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Until I’m Too Tired to Carry On

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Pip and the church

On Christmas morning I awoke early, and as is my custom sat silent by the fire for a time. One cat rubbing my ankles, the other still sleeping on the couch, the darkness slowly easing toward light.

When the day had come in full, I could see that it was snowing, not hard, but not soft, either. Steady. Certain. I did chores, ate two eggs fried, drank coffee, and tiled the mudroom floor in my usual fashion, which means eschewing spacers in favor of a squinted-eye approximation of the gaps between individual tiles. Chasing the cats off the fresh-set tiles until exasperation won over and I pushed them outside into the snow, falling harder now.

I finished the tiling, filled the cookstove firebox, and skied, straight uphill to the height of our land, then traversing the sugarwoods, feeling in love with the solemn beauty of the forest in winter, the rangy limbs of the maples dark against the lidded sky, wind-driven snow adhered to the rough bark of their trunks. The air was cold, but I was not, and so continued through the woods until I could sense that the light had reversed its journey, now easing toward dark. I bee-lined for the mountain road, and skied its unplowed shoulder toward home, face into the wind, past the old church, then the town hall, and over the bridge where the Jamaicans didn’t die.

Chores again, cleared our drive and those of my small plow route, then drove a dozen miles to Melvin’s to help with the feeding out and bedding down of his small herd. Enjoying driving through the new snow, the storm winding down but not yet finished, the heater on high, the truck in four wheel drive, steady and sure on the slick roads. At Melvin’s I fed the cows, peeling armfuls of hay off a first cut round bale for the heifers, then from a bale of second cut for his 14 milkers. Christmas music on the radio. The air thick with the sweet smell of fermented hay and cow itself. Melvin going about the pre-milking routine he’s gone about for the majority of his nearly 70 years. Almost 70 years old and putting 14 cows in the tank; I guess that’s what retirement looks like when retirement’s not an option. Or not much of one, anyway. The snow still falling outside, both of us absorbed in the rhythm of our work and not talking much, the cows shifting in their stanchions, watching me pass with something between wariness and anticipation.

Back home, the fire’s gone out. I light it again, the house so quiet I can hear the flames from upstairs in bed, where I lie reading until I’m too tired to carry on.

 

 

 

 

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I Have No Idea

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Bringing in the Solstice tree

There are so many stories I want to be telling, like about the two Jamaican men Penny and I found standing in the middle of the mountain road as we headed out for a ski. There was no car to be seen, no indication of how they’d arrived there, it was as if they’d been delivered by some invisible force, or perhaps a fast-moving tornado, dropped into the snowy landscape (and how could I not notice the darkness of their skin against the whiteness of the surroundings, and how beautiful this contrast was, and I hesitate to even mention this for fear it reveals something unflattering about my relationship to race, and yet: It was so), and just as I started to ask if they needed anything, I happened a glance over the guardrail of the bridge we all stood upon, and there, a good 15-feet below us, lay their car. It was in the stream, and crumpled like a sheet of the newspaper I use to start the morning fire. I looked at the car, and then at the men, who seemed shaken but otherwise unblemished, and then at the car again. Their survival seemed unfathomable to me, as near to a miracle as I have witnessed. They were cold, very, very cold, and while the driver waited for the police, the other man – Jed was his name – followed us back to our house to sit by the fire and drink tea and tell us about his life in rural Jamaica and we laughed a lot about this and that, and while I was sorry for the misfortune of the accident that had brought him to our doorstep, I was delighted by his company and though I knew him for only 90 minutes or so, I missed him when he left.

Or even just this morning, milking in the early stillness, the sky breaking open blue to the west in advance of a predicted Christmas storm, and after that, a trough of deep cold, twenty below or colder, the days not reaching zero. My family is away for the next 10 days or so – gone to hunt deer in North Carolina, where the season runs into the New Year and does are legal game – and I am home, happy for the quiet time, unafraid of the aloneness, though also glad to have plenty to keep me busy. I will feed the fire and ski and break the ice on the animals’ water and bring the truck battery inside to sit by the stove at night. Though where I’ll go if the truck actually starts, I have no idea.

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Maybe Not Closely Enough

I am feeding the cows on the knoll behind the barn in order to distribute seed and manure across the deficient pasture. Because this is where I leave their hay, this is where they congregate, and this is where I walk every morning to collect Pip for milking. I enjoy climbing the hill; it’s just high and steep enough to demand something of me, and I like the pressurized feel of blood pushing through my veins, the sound in my ears the steady thumpitythump of my laboring heart.

At the hill’s apex I look down onto the village: The town hall, an old church, a single residence. A line of mother maples aside the road. Beyond that, sloping hayfield and more forest.

This morning it was snowing as it had for half the night, and snow had accumulated atop the cows’ backs. I straddled their spines with fore and middle fingers, then ran my fingers from neck to base of tail and back again, leaving cow-colored stripes in the snow. I did this for no other reason than it felt good to do so, and maybe because it forestalled the journey back down the hill, where mundane tasks awaited me: The remainder of chores, finish installing the snowplow on the truck, a trip to Willey’s Hardware for finish nails. Work.

Pip started down the hill first, and I followed, the view of town slowly diminishing as we dropped, until I had no reason to train my eyes to anything but the hoof-worn path before me. My heart getting quieter, but I listened to it anyway. Maybe too closely. Maybe not closely enough. The air cold and full in my chest.

 

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I am Lucky to Have Come This Way

P1010940On a gravel road I frequent, someone has left pumpkins, placed them carefully along the shoulder at intervals just distant enough from one another that by the time I happen upon the next, I’ve nearly forgotten about the last. The pleasure I derive from the them is amplified by the knowledge that someone thought to do this, because I can think of no other reason for placing pumpkins by the side of the road if not to tickle the fancy of passersby, and therefore it seems to me an act of kindness and generosity of the purest sort, with no chance for recognition or reciprocity.

Shortly after the last pumpkin I pass a lake, now frozen over, the ice covered by a dusting of new-fallen snow. A yellow dog is running across the frozen water, tail and head high, no human in sight. Just the dog, the snow-covered ice, the orange orb of that final pumpkin disappearing into the rear view mirror, and I know that I am lucky to have come this way.

It is almost the end of another year, and I would like to thank you for reading here. Thank you.