru, though I’m not exactly going out on a limb, here)? Or was it placed with careful consideration? Is its location at the top of the mountain intentional, a totem of sorts, or merely a matter of coincidence? So many questions, and none with answers beyond what I might imagine, which of course only makes them even more compelling.

(Crazily, this is not the first time I’ve found pumpkins situated along the side of a back road near to here; I’ve even written about it here previously. And so now I cannot help but wonder if perhaps there is a pumpkin bandit on the loose in northern Vermont, a notion that only increases my delight even further.)

Later on the same day, on another back road, I pass a man pushing a wheelchair loaded with firewood. A chainsaw perched atop the wood. I’ve seen the man walking the road before; he’s older than me, he must be pushing 60, and he always waves, and he’s often transporting firewood, though usually it’s just a single log, balanced on a shoulder. This is the first time I’ve seen the wheelchair trick. It’s a good one.

The virus spreads. The stock market plunges. The cows nose at the newly bare ground beneath the big spruce. The cats mewl at the door. The pumpkin has been there over a week now. It’s not been particularly cold, but cold enough that I suspect the man has burned his wheelchair load of wood and has since gone back for more. Some things are changing, some things are not, but in the midst of it all, the fire must still be fed.

 

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For Another Day

I need a new chain for the big saw, so I drive three miles up and over the mountain to the chainsaw repair and parts business our neighbor Mike recently bought from our other neighbor Scott. When Scott owned it, I could be there in under two minutes; now, it’s about five, or maybe a little more this time of year, when the mountain road – steep, twisty, heavily snowed – demands a very particular medley of restraint and aggression, particularly in our little two-wheel drive car, which is what I’m driving in part because the truck is in Minnesota with my wife, and in part because one of the small pleasures in my small life is clearing the snow-slick apex of the mountain road in a vehicle that’s ill suited to the task. I keep thinking I’ll grow out of it, but it keeps not happening.

At the shop I buy two chains for $15 each and a half-gallon of Mike’s excellent B grade maple syrup for $20. John and Mike and I stand and chat for a while, then Katie and Christian show up, and we all stand and chat for a while longer. Sugaring. Chainsaws. Concrete contractors. Outside, the sun is emerging. The temperature, already above freezing, is rising further. It’s going to be a very nice day, and I need to go, but really all I want to do is stay a while longer, to keep telling stories, keep listening to stories. I feel suddenly hungry for stories, starving for them, even the little ones. Maybe especially the little ones. The world seems so full of big stories. Too big for me to understand.

I really do need to go. I set my jug of syrup and my two new chains on the passenger seat of the car and head back down the mountain road. The car slips and slides through the corners. I’m thinking about getting home, stoking the fire, maybe pancakes. Town meeting. I like town meeting.

But that’s a story for another day.

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Blowing in the Storm

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Skiing with my friend Andy, back when it was sunny and cold 

For three days, it is spring. Forty-five degrees, the sun high and bright, the backroads thawing and softening. I drive home through the first mud of the new year, the familiar thrill of finding the perfect line amongst the ruts. Or at least the line that doesn’t get me stuck. Rivulets of water run across the road, glistening in the sun. Following an old flatbed truck loaded with hardwood logs. The driver doesn’t seem worried about the mud, he just plows through, the truck swaying side-to-side, making ruts of its own.

I’m with my son. We’ve got the windows down and we’re singing along to Slaid Cleaves doing Black T-Shirt, not much caring if anyone hears us which is easy because we know no one can. Driving and singing, driving and singing. We’re always driving and singing. We pass the same farmhouse I wrote of a couple weeks back, the one with the laundry hung to dry. There’s more laundry; this time, it’s all sheets. There’s a blue one and a couple green ones and one that’s faded red. They look worn, though I can’t really tell; it could just be the house itself, which doesn’t look like the sort of place that’s getting many deliveries of new bedding, if you know what I mean.

They say to write what you know, and I guess that’s why I keep writing the same damn things over and over again: Driving with my boy. Skiing. Cold and cows. Laundry on a line strung across the porch of an old farmhouse. I guess maybe any of us might find our lives to sometimes feel so narrow, though of course we’re fools to believe it, and I guess maybe it’s worth being reminded of that once in awhile, too.

The skies have closed back up. It’s spitting rain now. There’s weather coming. Wind and snow. I’ll fill the tractor with diesel for plowing, top off the cows’ water in case we lose power. Tomorrow I’ll probably pass that farmhouse again. Already, I can imagine laundry blowing in the storm.