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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.

43 thoughts on “What a Score”

  1. Wow, what a score is right. I had one like that about 20 years ago (sometimes I get the feeling that you’re mysteriously re-enacting my life) when I came across a collapsed building in the woods so I didn’t even have to ask anybody for the roofing, just take it. I got it all in the truck in two trips, so no worries about illegitimate trailers, although we do get into that on other occasions. The roofing is still going, it’s covered untold numbers of firewood stacks, gotten put on a few small sheds, been passed out among our land coop mates, and in general been a productive community resource for a few decades. I still have 20 or 30 sheets stacked on an old wooden truck rack out by the orchard. So congratulations–you’ve won the roofing sweepstakes, your life has been enriched forever. It doesn’t get any better. Enjoy!

  2. Without you, I wouldn’t get a glimpse into this paradise. Not to mention the gentle motivation to stop ignoring my own instincts to live in a similar manner.

    1. The thing is, I can never discern which instincts should be ignored and which should be heeded. Because in my experience, they come in both flavors…

  3. Me ole Da taught me the joy of free stuff!

    “What set of circumstances had brought me to this point, what lack of ambition, what aimlessness?” That’s an interesting idea to ponder. I think this thought intrudes when we get too big for our britches and start to think we’re something of importance. The truth is we live until we die. It matters not a wit what we do. Just that we do what we want as much as we can in the most joyful way possible.

      1. Why do you think about lack of ambition? Aimlessness? What if you decided to be purposeful, one-pointed and driven how would that change things? Would it be better or worse? It does matter what some people do. It mattered what Stephen Paddock did. But you? Me? I think we have more leeway. And if we want to be bums then we’ll just be the best bum there is!

        Unless you subscribe to that damn butterfly effect theory. Then we all better freeze for fear of doing something to start a hurricane in the Philippines! :-O

  4. ” but somehow something larger than that, something that remains for now outside my capacity to put words to.” Maybe, but you come damned close nearly every time, even if it doesn’t mean anything! Thanks for sharing this part of your self and your life.

  5. Perhaps that something ‘bigger’ that you could feel was the power of self-reliance. The feeling that comes when you are going are well past what anyone told you to do or to be in those awful years you spent wilting away in public education.

    Your boys, having spent no time there, will have no idea what it is to ‘not’ have that feeling. It is up to them to decide if that is as glorious as it seems.

  6. Ah, an old metal roofing story. Have one of my own. Many years ago when we were building our house, we were “temporarily” living in a trailer. I borrowed a truck to go pick up some fence posts and while there spotted a stack of warped metal roofing. The owner had inadvertently burned down his garage one Spring when he had burned off the dead grass and the fire had gotten out of hand. It was mine for the taking, so I loaded it on the truck. When I got home, dear wife wanted to know, “whatever are you going to do with that”. It ended up becoming skirting for the trailer. When we got enough snow, I shoveled it up against the metal roofing. The trailer was a lot warmer that winter than it had been before. There’s a certain satisfaction in living well on less.

  7. We’ve done this very thing, as well. Despite my minimalist inclinations, there is a certain wealth to the excess materials pile one accumulates in this life. Just when I feel the itch to haul something away, my husband is sure to find a use for this suddenly needful thing. All a balance and one you’ve written about before in this space. Glad you stopped for the tin and even more glad you took time to tell us all about it. Peace!

  8. Your writings often bring me to tears and envy ( the good wanting kind), thank you for sharing, I too am a gleaner at heart and enjoy the journey to gather as much as the actual “found” items.

    1. Honestly, it needs more attention that I have time or skills to offer… fenders are just about rotted off, and I’m no metal fabricator, so I’ll have to pay someone to fix it. Meanwhile, all the truly important stuff (brakes, lights) work just fine. So it’s a combination of $ and the simple fact that the trailer is perfectly safe and functional as is. And what Bee says;)

    2. My question is, what do you have to do to a trailer to make it illegal for road use?? In Kentucky, no title needed, no license plate, no inspection… Homemade trailers are OK…

      1. In VT trailers over a certain capacity (not sure what, but ours definitely is) need to be registered and inspected. Homemade is ok, but also need to be registered and inspected.

      2. Gross weight (trailer plus load) of 1,500 pounds or more requires inspection in Vermont. In case anyone cares.

  9. Those Scotch Highlanders . . . those winding back roads . . . that illegal trailer escaping apprehension . . . that mother-load of tin . . . WHAT a score!

  10. Ben, you and Edge are the same when it comes to driving around back roads with illegal trailers 🙂 And Edge is always laughing at me for stopping at free piles. Hope you are all well, family, cows, pigs, earth~

  11. Congrats to Rye on taking a nice turkey!

    Few people bother to hunt them here, so most die of old age or from predators if they live in the country or old age or motor vehicles if they live in the ‘burbs.

  12. “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.”

    This is how I feel when I’m dumpster diving and picking up road-killed deer. In some ways I’m wondering what brought me to do those things, but then I’m also thinking that it’s just plain common sense even though the law and societal norms say otherwise. And because others say otherwise, all the more thrill in doing it :-).

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