This morning I switched my usual routine and ran after chores, the sun already hot and heavy in the sky. Sometimes when I run I listen to music, and other times I do not, but today I felt like disappearing into something as heavy as the sun, so I dialed up a medley of old school favorites – early Metallica and Iron Maiden, and live Motorhead. I think what I sometimes fail to convey about my lingering affection for this music is its inherent expression of raw enthusiasm, and the way I rarely fail to be swept up in that energy. And so I found myself charging down a graveled road, Metallica’s Motorbreath ringing in my ears (living and dying/laughing and crying/those who have seen it will never be the same), and I started punching the air with my fist in time to the beat as I ran and wailing the lyrics into the warming day, and at just that moment – I shit you not – an elderly man passed me from behind in his truck, and when I startled to his presence and glanced over, I saw that his expression was arranged at the juncture of fear and concern, and I tried to change my fist pumps into a wave. But by then he was gone.
And not a beer can to be found. I’ve been doing my job too well.
• • •
Michael came and we spent two long days finishing stairs. He brought treads from a cherry tree he’d felled some years back, for risers we used boards I’d sawn out of a white pine that’d grown fat and happy at our previous property, and along the stringer that’s exposed to the living room (also: kitchen. also: guitar studio. also: craft room. also: office), we affixed a slab of spalted maple procured from our friend Luke.
It pleases me to work with materials of known origins, and even to accommodate all the minor imperfections of lumber dressed on backyard mills, all those dings and wanes and waves. The great bicycle frame builder Richard Sachs has a saying “Imperfection is perfection,” and I guess I don’t know exactly what that means to him, but I know what it means to me, and to me it means that all the little defects built into these newly-trimmed stairs are small reminders of the people and process that gave rise to these stairs: Michael and his lively eyes, his irreproachable work ethic (11 hours straight yesterday, and nary a moment of it frittered), Luke and his ever present grin, me scraping away the years of accumulated dust and chicken shit covering those spalted boards in his barn, even how I nailed the landing of that big pine, just where I wanted it for easy access with the winch and minimal damage to the surrounding trees. And the resonant thump of it against the forest floor: There’s no other sound like it, the way a big tree comes to earth, maybe because it’s not so much a sound as a sensation. You hear it in your ears and you feel it in your feet, and the hearing and the feeling come together somewhere between these appendages, in some yet-to-be-discovered sensory organ deep in the body where also resides a small sadness at having taken the life of one so grand.
Last night I drove Michael home, and everywhere the first cutting of hay is down, drying in windrows stretched from field corner to field corner, like waves across water. Already I can feel the fatigue of this coming weekend, a certain foreboding, I guess, all the bales that must be loaded, thrown, stacked. One bale at a time, one windrow at a time, one wagon at a time, until the barn is full and the field is bare to pale green stubble. You can’t see it yet, but the second cutting of hay is growing already, straining for the sun and rain. In six weeks or so, you’re going to knock it all down again.