This morning I milked just as the sun was clearing the copse of tall spruce to the east, illuminating the turning leaves on the maples lining the shallow cleft of the mountain road. The colors are coming on fast now. It’s frosted hard twice.
I milk outdoors, kneeling on the ground, subject to the vagaries of weather. Halter, fencepost, cow, bucket. Sometimes I wish for more commodious infrastructure, but not as often as I’m glad to not have it, because if I had it I’d use it, probably even on mornings like this one, that slanting light, warm enough in shirt sleeves, the laying hens gathering around me as if this might finally be the morning I do something other than shoo them away. Forever hopeful, those hens. A guy could learn a thing or two.
I spent much of the weekend on the excavator, building a compost discharge filtering system at our friend Tom’s farm, just down the road. I love driving by the place, which is situated right where the road narrows to snake through a stand of old mother maples. Between the horse logging, and the composting operation, and their own big flock of hopeful layers pecking about, and Tom’s family, and haying, and passers by, there’s a lot going on there. Sometimes Tom’s younger daughter and her friend sell lemonade at the side of road, and I’ll stop and give them a dollar for a twenty-five cent cup because I’m a sucker for a lemonade stand run by a couple of eight-year-olds who wave their arms frantically and shout “Stop! Ben! Stop!” when I pass. Anyway. There’s almost always an excuse to crane my neck, and even better, it’s almost always something that reminds me there’s still plenty of good shit happening in this crazy old world.
I’m a bit loathe to admit it, but I sort of like working with machinery, and I really enjoyed passing some time on the excavator, which is a remarkable piece of equipment, capable of destruction and production in equal measure. And there was just enough physical labor involved – raking and shoveling and whatnot – to keep me sweating, and so I did not succumb to the strange, numbing fatigue of uninterrupted machine operation, which is the one aspect of working machinery that I don’t like. Well, that, and when things break. I don’t like that much, either.
I sometimes suffer from the sense that writing is not real work, I think in part because we inhabit of community of people who by-and-large make their living from the sweat off their back. I know it’s not really true – writing is hard, damn hard, or at least it can be, probably should be, at least at times – but I also know a bit about what it takes to support a family through farming, or logging, or building, or the myriad other ways rural folk make their way in the world, and I occasionally feel as if what I do to support my family doesn’t quite measure up. It’s my own insecurity talking, much as anything else, but still. That’s how I feel.
So it was real nice to make something tangible, and not just in service to myself and my family, but for someone else in our community. I left feeling pleased about the work I’d done, happy with the way the system had taken shape, graded out just so to shed rainwater and send the discharge in the proper direction, the smooth lines of the berm I’d formed with the excavator bucket.
I drove home real slow, the truck laboring to pull the digger, the leaves on the trees high on the side of the mountain well into their irreversible decline.