For Renee, Even Shorter


Heavy rain and wind in the night, and when I awoke at a wee hour, I tried for some time to differentiate between the two. But the noise was too chaotic, and just when I thought I knew which sound was wind, and which rain, I’d be certain it was the other way ’round. So then I thought of morning, of the kindling I’d split before bed, off a slab of kiln-dried pine, and how easy it would turn to fire in the cookstove. And how funny it is that for all the big plans we make (love, money, family, work, and so on), how often life boils down to almost nothing. Rain or wind, wind or rain. Fire in the stove. I like to sit by it while daylight comes.


No Accounting to be Made

Driving up the mountain road yesterday, I noted the bareness of the trees, the long grey sweep of the mountainside, and I felt the coolness of the air seeping through the truck window, open just a touch. The stream is running high and fast again, fed by a much-needed soaking rain. And more to come. It feels like fall, now, and I do not mind, though I’m not looking forward to winter in my usual manner. I can’t say why.

This morning, milking in the early sun, crouched at Pip’s side in the barely-frosted pasture grass, I watched one of the pigs scratch herself against the trunk of an apple tree, wriggling her body to maximize coverage. I could see how good it felt, could almost feel it myself, that rough bark scraping away the itch, the solidness of the tree against the softness of the flesh. And I was glad for that fleeting moment of escape, in which no season was coming or going, no rain was needed or not, nothing to mourn nor to rejoice. No accounting to be made.

Only the pig. That tree. The sound of milk filling the bucket.


What a Score

P1010592On Thursday afternoon I passed a house where a crew was removing the old tin roofing, long sheets that in passing looked plenty sound, and because I am like one of those truffle-trained pigs when it comes to used building materials, I swung round for closer inspection.

Indeed the metal was sound; rusted in spots, sure, but already I was making plans in my head for another run-in shed for the cows, down in the orchard where we’ll overwinter them so they might distribute their black gold beneath the gnarled branches of those old trees. The patina of rust would only serve to help the shed to blend into its surroundings, and the cows, I was certain, would not think to complain.

Yes the tin was available, the homeowner told me, and the crew offered to stack it for easy access, and so yesterday afternoon I hitched the trailer to the truck and headed out. The trailer is – how shall I say this? – not entirely legal at all in the least even a little bit, so I drove a circuitous route of gravel roads, avoiding the center of the small towns between here and there. And in doing so was treated to an unfurling panorama of rural Vermont in seasonal transition. It was warm and the wind was blowing hard, shaking loose the dead and dying leaves. They lay thick on the shoulders of the road, and beyond, on the forest floor, and many of the trees were bare, or nearly so, their long, leafless limbs waving in the gusts. Along one high ridge, I passed a farm where a small herd of Scotch Highlanders waded flank-deep in a shallow pond. In the foreground, a flock of sheep picked over the remnants of late-season pasture. There were more sheep than cows.

I loaded the tin slowly, in no particular hurry to be finished, stacking the sheets neatly on the trailer deck so they’d stay put when strapped down. I was sweating in the heat, and I thought of the Highlanders, wondered if they were still wallowing, looked forward to seeing them on my drive home. I thought too if this was really all my life was meant to be, scavenging cast-off materials, anticipating the sight of those shaggy beasts as if seeing them again might illuminate something gone dim or just disused, even my criminality reduced to the pathos of traveling gravel roads to avoid being hassled for the illegal trailer I was using to tow home someone else’s trash. What set of circumstances had brought me to this point, what lack of ambition, what aimlessness?

Yet I couldn’t deny the pleasure at hand: The stack of tin, much taller than I’d anticipated, enough for the run-in shed and next year’s firewood and the as-yet-uncovered stack of rough saw lumber behind the barn and maybe even more. The subversive nature of my little escapade pleased me, too – sluicing through a latticework of dirt roads I know like the veins on the back of my hands, beyond the net of authority, and not merely the authority to fine me for my stupid trailer, but somehow something larger than that, something that remains for now outside my capacity to put words to.

Twenty minutes later, when I passed the cows again, now ambling across the wilted pasture, hair in wet whorls from the ribs down, of course they illuminated nothing. Nothing at all. I had not expected them to, but then again had thought it might be nice if they did, might prove that perhaps my life is somewhat bigger than it appears, not merely from the outside looking in, but from the inside looking in. To myself.

I drove slow past the cows, then watched them shrink from view in the sideview mirror, where I also caught a glimpse of the stack of tin. Man. What a score.


Sometimes it’s Hard

Finally, rain, damping the dust and raising the color in the trees to a high pitch, almost a glow, really, so that now everything looks just the way God the tourism department intended, and I no longer feel sorry for the peepers, here from many states or even continents away, spending their hard-earned dollars in pursuit of dying leaves. Now they’re getting just what they came for, and it’s amazing, it’s beautiful, worth every penny spent and probably a few more. I pass them pulled over to the side of the road, over-dressed for the weather, iPhones locked and loaded, ass end of idling rental car protruding into the travel lane. I go slow and wave and am pleased when they wave back.

In the mornings I find the cows gathered at the gate. They’re off pasture now, dependent on their keepers for their daily ration. We’ll not let them down, and whether they know this or merely have no expectations is impossible to say, but either way that’s how I find them, waiting with uniquely bovine contentment under the outstretched limbs of a red maple, their hooves partially obscured by fallen leaves.

Driving the backroads yesterday I kept glancing in the rearview mirror to watch the spindrift of foliage in my wake, swirling and spiraling over the roadway, then falling to lay on the dirt again, a brief respite before the next car passes. It’s warm still, unseasonably so, and I bathe in the pond daily (or nearly so), thinking with every plunge that surely this will be the last of the year. Though of course I thought the same the day before. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the end of things.






Some Habits Die Harder Than Others

Rain in the night, but only a passing shower, not the heavy soaking we desperately need. It’s been nearly a month without significant rainfall; the fall foliage is dulled by drought, the leaves dying and dropping in shades of rust, almost industrial-looking. I feel badly for the tourists, and I’m reminded of a line in a poem my father wrote, about a family of leaf-peepers who, gazing at the ever-green needles of a conifer, wonder if they’ve come too early. Maybe he’ll post it in the comments.

I haven’t written here in a long time; haven’t written much of consequence for many weeks, in fact, though I’ve thought of it many times, and carry with me a strange collection of ideas and images, all the moments of the past few weeks when I’ve been struck by something – the slivered, silvered moon hanging over the pond the night I swam late, or the way it feels to lean my forehead into Pip’s flank as I milk, or driving with one of my boys, me thinking about soon they’ll be gone, and how much I’ll miss the mundane moments I like to complain about – all the miles driven, all the dishes in the sink, all the dirty laundry. Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone is how the saying goes, and maybe that’s true, but I suspect we’ve got more choice in the matter than that. I guess that if we stopped to think on it a bit we’d know exactly what we’ve got, and how someday we’re going to miss it so bad it’ll hurt to breathe.

This morning I walked outside in the dark, feet bare to feel the dampness of ground. The sky still thinly clouded, only a handful of stars faintly visible. Warm, but I’d lit a fire in the cookstove anyway. Because it’s that time of year, and some habits die harder than others.

Music: Patterson and Mike doing First Air of Autumn . Try it; I think you’ll like it.