Keep Carrying On

In the evening, I walk up the mountain road to check on the pumpkin. It’s warm – maybe 45 degrees – and the sun is still just high enough to feel warm on my face. The road is muddy and rutted, soft beneath my boots. The mountain stream runs fast with snowmelt. I pass the town hall, then the church, then Bob’s hayfield, where at least a dozen deer graze at nubs of overwintered grass. I don’t bother stopping to watch them; they’re out there every day now. I saw them yesterday; I’ll see them again tomorrow.

It takes me nearly an hour to climb the hill. Three cars pass. Well: One car and two trucks. It’s no one I know, but I wave anyway. On the shoulder of the road, I spot a five dollar bill, and stoop to pick it up, then pause: the virus. But upon closer inspection, I can see that the bill has been there for a very long time, only just revealed by the receding snowbank. So I pocket it and carry on, already forming a story of how it came to land there, and feeling unaccountably lucky. I mean, it’s only five bucks. But still.

At the crest of the hill, I find the pumpkin. It’s moved a bit as the snow has melted out from underneath it, and something has been eating at it. It’s no longer orange. More of a deep beige. Not much to look at, really.

Back down the hill, sun low and barely visible through the trees, dark coming on fast. Much colder. I stick my ungloved hands in my pockets for warmth, wishing I hadn’t come quite so far, wishing I’d been smarter about when to turn back. But I wasn’t, and now there’s really nothing to do but keep carrying on.



In the Midst of it All

At the very height of the mountain road, atop a fast diminishing snowbank, someone has deposited a single pumpkin. It is small but very orange, and it delights me no end – the simple fact of it, sure, but even more so the imagining of how it came to rest here. Was it lobbed from the open window of a passing car? And if so, what kind of car (surely a Subaru, though I’m not exactly going out on a limb, here)? Or was it placed with careful consideration? Is its location at the top of the mountain intentional, a totem of sorts, or merely a matter of coincidence? So many questions, and none with answers beyond what I might imagine, which of course only makes them even more compelling.

(Crazily, this is not the first time I’ve found pumpkins situated along the side of a back road near to here; I’ve even written about it here previously. And so now I cannot help but wonder if perhaps there is a pumpkin bandit on the loose in northern Vermont, a notion that only increases my delight even further.)

Later on the same day, on another back road, I pass a man pushing a wheelchair loaded with firewood. A chainsaw perched atop the wood. I’ve seen the man walking the road before; he’s older than me, he must be pushing 60, and he always waves, and he’s often transporting firewood, though usually it’s just a single log, balanced on a shoulder. This is the first time I’ve seen the wheelchair trick. It’s a good one.

The virus spreads. The stock market plunges. The cows nose at the newly bare ground beneath the big spruce. The cats mewl at the door. The pumpkin has been there over a week now. It’s not been particularly cold, but cold enough that I suspect the man has burned his wheelchair load of wood and has since gone back for more. Some things are changing, some things are not, but in the midst of it all, the fire must still be fed.



For Another Day

I need a new chain for the big saw, so I drive three miles up and over the mountain to the chainsaw repair and parts business our neighbor Mike recently bought from our other neighbor Scott. When Scott owned it, I could be there in under two minutes; now, it’s about five, or maybe a little more this time of year, when the mountain road – steep, twisty, heavily snowed – demands a very particular medley of restraint and aggression, particularly in our little two-wheel drive car, which is what I’m driving in part because the truck is in Minnesota with my wife, and in part because one of the small pleasures in my small life is clearing the snow-slick apex of the mountain road in a vehicle that’s ill suited to the task. I keep thinking I’ll grow out of it, but it keeps not happening.

At the shop I buy two chains for $15 each and a half-gallon of Mike’s excellent B grade maple syrup for $20. John and Mike and I stand and chat for a while, then Katie and Christian show up, and we all stand and chat for a while longer. Sugaring. Chainsaws. Concrete contractors. Outside, the sun is emerging. The temperature, already above freezing, is rising further. It’s going to be a very nice day, and I need to go, but really all I want to do is stay a while longer, to keep telling stories, keep listening to stories. I feel suddenly hungry for stories, starving for them, even the little ones. Maybe especially the little ones. The world seems so full of big stories. Too big for me to understand.

I really do need to go. I set my jug of syrup and my two new chains on the passenger seat of the car and head back down the mountain road. The car slips and slides through the corners. I’m thinking about getting home, stoking the fire, maybe pancakes. Town meeting. I like town meeting.

But that’s a story for another day.