Uncategorized

Always on Our Way

On election night the sky is cloudless and a shade of almost-blue from the light of the moon. It’s the coldest it’s been in weeks, though no colder than one might reasonably expect this time of year, and I recall that two years ago, I skied on the morning of election day. Not this year. Not even close. Why, just this weekend, I swam in the pond, though it’s true I didn’t exactly linger.

I walk to the town hall to cast my vote as well as count those cast by others, the moon so bright I don’t even need the headlamp I’ve brought. At a distance, I can see the shadowed outline of the church, and far beyond and above that, the spinal column of the mountains to the east, and I think that it’s nice to be reminded that despite the crazed fever dream infecting so many who yearn for the power we might grant them, there remain still larger, more enduring forces at play.

One of my favorite things about counting votes is seeing how many of my neighbors have split their tickets. They’ll vote for our Republican incumbent governor (wildly popular, and about as moderate a Republican as one might happen upon these days, but still), then vote for the most progressive of the Lt Governor candidates, before veering Republican again. Or vice versa. For some, the votes are split evenly across parties up and down the ballot, an almost willful demonstration of independent thinking just to prove we won’t do what’s expected of us. Not here. Not in this town.

Ninety minutes later, I walk home, the moon just as high and bright as it was an hour-and-a-half ago, the sky still that endless blueblack color. I hear a large animal moving through a copse of trees at the road’s edge; a deer, most likely. Through those same trees, I see moonlight glinting on the surface water of the beaver pond and stop to watch it. It’s a new pond; the beavers moved in only the fall before last – built a dam, built a lodge, made a home – but already it seems like they’ve been there forever. Eventually, they’ll have felled the last of the trees within beaver-distance of their new home; they’ll move on, and the dam will slowly fail. Or perhaps it won’t fail, perhaps it will be strengthened by debris from upstream, making their way down the mountain and into the pond to be caught in that intricate web of sticks.

I hear a car making it’s way down the mountain road. I hear laughter and voices as others emerge from the town hall. Everyone on their way to somewhere else. Always on our way to somewhere else.

Uncategorized

Day and Night

Before the storm

Every day, more leaves fall from the trees, and on Saturday, while splitting wood, I spy the season’s first snowflakes. If flakes is even the right word; they’re so small I can barely see them at all, like motes of frozen dust that melt to nothing the moment they hit the ground.

Later, riding my bike down the backside of the mountain road, I happen upon a car parked at the road’s shoulder. There’s a puddle of bright blood just under the front bumper, soaking into the dirt. There’s a dog in the driver’s seat and no one else in the car, which appears undamaged. I stop, unsure of what my role might be. Hello? No answer. Hello? No answer. The dog watches me, unperturbed. The cars’ flashers tick on and off. I ride on, but in 15 minutes, now headed for home, I pass the spot again. The car is gone. The blood still soaking. Near the top of the mountain, I try to catch a falling leaf in my hand and miss.

In the evening, I pull the truck into a gas station and empty $80 into its tank. I have a love-hate relationship with this particular station; I hate it because it has television screens on the pumps that start screaming at me the moment I begin pumping. It startles me every time. And I love it because right next door there’s a run-down house with rabbits inhabiting a wooden hutch that’s essentially in the parking lot of the gas station. It seems a small life for the rabbits, to be sure, but I like to watch them while I pump, and I like that departing the station requires me to execute a three point turn in order to avoid hitting them. Where else can I get gas and be compelled to navigate around rabbits? Go ahead: Give me an example. I bet you can’t come up with a single one.

That night, the moon is big and bright and I’m awakened by the singing of coyotes. They are close and loud and I lie there watching the moon and listening until they’ve moved on or gone silent or both, and then there’s really nothing more to do but close my eyes and fall back to sleep.

Uncategorized

That Good Feeling

Not yet. But soon.

