I worked the woods all of Saturday, racing the impending storm that will surely render my skid roads impassable. They’re near to that already; the snow has accumulated to impressive depths. In places it reaches to my thighs, and though the temperature never lifted out of the single digits, I sweated profusely as I wallowed between the tractor and the fated trees, leaning sharply forward against the resistance of the unspooling winch cable clenched in gloved hand, savoring the delicious awareness of my body at work, muscles soaked in pounding blood, pillows of lungs expanding with each breath right down into their pale wrinkled corners.
Today I am flying many states away for work, sneaking out just before the storm and all its inherent complications for both travel and home. I don’t travel much; whenever I do, I am disoriented by the juxtaposition between the smallness of my life at home and the vastness of everything beyond. It’s not merely the scale of the geography passing 30,000-feet beneath the belly of this strange flying beast, but also the incalculable reach of unknown possibility sprawled across that distant land. It’s unmooring to me, so I sit and watch the ocean of clouds that extends beyond the wings’ reach, subsisting on cut-rate airplane air breathed through the shallow half-breaths of a body at rest. It’s like drinking skim milk.
I think many of you will appreciate Erica’s latest over at Rumblestrip; it is my favorite of all her episodes thus far, perhaps because I can so keenly relate to the sense of frustration she expresses regarding her capacity to make a difference in her community. Any difference at all. What a crazy, fucked-up world we inhabit. How seemingly intractable its crises, how wrong-headed our responses to these crises, how unfounded our fears. How lacking in empathy and compassion we can be. How stingy. Don’t think I’m absolving myself, either.
I guess what I’d like to say to Erica (who I know reads this space, so I guess I am saying this to Erica) is that you can’t dismiss the little things, like the fellow in your podcast talking about resurrection by colon cleanse, or your feelings about small groups and holding space, or even the other fellow who says “faith” like “fate” and it takes you a minute to figure out what he’s saying. These are all little gifts to your community. You might not have intended them as such, you might just have been doing what you do because you can’t figure out how to not do it. But that’s got nothing to do with it, really.
And I’d like to tell Erica about the times I pass our friend Tom’s farm down the road, and I see John out working his horses. He doesn’t even notice my passing, doesn’t have the foggiest idea that I’m watching, nor that my day is made better for having been granted this fleeting window into his life. I’ve not mentioned it to him, though perhaps he’ll read this, or maybe someday I’ll get around to telling him how fine I feel in these moments, and how that feeling stays with me awhile. How it’s an affirmation that really good things can come of really small things, even when those small things were never intended to be anything more than what they are: A young man, hitching his horses to an implement, preparing for a morning of work. Or maybe just standing at their sides. I think he’s talking to them. I wish I could hear what he’s saying.
I guess what I’m saying is that I think sometimes people get too caught up in trying create change in some measurable, quantifiable way. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that; no, I’m certain there’s nothing wrong with that. But I also think it’s a mistake to lose sight of the small things you might never have even intended to make much of an impact on anything or anyone. Like farming with horses. Like making a podcast about the quirks and corners of Vermont. Like a million other things.
So now the plane has descended through the cloudbank, and I can see the spread of the land, the rows of houses, the rivers of roads, the sun glinting off the windshields of the cars drifting along them. No snow here, not even a trace, way too far south for that. Still sipping the sorrowful airplane air, still thinking how good it felt to work the woods.
And then, looking down at the fast-approaching ground, of all the possibilities I’ll never know.