All Day


All ears

Storms rolled in last evening, fast and heavy, washing away the oppressive heat, and this morning the air feels almost silken. I walked outside at first light and climbed the small hill that overlooks our house and barn, and further in the distance, the town hall and old church, both now obscured by new leaves. All quiet but the breeze and bird song and the distant clucking of our chickens, scratching and strutting about, pecking apart last winter’s cow droppings. Such easy contentment.

I think about this space more than I visit it these days, often in the form of random thoughts or images I want to share. Like yesterday, driving into a small town not far from here, just before the storms, and watching as a big John Deere tractor towing a manure spreader pulled into the recently-constructed Dollar General, the farmer presumably needing to pick up something on his way home from spreading a field. And the incongruity of it – the old and the new, the solid mass of the tractor and cow shit and what feels to me like the flimsy, ephemeral nature of the store, with its faux-brick siding and neon yellow signage. There was a lot of debate when the store was announced – over the building site, mostly, but also the nature of its commerce, and whether it might draw business from the town’s small-but-vibrant main street. A lot of people didn’t want the new store. A lot of people did. It’s been open a couple of years now; I’ve passed it a hundred times or more, and I can’t say it doesn’t please me to note how often the parking lot is empty, or nearly so. If nothing else, the store is straight-up ugly, a blighted box, though I suppose even that is open to debate.

Today I work down the road on the digger, doing drainage work, mostly, but also loading a dump truck with mounds of steaming compost. I like digging in the compost; I like the smell of it, rich and on the verge of sweet, and variable depending on the age of the material. It’s the middle-age piles that smell best to me, the ones that are still ripening, right in the thick of transformation. I could dig those piles all day.





Snow in May

Chestnuts. With any luck, they’ll produce before I’m dead

Lazy snow this morning, intermittent flakes against the windshield as I drove home in the pre-dawn from dropping my younger son at his favorite turkey hunting haunt. A big red Ford pickup pulled from a side road in front of me. The driver flicked a cigarette butt out the window, and in the dark I was captivated by the glowing ember as it bounced and scuttled across the hard-packed gravel road. A mile or so later, the passenger flicked his cigarette, too, but this one just lay there, slowly dimming, an animal drawing its last breaths. By the time I passed, it was done. The taillights of the Ford had disappeared, hidden around a sharp bend, and I thought I’d see them again once I got round, but the truck was moving too fast and I could not catch up.

A few minutes past five now, more light pouring into the sky by the minute, and I was glad to be out and about so early, the day stretched before me, my anticipation of it like a long-awaited meal. Snow still falling, but so, so softly, as if it didn’t even really want to land.

Haven’t posted music in a while, and maybe I’ve even posted this one before. But if so, it’s worth a second listen. James McMurtry doing Lights of Cheyenne. 


In the Morning

Every day I drive the gravel road toward home, from one outing or another, and I see the flush of green creeping slowly up the mountain. Every day a little greener, a little higher. At home I feed the cows from the remaining reserves of hay, watch for a moment as they curl their long tongues around a chosen tuft, then retract the tongue and chew in that slow, side-to-side way of ruminants. Ignoring me. For what good am I now? They have their hay, and tomorrow must seem a long ways off.

It’s ok. They’ll like me again in the morning.




Three Days

An old one

On Sunday evening, I drove to pick up a set of used tires for the truck, passing through a northern Vermont landscape on the cusp of spring, struck as I often am by the co-mingling of poverty and affluence in these rural hills. And also by the evident decline in our capacity (or is it desire?) to inhabit structures of grace and beauty. To be sure, the latter lives forever the eye of the beholder, but how else to describe the multitude of old barns that dot the land in varying stages of decline, many sitting atop foundations of dry-stacked stone, only a few in use for anything but storage of old furniture and discarded tires, dotted by the ubiquitous condiment of such buildings:Pigeon shit.

And the farmhouses: Even needing paint, rooflines sagging, first-floor windows covered in plastic to thwart the winter winds, porches flaking off like crusted scabs, yards warted with the detritus of rural northern living (snowmobiles, gas grills, oil drums), even in such a state prettier by far than most anything built over the past half-century. To each his or her own, I suppose, but still: Give me the old farmhouse and its accompanying barn, let them be falling right down around me, force me to thaw pipes every sub-zero morning and consider the leaks in the roof every spring rain. I’ll curse it, I know, but like most things I curse, I’d love it, too.

•     •     •

A day or two prior to that, I’d driven a couple of miles up the road with my younger son to do a little wandering. We live near to an 11,000-acre wildlife management area, as near to wilderness as one is likely to find in Vermont, and for us one of the main attractions to living where we do. We set off for a beaver pond we’ve explored many times over, a jaunty 20-minute hike from the truck, and then, because the weather was fine, and our moods commensurately buoyant, we kept walking, following the pond’s feeder stream. Higher and higher we pushed, hopping from one side of the stream to the other, circumnavigating another small pond, then another, now wallowing through patches of snow that in places lay thigh-deep in the shade of spruce and fir. Everywhere beaded piles of moose dung and the deep depressions of their cloven hooves, far enough from the road to have erased any signs of humankind: No footprints, no beer cans, no spent shotgun shells. Not a car to be heard, just the rustle of flowing water, the pond peepers, and the soft whistle from the wings of the mallards we flushed.

•     •     •

Then last night, in a misty rain, just before dark, we buried our old hound dog, laid her in a hole with a meaty bone and sent her on her way. This morning, for the first time in nearly a decade, I was not awakened by the sound of her toenails on the wooden floor.