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The Smell of the Late Summer Air

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Every morning around 8 or 8:30 you drive past the old farmhouse that sits tight to the road. Sagging porch along the front, cushioned chair, an old chest freezer with two old chainsaws sitting atop it. Old, old, old. Across the road, to your left, a small herd of cows, Jerseys mostly, heads bent to the ground in search of food. It is late in the grazing season, the grass shorn low by all those big cow teeth. On a few of the recent unseasonably warm mornings, you’ve spotted the wife sitting in the cushioned chair, reading. What she’s reading, you’d like to know and you think of stopping to ask, but of course do not.

A few miles down the road, you pass another farm. Again, not prosperous. At this one, the front door is always open. Not usually, not often, not frequently, but always, and you wonder at what point the change of season will compel the closure of the door. There is no screen and you think of the flies. Must be something to behold. Sometimes, you can see a man sitting in a chair just inside the opening. Watching the world go by, you guess. He doesn’t return your wave.

You get an email from a friend, says all the prime farms in his area are being bought up by “the rich kids.” They’re buying into the good life and instagram’ing the shit out of it is how he puts it (he’s always had a way with words. He’s always exaggerated, too). He sends you a link to an account, and you hover over it for just a second, but you don’t take the bait. What’s the point? If you had the money, you would do nothing different. With what money you do have, you’re doing nothing different. Your friend is as jealous as he is disparaging. Maybe he is disparaging because he is jealous.

Besides, you’ve got the image of those chainsaws on that chest freezer. It’s almost too much common sense to reckon with. It’s like an antidote to everything absurd. You’ve got the image of that man in the unscreened opening of his front door, resting after morning chores. You’ve got the narrow ribbon of gravel road before you, the ping of small rocks against the underside of your truck. The smell of the late summer air.

43 thoughts on “The Smell of the Late Summer Air”

  1. I can’t tell if that’s cider in the photo or if someone needs to drink more water. Thanks for the post!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Your post begs the question of course, what is it to be “rich.” Clearly the “rich kids” are not, but as clearly, they are seeking it out. Thanks for sharing; glad you have not disappeared completely from this space.

  3. Now that is an incredible writing that brings so many memories and images swirling in your head. . . The freezer and the chainsaws – food and heat for the winter.
    The chainsaw and the man image reminded me of a local old man we saw this past weekend, he was playing native American flutes. We admired his technique and passion for a while. He then says, I am not as good as I used to me, sweating a bit. He pulls out his thumb, and pulls off the hand made prosthesis – couple strips of metal and duct tape. What happened, ask the kids staring at the missing thumb. Do not recommend trimming your fingernails with the saw, he says, and continues on playing with his duct-tape finger, the most beautiful wind music. An antidote to the ‘rich kids’ and instagram and all.

  4. “If you had the money, you would do nothing different.” How seeming innocent and subtlly the mind churns. “If I had this”,”if they had that” or “if the world was a more beautiful place I can imagine” …

  5. Since we pressed some apple cider this past weekend, I’ve been jonesing for some Vermont apple cider donuts from a touristy road side farmstand. Preferably located on a road with houses resembling those seen in Country Living magazine. Ideally there would be some chickens pecking contentedly on the lawn and a milk cow or pig standing behind a white wooden fence so that I can photograph my daughter standing next to it. Thanks for the reality check. The good life is wherever we make it.

    1. It is whatever you want it to be and whatever your eye sees, just like the post says. 🙂
      I just had that class yesterday – sitting with 4 and 7 yr olds, they are drinking apple cider eating apple cider donuts. They smack their lips with the cider, one says: This is beer! The other says: this is coke! The first one says: this is alcohol and we are in the bar! (they never saw a bar or tried beer or coke, but hey – now they had).
      I am thinking of that fire cider. .

      1. About the right color for an English style brown. Sitting on a large farmhouse porch watching the leaves fall.

  6. If we had the money, probably every one of your readers would be buying up farms, too. And maybe Instagraming like crazy for the sheer joy of saying “Look! I finally am where I’ve always wanted to be!”

    Seems to me it can only be a good thing if more people are wanting to farm, at any scale, though it’s too bad that’s driving the price of land so high.

  7. Thank God you haven’t completely disappeared from sharing your responses to life’s daily mini dramas. Your gift for quiet and thoughtful processing of the myriad simple events of an “ordinary” day inspires me to SEE when I am looking, to HEAR when I am listening, to SMELL when I am breathing, and to FEEL as I try to follow your example and actually process what it is that has just passed before me.

