November 19, 2016 § 19 Comments
Feeding Out. Photo by Dylan Griffin. You can find more of his work – along with some real fine writing – at State 14
Ten o’clock and tee shirt weather. My family is away for the day, leaving me to my nefarious devices. Siding. Saw logs. The last swim in the pond (this time, surely, I mean it). There is snow in the forecast; not surprising, but still more than I feel ready for. But ready or not, here it comes.
Miscellany before I hit the woods: Someone recommended the documentary Peter and the Farm. We watched it, and I can confirm that it’s quite good. Depressing in ways, inspiring in others. Beautiful all around.
Susan M, thank you so much for your letter. It meant a lot. I wanted to reply in kind, but managed to misplace your return address, so I guess this’ll have to do.
This is one of the scariest, most sorrowful things I’ve ever heard. In all honesty, it brought me real close to tears, and we all know what a rough n’ tumble guy I am.
Music: Knopfler doing Telegraph Road. I’ve always loved this tune.
November 16, 2016 § 26 Comments
Penny makes the butter. Photo by Dylan Griffin
I ran before first light this morning, in the gentlest of rain, the surface of the road just visible for just far enough to trust. Though of course I know the road well, know exactly where it dead ends, turns to a farm road, and then a woods road, and then a rutted four-wheeler track. So I guess it doesn’t really dead end, after all. It just shifts purpose.
It had been a while since I’d run, at least a week, maybe more, and I remembered how the last time the air had been full of a gathering snow. Rain. Snow. Rain again. November. The leaves are off the trees. All of them. Funny how I used to think this was an ugly time of year.
I was born in November, a whole bunch of years ago. There was a pretty big snowstorm, or at least that’s what my parents tell me. But you know how parents are about their children’s birthdays. There’s always some drama or another. Me, I like to tell people how the coyotes came hungry to our door in the nights of my sons’ births, and I tossed the placentas into their writhing midst.
Today I work at the farm down the road, siding a barn with my friend John. He’s 24, wears suspenders and smokes hand-rolled cigarettes, logs with horses. Bushy beard. We get on real good, talk about all sorts of things as we work. Animals, music, friends, chainsaws, women, children. But not necessarily in that order.
No, we definitely talk about women and chainsaws first.
November 10, 2016 § 29 Comments
Huck on the stairs
On election day I towed our tractor a dozen miles to the north, to help move material for a foundation job my friend Michael was working on. I drove slowly, as I always do when I’m towing, and as I mostly do even when I’m not towing, and on a little-traveled gravel road I passed a herd of Black Angus walking single file along a well-worn path across a stubbled field. Sun already high and hot on their dark flanks.
Of the election, I have little to say. Like most people, I crave a degree of security and certainty in my life, even as I recognize the folly in it, even as I understand that the only certainty is the tumult of uncertainty. And how little I know, really, about the workings of the world, of the humans who inhabit it, and of the vastness of all that is non-human. How little I know, even, about the workings of my own heart and mind, terrain I find endlessly fascinating, to be sure, but which never ceases to surprise me at twists and turns I could never have anticipated.
I guess that’s why my writing tends to be so personal and, in some ways, I suppose, so small. It’s just what I know. I know the sun on the shit-flecked flanks of those Angus, what it looks and feels like. I know the pleasure of working with my friend. I know how to love an animal and how to reconcile that love with the coppery smell of its blood on my hands. I know the exact spot on the wood cook stove that gets hottest every time, so that my coffee might be ready the sooner. I know that right now my sons are deep in the woods on a week-long solo camping trip, trapping for their food and cooking over a fire, and that when I think of this, I feel a certain loneliness. They need less and less from me every day.
But of the election result – the reasons for it, the motivations behind it, the meaning of it – I know very little, and so I will say very little, except to share the words of Charles Eisenstein, who writes this (you can read the whole thing here):
Dehumanization is a predecessor of war. When you see your opponents as subhuman in their morals, conscience, or intelligence, then you will have to defeat them by force. Moral or rational persuasion won’t do it…
I will not venture an opinion on whether the candidates themselves are hideous. We live in a system that encourages and rewards corrupt and even psychopathic behavior. What I do know, though, is that the vast majority of ordinary people are not the cartoonish caricatures of human beings that political rhetoric has made them out to be. They have an experience of life, a history, a convergence of circumstances that has brought them to their opinions. Just like you…
Dehumanizing narratives are never the truth. The truth can only be sourced from the sincere question, “What is it like to be you?” That is called compassion, and it invites skills of listening, dialog, and communicating without violence or judgment. Now there may be times when such skills fail and there is no choice but to fight. Failure is guaranteed, though, when the surrounding narrative casts the opponent as evil, twisted, disgusting, or deplorable. In that case, war is the likely result.
The work I did on election day went smoothly; Michael and I were finished by four, and I loaded up the tractor for the drive home, and when I passed the farm where I’d seen the Angus that morning, I saw them again in almost exactly the same spot, but now walking the other way. Headed for the barn. Hay, grain, water.
And I imagined them in the field yet again, bedded down for the night, maybe in part because I know what bedded-down cows look like, and it’s a sight that brings me comfort. There’s something in the solidity of it, the communion of flesh and earth, the unspoken acceptance that tomorrow will come. Bringing what it may.
November 5, 2016 § 20 Comments
Driving north of here, through a corridor of orange-hued tamarack, on the outskirts of a small and nearly empty little town, the boys and I come across a dead deer. A little button buck, two of its legs folded at unlikely angles from impact. Still fresh, so we heft it into the back of the truck and carry on. When we return home, our younger son begins to butcher the deer while I go back to work at the farm down the road, where I’ve been trenching for water and power lines.
I like this work, the utilitarian simplicity of it, the pleasure of the fresh dug trench and the towering piles of the displaced soil at its side. The farm owner’s younger daughter arrives home from school, and I invite her onto the excavator with me, folding my creased palms over her small hands atop the controls. Offering her the illusion of control.
I know this girl and like her, she’s a pistol, a real live wire, my kind of kid, and I wonder if she’ll notice that it’s really me directing the machine, and if so, if she’ll complain. But no. She seems content to let me do the driving, to let her hands stay still and soft under mine, accepting our shared, unspoken illusion.
Or maybe not. Maybe, in that way kids so often understand things they don’t know they understand, she knows the truth most adults spend their lives attempting to deny: That control is always an illusion. Maybe it is she who’s accommodating my need to believe I’m in control, rather than the other way ’round. I think briefly of the deer, of the moment of impact, the leg bones splintering. They must have made a sound.
The digging is almost finished. The girl and I climb off the machine. She thanks me and jumps across the trench, sticks her landing, scampers away. I need to head home. There are still chores to be done, and it gets dark so early now.