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Someday I Want Horns Like That

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Peas

The snow is gone from the woods now. Yesterday I walked to the height of our land in the early light, as is my habit silently noting which maples should be culled for firewood. We have plenty split for the winter to come, much of it even stacked, and still more on the ground for the winter to follow, but if I’ve learned one thing in my life thus far, it’s that there’s no such thing as too much dry firewood. Plus, we bought an old sugaring rig, and there’s talk of situating it high up in the hardwoods, so I better be thinking about sugaring wood, and soon. I guess a couple cords will do. We’re only going to put out a hundred taps or so. Well, maybe a hundred and fifty.

The long days feel good. You can get properly fatigued on days like these, fall into bed at 8:45 with that bone deep tiredness, tell yourself you’re going to read until 9:00 (definitely, at least, for sure), and make it maybe five minutes. Maybe. I’ve been working a bit down at our friend Tom’s farm, doing some little jobs with the digger, mostly in sight of John’s team of Devon oxen. They watch me with a subtle wariness and I watch them back. Beautiful animals, long horns that curve twice before pointing skyward. Someday I want horns like that.

The pigs got out – they’re huge, eight months old and less than a week from the freezer, and in the herding process one charged between my legs and I ended up splayed on its back facedown, nose to tail, the damnable pig too fat and tall for me to reach the ground to push myself off, so it carried me at least a couple dozen feet while my family fell about itself with laughter. Eventually I squirmed off and we got the pigs situated, and then I laughed about it, too.

•     •     •

Also, I want to mention the upcoming woodscraft summer camp for teens that our friend Luke Boushee is running here. This year, the camp will be a full week of overnights, and as usual, Luke has a ton of amazing stuff up his sleeve. You can learn more here, and even more than that by contacting us at lazymilllivingarts@gmail.com. Thank you.

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White Trash Symphony

John and Jake. This was a couple of weeks ago. The snow is finally gone, now. 

A windy night, and I was awakened by the instantly recognizable sound of an empty five-gallon bucket tumbling across the barnyard, the distinctive rattle of the metal handle slapping against the hard plastic. It’s a white trash symphony, I thought, and then was pleased enough at my cleverness that I lay awake imaging how much fun it’d be to start a band named White Trash Symphony. I have now offered a particularly intimate glimpse into the inner workings of my semi-conscious mind. It would be cruel of you to take advantage.

We have a lot of five-gallon plastic buckets. They blight the landscape, are forever upended, always rolling down hillsides to lay their smooth sides against the rough bark of an apple tree. But they’re as useful as they are ugly: We use them to carry feed to the pigs, as impromptu ladders, to haul sap. The boys draw targets on the leakers, then aerate them further with .22 rounds. It is hard to imagine life without these buckets, they’re one of those unheralded inventions, like strike-on-box matches or toilet paper, that we fail to appreciate until they’re gone, and then are thrown into a minor panic. Though the truth is we never allow our supply of buckets to run dry: I bet even a cursory search would unearth a dozen-and-a-half water-tight buckets on this property.

In the night, drifting softly between states of consciousness, I listened as the bucket tumbled and rattled with each gust. Soon enough, I heard only the wind, and I knew that come morning, I’d find the bucket up against a tree, or maybe the paddock fence. I’d retrieve it, return it to its proper resting place, pleased to have this small bit of order restored. Knowing how temporary it would be.

 

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Some Unseen Force

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Prin and her willow-basket-to-be

The heat came on fast, the snow receding by the hour, every ditch and depression now filled with flowing melt. The sun feels well-earned; it wasn’t a hard winter overall, but what hardness it contained was back-loaded, all the cold and snow we didn’t have in January saved up for March. In an interest-bearing account, at that.

Today I drove to Waterville, Maine to deliver a talk at Colby College and then back again, left arm propped in the window opening, slowly reddening under the high sun. Route 2 most of the way, an unfolding tour of small towns well past their prime, Dunkin’ Donuts and log yards, rusted trucks and trailer homes, a proliferation of under-dressed and over-tattooed women standing on debris-strewn front lawns, cigarettes in hand, skin pale as the departing snow. They looked so damn confident.

Coming into the town of Mexico, Maine, I drove for a time behind a man on a Harley Davidson. He sat the way men on Harley’s sit, knees cast wide, crotch to the wind, helmet-less, riding slow as he weaved from one side of the road to the other. Not drunkenly or dangerously, just enjoying himself. Like a bird or lazy fish. And though it’s been years since I’ve owned a motorcycle, and although the last time I rode a motorcycle I ended up in the hospital with a nurse shining a light in my eyes every 30 minutes to be sure there was still something going on in there, I couldn’t help wanting to be on that bike. It must have felt so good.

The Harley turned. I watched him go, and shortly thereafter passed an old man on a bicycle, a single hubcap slung over his handlebar end, shiny trinket plucked from the roadside. I waved as I passed, but I was just another car in an endless line of cars, and his gaze was forward facing, the bike’s wheels churning onward, the hubcap swinging side-to-side, as if propelled by some unseen force.

 

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When it Makes the Least Sense

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When the going gets tough, the tough send their wife up the ladder.

I sometimes think I’ve forgotten how to write, which I suspect is one of those irrational fears akin to believing I’ve forgotten how to ride a bicycle (actually, it’s been so long since I’ve pedaled a two-wheeler that this may be true). Someone – a writer – once wondered to me what it must be like to be a “real” writer, referring, I understood, to the fact that I am paid to write, and support my family on these earnings. My reply, which I still believe true, is that a real writer is anyone who puts the time in. Nothing more, nothing less. By my own definition, then, I am not a real writer, or at least not currently. This bothers me less than it might.

This morning it snowed again, before changing quickly to a sleety rain. I milked fast as I could, cold and raw-feeling, none of yesterday’s ebullience at the high sun and the flowing sap. March felt long and hard to me, I cannot remember one colder and snowier and less yielding, though surely it’s happened. Even on April 1 we awoke to seven or eight inches of new-fallen snow, and I took the boys to Burke Mountain – our older son’s first time ever on alpine skis; perhaps the third time for our younger boy – and paid $133 for half-day rentals and lift tickets. It hurt me to spend the money – that’s a big chunk of change for us – but it hurt me more to realize how long it’d been since I’d done something like that with my boys. Not that we don’t do things together, we do, all the time, but rarely something so unexpected and… what’s the right word? Frivolous? Not, that’s not it, not quite. Hell, I don’t know. But God we had fun.

The house is sweet-smelling and over-heated from boiling sap atop the cook stove. We have too much sap and not enough fire; we need a proper rig, it’s ridiculous what we’re trying to do, but there’s also something compelling to me about the lunacy of it. Sometimes life’s most interesting when it makes the least sense.