About the End of That

It snows again, perhaps even a bit more than the last time, and if that earlier snow was poor man’s fertilizer, this snow must be a gift for the truly destitute. This must be the snow that takes the snow that took the snow. And yet it’s beautiful, and most so before it’s finished falling, when there’s just the faintest trace on the ground and you can still see the fine details of the forest floor through the spotty skim of it. I drive over the mountain and peer west to taller peaks. Soon the trees will bud and the leaves will emerge and this view will disappear until mid-October or even later, when the last of those leaves have fallen. But for now it’s like looking across a storm-tossed ocean, the land grey and choppy and forever unfurling.

On the weekend my friend Mark and I go exploring on our bicycles and at the junction of two little-traveled fourth-class roads – a Jeep track, really, all ruts and rock – we happen upon a middle-aged man extracting a trailer from what I assume to be the edge of his property. There’s an old Ford Ranger on the trailer, which he’s pulling with another Ford Ranger, and there are three more Ford Rangers parked (or perhaps “planted” is a better word for it; none seem to have moved in quite some time) in close proximity. The Ranger on the trailer is not a promising looking vehicle, though it does bear a large sticker across the top of the windshield that reads Ford Fuckin Ranger!! and because my son drives a Ford Ranger, and I have the idea that the sticker would please him, I ask the man if he minds if I take a photo. He does not, and we soon fall into easy conversation regarding the merits of Ford Rangers: There’s my son’s Ranger, plus Mark has a Ranger, and the man has the five of them, so there’s plenty to talk about – the best model years, the best motor options, and so on.

And now I notice that the man has fashioned his hair into a mullet, shorn on the sides and left to grow rangy across wide swath from his forehead to the nape of his neck, and for some reason it’s this detail that buoys me, or maybe it’s this detail in combination with the other details: The five Rangers, the Ford Fuckin Ranger!! sticker, the modest house/cabin in which the man plainly resides, the remnants of last season’s garden just beyond the Ranger graveyard. The garden appears well-tended and I can’t quite tell from where we’re standing, but it looks as if maybe he’s got his peas in already, and I think that although the world is falling to pieces in more ways that I know how to count, it is also holding together in many quiet ways I too often fail to notice.

I take my picture. Mark and I say goodbye to the mulleted man. He turns back to his task, and we to ours. When I get home, I show my son the photo. “Huh,” he says, and that’s about the end of that.


Poor Man’s Daylight

In the evening I ride my bike exactly one-half mile to the town hall for our bi-weekly selectboard meeting. The sun is out but the air is still cold from the front that brought the previous evening’s snow, which is now melting but only slowly. Across the road from the town hall, the old church is washed in late day light; it looks almost as if it’s lit from within, as if the light were emanating from the building, rather than being cast upon it. We gather in the office, the three of us on the selectboard and the town treasurer and because there is scant business to conduct, we mostly talk the small news of this small town, which on this evening revolves around who has covid and who moved into the big house on the hill and if they’re nice folks or not, and Steve says that Jay says they are and that settles that so we all get up and walk out of the town hall and Regina points to the melting snow and says “poor man’s fertilizer” and I say “the snow that takes the snow” because that’s what my father always used to say. And probably still does.

The light is off the church now and it’s gone colder by far. Goosebumps rise quick and sharp on my arms. I pedal over the bridge on my way home, the familiar sound of the stream rushing below. The day nearly done. The sun sinking, the light gone dusky and thin. It’s poor man’s daylight, I think. It’s the light that takes the light.

Music: Here’s a beaut from Zach Bryan. And a good ole foot stomper from Shane Smith and the Saints.


I Bet B Would Agree

Just Beware

Spring. I awake to the distant sound of water rushing in the small creek that skirts the southern boundary of our land, and above that, the intermittent call of songbirds. I feel like I should know which ones, but I don’t. Daylight coming on, but the sky is low and sinking lower, I can feel it even if I can’t quite see it yet. It will rain soon. The floor creaks beneath my feet. After coffee and chores I pedal my bike up the long, steep climb to Cole’s Pond, the thawing road soft beneath my tires, beads of sweat amassing along my brow, lining up to drop one after the other. I ride under a strand of wire strung from the outstretched branches of maples on either side of the road; a hot line to a fence containing a herd of Angus that watch my passing with that particular bovine breed of curiosity: Interested, but not too interested. Like really if they had anything better to do, they’d be doing it. There’s no grass for them yet, but it won’t be long. Two, three weeks. Another few minutes of climbing and there’s the charred remains of the house that burned last month, it’s stunning to see the fire’s rude work, everything black and twisted into gross approximations of its original form. I don’t know the family, but I heard they made it out ok. So that’s good at least.

A young woman shows up to my writing group, and when I ask if her name is spelled Bee or Bea, she says it’s just B, and then proceeds to crank out one incredible spoken word piece after another, full of these complex rhymes that never quite seem to fall where I’m expecting, and I can tell immediately that this is a person who’s done some living. I mean, who hasn’t, but you know: There’s living, and there’s living, and maybe like most of us I sometimes feel like I’m dwelling too much in the former and not enough in the latter. But really who’s to say. Each will take their pound of flesh. Each will eat you alive eventually. I bet B would agree.

By the time I’ve made the top of the climb and ridden back down past the burned house and under the hot wire, the farmer who strung it is out fixing fence. Lines in his face like a treasure map. He waves, I wave. Morning. Mornin’. I look for the cows again but they’re nowhere to be seen and I guess they went and found something better to do after all.


Mud, War, Gas

The end of winter

The hours bleed into days, the days into weeks, weeks into months. The snow recedes, the ground thaws, and navigating the backroads become a test: Of courage (or is it stupidity?), of skill (or is luck?), of sheer determination (or is it simple necessity?). Everyone says it’s the worst mud season in years, if not decades, and maybe they’re right. My memory for such things is scant, so I just nod along: Yeah, it’s bad. Mud and war. That’s all we talk about anymore. Well, that and the price of gas. So: Mud and war and gas. Hell, a fellow could get nostalgic for the days when covid was all we had to worry about.

In the morning I ride my bike while the road surface is still solid from the nighttime freeze. Just over the crest of the mountain, there’s a moose standing in the road, all leg and nose. I slow to a stop and watch, and I can see that it’s not healthy: It’s thin and its coat is rough. It holds its head at an odd angle. The moose looks my way, then slowly turns and begins to trot downhill, straight down the middle of the road, and since that’s the way I’m headed, too, I follow at a distance until I see it stumble and then I stop and turn back. I don’t want to watch the moose anymore. I just want it to turn into the woods and find a quiet place to rest and maybe even die if that’s what needs to happen. But when I look back over my shoulder, I can see that it’s still headed down the road’s corridor with its head at that weird angle, its gait unsteady, like a child just learning to walk.

The road pitches steeper. I stand to drive to pedals, and pretty soon I’m back up and over the top. And even though it’s cold and starting to spit rain and the road is rough and the sky is even lower than it was just a few minutes ago, I know that from here to home, all I really have to do is hold on for the ride. So that’s exactly what I do.