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.