The sun shone all weekend long, high and welcome and almost hot. It was tee shirt weather, or at least it was if you kept moving. So that’s what I did. We killed and processed a fat hog, split firewood, then gathered sap from the distant sugarbush, glad for the aid of gravity in carrying it down the old skid path a quarter-mile or more. Ten gallons of sap per haul, maybe a quart of finished syrup. Makes you look at pancakes in a whole new light. Eventually, we’ll have a rig nearer to the sugarbush. Eventually.
The mud is the worst anyone has seen in years; for a period at the end of last week, many of the back roads were essentially impassible. Having grown up in Vermont and navigated better than four decades of mud seasons, I consider myself something of an expert in the craft. Still, I managed to sink the Subaru to the floorboards, though at least I was within easy walking distance to home, and the situation was soon enough remedied via truck, chain, and the oversight of my offspring, who seem to have inherited my unflattering delight in the application of brute force remedies.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how fortunate I am to live where I do, that just down the road there is a farm where often I see horses pulling sawlogs from the surrounding forest, that twice each week my sons go to work on a small dairy farm, where they unroll a round bale for the milkers and feed flakes from squares to the heifers, that yesterday afternoon on a short drive I passed no fewer than four sugarhouses in full boil. A visitor last summer told us that the thing he liked most was the simple fact that everywhere he went, he found people outside, just doing things. “It’s not like that where I’m from,” he told me.
Don’t let me romanticize this place. There is hardship aplenty in these hills: Deep, seemingly intractable poverty, drug use and abuse, capricious weather, that damnable mud. Soon, the perennial scourge of spring, black flies. Furthermore, Vermont is not immune to external pressures, and economic transitions are being imposed. The opportunities to make a reasonable living working the land on a modest scale are becoming fewer and farther between. I know some who still do so, but the hours are mostly unreasonable and probably not sustainable into the latter seasons of their lives. Nor are they finding it easy to set aside the money they’ll need to survive when their bodies succumb.
Those who have a certain cleverness with technology are finding workarounds (I suppose this includes myself, though “cleverness” may be a bit of a reach), but I cannot help wondering if is it just to leverage the very tools that are helping displace the working landscape in our quest to preserve it. There is an excellent piece by Thomas Frank in the new Harper’s, titled Nor A Lender Be: Hilary Clinton, Liberal Virtue, and the Cult of the Microloan. I’m going a close with a pertinent excerpt, but to fully understand the context, and perhaps gain other significant insights, I highly encourage you to read the entire article.
… The so-called Twitter Revolution fit neatly into the beloved idea that new communications technologies – technologies invented or dominated by Americans, that is – militate by their very nature against dictatorships, a market-populist article of faith shared everywhere from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
Then there was the economic side of the single, unified Internet, and it, too, was all about liberation. For the “people at the bottom of the world’s economic ladder,” Hilary Clinton averred on that day in 2010, the Internet was a savior. She knew of farmers in Kenya who were using “mobile banking technology,” and of “women entrepreneurs” somewhere else in Africa who were getting “microcredit loans,” and of a doctor who used a search engine to diagnose a disease. I guess she hadn’t heard about what these same technologies were doing to the livelihoods of journalists or musicians or taxi drivers in her own country, but I quibble; as long as this technology was free, anyone could see that it pushed in one direction only, and that was up.