The rain in the night is torrential and unceasing, a stuck valve freed and now drawing from some inexhaustible pool, months of pent-up demand set loose. It’s not been this wet since I-don’t-remember-when; rainwater sluices down the steep driveway hill, the pond rises to nearly its normal level, and come morning my jeans are still damp from the rain they absorbed during yesterday’s evening chores.

I walk outside barefoot to grind my coffee and watch the dark lift. The ground is pliant and warm. The air is dense. The cats climb the fence posts of the paddock and perch atop them, feet tucked, tails twitching. Beyond, the cows are lying on the dwindling pasture, soft shapes I might not recognize if I didn’t know better.

Back inside, I light the fire for my breakfast. The cats return, wet and mewling and expectant, though for what, I’m not certain. I fry eggs and eat them straight from the pan. It’s day now. The cows have risen; they’re ambling westward, drawn by some deep bovine instinct, or maybe the memory of sweet grass, or perhaps nothing so much as that good feeling of moving in that dim morning light.

Music. Here’s a great cover of Robert Earl Keen’s Shades of Grey by Jason Boland. And a new one from Zach Bryan. Hope you like.

Uncategorized

As Big and Quiet as it Wants to Be

After the rain

Finally the heat breaks, and rain falls, though not enough. But not enough is better than not at all, and in the morning when I drive over the mountain road, my passage through the trees is shrouded in mist that looks so much like smoke that even though I know it’s not, I keep smelling the air just in case I might be wrong.

In the evening after the heat breaks, I count primary ballots at the town hall. There are 42 of them in total. It’s a good turnout. Jig and I sit at a wobbly table and I call out the chosen names and he makes hash marks on a page and at the end we count and see that everything adds up and this is democracy in our little town.

The daylight is contracting, and at an early hour this morning, it was just cool enough to raise goosebumps on my arms. The summer softness hasn’t hardened yet, but you can sense it’s going to, incrementally at first, slowly, slowly, slowly, then more quickly, until the air is a knife’s edge that won’t go dull for months.

The younger boy packs his truck, he’s headed West (of course he’s headed West, don’t they all head West?), and even though he isn’t even gone yet, I feel the impending quiet. And maybe I fear it, too, just a little, all that empty space after so many years of fullness, it’s hard to know exactly how to shape myself to fill it. Or maybe the trick isn’t to fill it, but just to let the space be there, as big and quiet as it wants to be.

Uncategorized

Like We’re Counted On To

Church and truck

In the morning when I awake the cows are in the front yard, on the wrong side of the electrified fence meant to contain them. It’s misty and barely light, and for a moment I stand there mute, watching them graze the tender grass, willing them to be back where they belong, because really what I want right now is a cup of coffee, not a cow chase. Alas, my will is too weak for the task, so I pull on my boots, drive them back into the pasture, and fix the section of fence that was no doubt pulled down by the calf, not yet well-attuned to the possibility of electric shock and therefore willing to push his way to greener grass. In fencing parlance, an electric fence is known as a “psychological barrier,” which is to say that the fence itself is not what holds the animals. Rather, it’s their fear of shock that keeps them contained, and I can’t help but think it’s an apt metaphor for the human condition and all the psychological barriers we erect for ourselves. Or that our culture erects for us, or some combination of the two, barriers we’ve lived with for so long or have gone to such great, contorting efforts to make peace with that we can scarcely imagine the shock of dismantling them, the undoing of all the manipulations we’ve done to get comfortable with them. And never mind what awaits on the other side!

(Yikes. What the hell was that? Philosophy or something?)

With the cows in place, I head out on my bike and ride my favorite morning loop, the one that takes me past the nearest working dairy farm where I come so close to the barn I can hear the rhythmic thump and hiss of the vacuum pump, and then, just past that, an old farmhouse with its enviable collection of vehicles: There’s the 80’s-era F150 with a God Bless Johnny Cash sticker on the hood, an IROC-Z of similar vintage, and a Cadillac DeVille that’s not old enough to be particularly cool, nor new enough to be ostentatious. I’d proudly drive any of those rigs, though I can most vividly imagine myself now in that low-slung IROC, running hot through the S turns at the top of the mountain road, a little Motley Crue on the stereo. No! Quiet Riot! Yup. That’s the ticket for sure.

