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.