  8. Some of my favorite posts of yours have been like this, when you talk about things you see while traveling from one place to another. We, too, have an older gentleman who is always in the same place when we drive past his house only he is standing on his porch looking out in the distance. Seeing what? Who knows. But, I love to see him standing there. He is always neatly dressed (as many of his generation seem to be by default) with shirt pressed and tucked in to his work pants, ball cap on top of trimmed hair. Nothing out of place though you can tell those clothes are decades old and have been mended carefully many times. His chickens run carelessly out into the road but I have yet, in 10 years, seen evidence of one becoming a casualty of this behavior.
    A little further down this same road we often happen past someone we call “The Walkin’ Man” because he is doing just that – walking down the highway. No matter the season, he is there. Just a minor change in attire but he’s there. He used to have really long hair in a ponytail down his back and then, one day, it was short. We chewed on this for days. Why did he cut it? Did he get a job which required a more “professional” look? And just why is he always walking down the highway anyway? Just where exactly is he going? As my husband says, there’s got to be a story there. One part of me would love to know but another part likes the mystery. We are all stories, aren’t we? Thank you for the post. Even more of a treat to me these days.

      1. Yeah, in a fictional world (or maybe our world 60 or so years ago), I imagine this would yield an interesting story. Sadly, in this day and age and with my two children always with me, I’m much more cautious than curious.

    1. We have a walking man, too. Back and forth every morning and evening, always laden with heavy bags. We learned recently that he is dealing with MS and walks all day, every day, to and from distant parts of our small city, in order to escape pain and degeneration from the disease. A triumph of spirit, to be sure, and a novel way to find relative wellness with the odds stacked for a different outcome. I could never have contrived that story for him. In some ways I am grateful to know, yet at the same time I sort of miss all the possibilities that lie within the mystery.

      1. Bless his heart! In this case, I’d say you’re probably better off knowing. Humbling and inspiring for sure.

    2. I am not sure how Ben’s smell of summer air became a conversation of the walking man, but your story brought back some memories of when I was a kid, and we would drive to grandma’s farm, and always, on the way there were villagers walking on the sides of the roads and fields (most never owned or knew how to drive a car) and we would stop and pick them up in a little tiny Soviet car, but there were no carseats, so you could squeeze some 3-4 people in the back. 🙂

    1. I think the whole point of this blog is that land holds intrinsic value that is not readily quantifiable by the standards of our modern economy. Vermont is a place of poor, thin soils, hilly terrain, short growing seasons, and brutal winters. Land is expensive. And yet we choose to live here. Clearly, the land holds intrinsic value for us.

      1. Are you kidding? We ARE the land. We eat the land everyday. The land is in us. We and the land are the same. No, really, I’m not being all earthy crunchy and new age-y. Seriously and once we all as a human race get this maybe we’ll treat our sustenance a whole lot better. Excluding the folks on this blog. They already know this, right?

        But back to the post. I once read somewhere something I agree with. This is: good writing allows the reader to “see” what the writer is writing about. Not too much description or detail and not too little. Just enough so the imagination and mind’s eye comes in to play. Balancing on that fine edge and your writing does that, Ben. I see the thin ribbon of road and the man sitting at the door with the screen door open. Mucho bueno.

      2. I understand that. Despite having been raised in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont, I just don’t feel much love for anything in northern New England, be it quantifiable or nebulous.

    2. My recollection is that northern New England is a depressing place to live. It is an expensive place to live with little economic opportunity and I find the rural poverty oppressive, but I’m a material guy and poverty is definitely NOT my cup of tea. While it is aesthetically pleasing for about one month each year, during the autumn foliage season, the six months between 11/1 and 4/30 are depressingly drab.

      I would never move back and can’t think of a good reason to recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have a fat cheque book, a bottomless trust fund, and who enjoys living at that depressing environment.

      But, as Yamaha used to say, “different strokes for different folks”, and if northern New England is your cup of tea, I say “go for it”.

      1. Didn’t you know that suicide is a sin against GOD?

        It probably isn’t any worse than wherever it was that you were raised in eastern Europe.

  9. This post made me smile. I had the privilege of visiting Vermont and New England for the first time this month, and somehow it felt like home. Maybe we hit the weather right. And maybe we hit the right time of year. Maybe I ate too many donuts (wait, I definitely did). But aside from the natural beauty I saw a whole lot of happy, healthy people, which can’t be said for many parts of this country. And I saw kids playing outside! With sticks in their hair and mud on their jeans! Now that’s the kind of future I want to live in. Although, the coldest it gets around these Western Oregon parts is the teens (on a rare cold snap) so those New England winters could be a real shocker…
    I hope that old curmudgeon will look more fondly on us poor young land-seekers. We won’t be instagramming anything, because we can’t afford smartphones and would rather use the money to save up for that ramshackle hill farm up the way.

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