By Nightfall

Snow falls. Wind blows. Overnight the skies clear and in the morning it is cold and sunny, the trees twitching in the diminishing wind like a cat’s tail: back and forth, back and forth. I walk up the mountain road, intending to turn into the woods, but the sun full on my face feels so good that I keep walking, and before I know it I’m at the top of the mountain and heading down the other side. It occurs to me that I could just keep going, down, down, down into the valley below,  and over the river, and not far beyond that a whole other state. New Hampshire they call it. Live Free or Die. It has a nice ring to it.

But of course I turn back (I always turn back). The sun no longer in my face, the wind rushing around me, the road slick where traffic has packed the snow to something like ice. Through the bare trees, I can see westward to the white-capped peaks of the Green Mountains. They don’t look so big. They don’t look so far. I bet I could be there by nightfall.

I enjoyed this interview. You might, too.





Another 30 Cents

In Monday morning’s pelting rain, I’m on an errand run for essentials, this time passing a man gathering cans along the roadside. He is 60, give or take a few circles around the sun, and dragging a large garbage bag in the dirty snow, though he’s leaving the trash where it lies: He’s here for the money, five whole pennies at time. The rain is beating on him. The cans are everywhere, scattered across the rotting snow like shells on a beach. Lots of Twisted Tea and Bud Light. Easy pickings. I pass what I assume is his van parked in a small pullout, a black Ford Econoline with a piece of hand-lettered plywood leaning against the rear bumper. Watch out for the Vermont Land Trust is what it says, and man-oh-man am I curious to know more. So curious, I almost stop. I even have my foot on the brake. But the rain. And, you know, the virus. So I carry on, counting the as yet ungathered cans as I drive, adding in my head, and wondering (because I can’t help myself) what he’ll spend it on. Gas for the van, I think (and yes: It really is 1.50 at Willey’s). Maybe some Hot Pockets for dinner. Perhaps a six pack. Definitely, a six pack. So I add another 30 cents to the tally.

Music: Springsteen doing Ghost of Tom Joad with Tom Morello. 








Wherever it Wants to Go

In the new snow I drive the truck off the mountain and over 20 miles of back roads to our friends’ wood shop to pick up a load of sawdust for the cows’ bedding. The snow is unwelcome but not unbeautiful, it swirls and darts in the air as I drive, and the colors of everything I can see through and beyond the falling snow seem brighter and full of promise. The road is less rutted than usual for this time of year, surely due to the reduction in traffic. The small town I drive through is eerily quiet, businesses shuttered, the coffee shop displaying hopeful signage advertising take out espresso and pastries. There are four cars parked along Main Street where usually there might be a couple dozen.

I haven’t driven much of late, and it’s nice to be out, to be moving at such speed. Climbing the hill on the far side of the quiet town, the snow still bearing down, I push the gas pedal to the floor, then slow again to turn onto another back road, where I soon pass two men skinning a pig. The pig is laying in a small utility trailer, and I might not know what it is but for the hind trotters hanging out the back. The snow under the trailer is rich with blood. The men are bent to the task.

I load the sawdust, tarp it down, and head back the way I came, driving more slowly now, in no hurry at all, feeling like I could drive forever and ever on these little-travelled roads, like maybe they’ll eventually take me somewhere – anywhere – that remains unaffected, all hustle and bustle and bare faces, handshakes and hugs and slaps on the back. I’ll stop for pizza and beer. For ice cream and avocados. I’ll fill the truck with two-dollar and seventy-cent gas and pay the damn $60 and not even complain.

I pass the men, still going at the dead pig, and soon after, roll back through town. Only three cars now. I watch the truck’s reflection in the darkened shop windows; the windows of the truck reflect the reflection of the truck in the shop windows, and I can’t see myself in the driver’s seat. It’s like the truck is driving itself. It’s like I could just take my hands off wheel and let the truck take me wherever it wants to go.


Waiting to Fall Apart

The days tick by. Snow melts, then it snows again. The sun comes and goes. The list of what’s important shrinks, a vanishing horizon of the shit we thought mattered. There is birdsong in the mornings. I don’t know what kind. We walk and walk some more. Rinse and repeat. High up on Silver Road I run into Dan on his four wheeler, and we talk across the width of the dirt road, twice the recommended six feet. No one’s buying logs, he says. Gas is a buck-fifty at Willey’s, he says. He speeds off. I amble on.

Back home, I split wood for fires that won’t burn for seven months or more. The boys are down in the orchard shooting clays, their guns booming over and over again. I hear their laughter between shots. I imagine how some years from now, they’ll look back on this time. And how will they regard it? How will any of us? It’s one of those questions with no answer, so I let it slide and set another round of wood on the block. It’s ash, and it splits so easy it’s almost as if it were waiting to fall apart.