Back home, the cows watch me wheel up the driveway, looking chagrinned. The cows, I mean, not me, though in truth, it’s probably just wishful thinking. More likely, the little one’s thinking of making another run for it; he’s been bit by that fence only a time or two yet in his young life, the pain hasn’t quite stuck, he still believes he can take on the whole damn world and not feel the sting of it. That’s ok. He’ll learn to stay in line soon enough. Like we all have. Like we’re counted on to.

Uncategorized

As Much As You Possibly Can

Wagons

At the Agway in town I buy cat dewormer and make conversation with the middle-aged woman at the register. She’s wearing a Great White concert tee, so of course I ask her about that, and she reels off a list of all the shows she’s going to this summer – Skid Row, Pat Benatar, Loverboy, I think maybe Dokken, or maybe it’s someone else, those 80’s era hair bands sort of run together for me – and then she tells me that she got tickets for her daughter, too, and I can see in her eyes how much this means to her, and for a moment I imagine the two of them pumping their fists and singing along with Sebastian Bach.

“Thanks, hon,” she says when I leave with my dewormer, which I’m going to stuff down the skinny cats’ throat to see if maybe it’s worms that’s making him look so small, though it could just be age and the inevitable diminishment it visits upon us all. It’s been a very long time since anyone’s called me “hon,” and I have to admit that I sort of like it. I mean, in this day and age you can imagine a person being offended by it and yet at the same time it seems to me as if the world would be a poorer place without middle-aged woman in Great White concert tees calling their dewormer-purchasing customers “hon.”

Driving home, it’s all new-mown hayfields and wind-tossed trees, the undersides of their leaves slivery against the sky. The ribbon of gravel road like being carried on a mud-brown river. Coming out of the corners, rocks ping off the underside of the car. I know that sound like the sound of my own breath. All these years of dirt road driving, all these years of them taking me just where I need to go.

The road begins to climb. The car shifts down, the engine surges. The smell of summer is pouring through the open window, and I want to tell you what it smells like, but I can’t. It just smells like summer, the way rain smells like rain, the way snow smells like snow. The way you want to just slow down and breathe in as much as you possibly can.

I really enjoyed this conversation with Ada Limón. You might, too.

Uncategorized

It Does Feel Good

Cat. In a cart.

In the early evening I drive far north to the small town of Canaan to pick up a pair of used tires for the truck. It’s a long drive, pretty much as far as one can travel in a northerly direction from our home and not end up in another country. The evening is stupendously beautiful, the air silky soft and warm, the landscape so lushly green it feels almost as if the color itself could bear my weight. I turn onto a road I’ve never driven before, a long, winding ribbon of pavement that passes lakes and moose swamps and mobile homes and forests so thick I get a sense of foreboding. There are long stretches unmarred by human habitation, then the remnants of old farms, then a village too small to sustain even a gas pump. For many miles, I follow a man on a Harley, one of those models that places your feet way out in front of your body, so that it basically looks like you’re floating down the road in a La-Z-Boy. I’ve got the windows to the car wide open and I can hear the rat-a-tat thudding of the Harley’s engine. I could get a motorcycle, I think. I could ride for miles with my feet in front of me. I could lean into the corners just the way he’s leaning into them. It must feel so good.

I buy the tires from a very nice man with a lot of tattoos, then I turn back and drive the same route home. I’m pleased with my purchase. I’m pleased to be driving in the slow-fading light, past the done-in farms and the small villages, through the forests so thick I get a sense of foreboding. I’ve still got my windows down, and the air is rushing in, and I noticed that my feet, while maybe not quite as far in front of my body as the feet of the man on the Harley were in front of his body, are actually pretty far out there. I tilt the seat back just a bit, and I let my body lean into the next corner, and then the one after that, and you know what? I was right: It does feel good.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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.