The Ache of Rain

I can feel the approaching rain in the wrist I broke when I was 12 after tripping while trying to catch a football I’d thrown high into the air. This ability to portend weather in the ache of knitted bones is a new feature of my aging body. No doubt there are many more such features to come – I’m not far from 50, after all – but for now, this is the one I notice most, and am almost grateful for, because I know it could be worse.

The rain is welcome. The ground is still thirsty from last summer’s drought, which was followed by a winter of below normal snowfall, which was then followed by a 10-day stretch in early April that might have passed for late June, the seasons co-mingling as the sugarmakers gathered the last run of sap and the poplars budded out. I’d wake in the night and listen to the wood frogs, open my eyes for a minute to the moonlight shining through the window.

I’m ready for the change of season. I guess we all are. Who doesn’t want to hear the wood frogs, see the grass green, watch the buds emerge, boil the last sap, even feel the ache of rain in their bones? I’ll take it all, and then some: Ride the bike, swim the pond, pull the weeds, ditch the damn mask. Set the cows to pasture and stand for a minute in their midst, listening as they chew that new grass.

And then (because winter is never far away), finish stacking the damn firewood.


Over the Land

View from the kitchen table, morning of April 22, 2021

Early in the evening I walk a half-mile to the town hall for a select board meeting. It’s snowing hard. The snow catches in the rough nap of my jacket and accumulates on the tops of my boots. The road is unplowed and I walk straight down its middle because that’s what passes for excitement these days. Coming home I spot a truck off the road at the corner just past the one-way bridge, and quicken my pace, because the opportunity to pull someone out of a ditch is even more exciting than walking down the middle of the road in an April snowstorm. But by the time I reach the stuck truck, another truck has stopped and a tow strap is being strung between the two vehicles. There’s nothing to do but idly watch and secretly hope that Truck A is too stuck for Truck B to extract it and I’ll have reason to jog home for the tractor and a chain. It’s been a lean year for pulling rigs from ditches – I haven’t notched a single one, come to think of it – and lord knows I need a little something to juice the adrenals.

Alas, the pull goes down without a hitch, and I continue on my ambling way, step-by-step through the insistent squall, six-inches or more already, the snow that takes the snow, the poor man’s fertilizer, the softest, quietest quilt draped lightly over the land.


The Smartest Thing to Do

Rain turns to snow overnight, and by morning there’s three inches or more. The sky is so low it reaches right down to the ground. Standing by the cows’ fence as their water trough fills, I watch the snow fall, and can just discern the plume of smoke rising from Peter’s house down across the pasture, on the other side of the big beaver lodge and then the mountain road. Smoke rising, snow falling, sky low. The cows nosing at the sweet hay I’ve thrown over the fence.

When the trough is full I walk up the hill into the woods just because I haven’t in a while. The ground is soft beneath the snow, though the snow makes it seem softer still. It sticks to the needled limbs of the conifers. The hardwoods are lean and bony and almost black against all that white. I follow my main skid road for a ways, then veer in an easterly direction across the gentle slope of the land. When I stop I can hear the snow falling, but so faintly it requires a certain faith to believe in what I’m hearing. Maybe it’s just a trick of the senses. But I don’t think so.

Later, I drive over the unplowed mountain road. It’s still snowing, and even in four wheel drive, the truck slips and lurches over and across the ruts and potholes and washboards. Last week I’d thought to have the winter tires swapped for summers, and now am pleased with myself for having had the foresight to wait, though in truth there’s been no cunning on my part. Just procrastination leading to inaction, one of those moments – and the older I get, the more frequently they seem to arise – when doing nothing was actually the smartest thing to do.


The Weight of the Clouds

Out on my bike in the early hours, I’m passed twice by a man on a motorcycle. The motorcycle is fitted with a sidecar, and the first time he passes me, heading in the opposite direction, the sidecar is empty. Twenty minutes later, he passes me again, this time coming from behind, the sidebar now occupied by a golden retriever wearing googles. The dog looks back at me with evident interest, and for a moment I’m afraid he might jump ship, but soon the motorcycle sweeps around a corner with everyone still in place.

Later, on my way home, I pass the parking lot of the old church, where it’s well known that people like to pull over and get high. Back in my day, it was all about wine coolers and weed, but now I find discarded needles and little balls of charred tinfoil, evidence of harder stuff. Maybe the drugs have gotten heavier because the pain has gotten heavier, or maybe it’s just the natural order of things, that inexorable human pull toward more. There’s a padded bra in the church lot, too; I’ve been watching it for months, ever since I first kicked it out of the snow with my skis. One of these days maybe I’ll pick it up, but I’m also thinking that maybe I won’t.

I realize that what I like about riding my bike is precisely the opposite of what I like about skiing: The bike brings me closer to humanity, while the skiing takes me further away. And I guess I need them both, the closeness and the distance, one being the antidote to the other and therefore necessary to even know the other, like the way you can’t truly appreciate how good it feels to have sunlight on your face if you haven’t felt the weight of the clouds.