The Best Way to Be

Town church in the early hour

It’s warm enough to drive the tractor three miles to Smith’s to fill it with diesel while wearing only a tee shirt (well: pants, too, for sure I’m wearing pants), and so that’s what I do, my spindly, winter-pale arms soaking up the late afternoon sun as I rumble down the mountain road in high gear, then swerve right over the bridge onto Norway, where I see another tractor coming toward me beneath the canopy of budding maples. The driver of the approaching tractor is also wearing only a tee shirt (and pants, too, presumably, though it’s hard to tell for sure from my vantage point); he waves and smiles as we pass, and so do I, and I imagine that he’s thinking the exact same thing I am: Ah, spring. The season of tractors passing on a road just wide enough to do so without complications. The season of sunburn and a frantic last dash to finish cutting firewood for the winter to come. The season of turned-over earth, of the sweet dank scent of last fall’s decomposing foliage, of lying in bed at first light listening to the distant rush of the mountain stream, still swollen in its banks from the very last of the snowmelt and last week’s rain.

Down at Smith’s, I fill the tractor and buy an ice cream (two fat scoops, hell yeah) and head back up the road, licking at my cone, shifting gears, smelling all the smells: the drips of diesel fast evaporating from the tractor’s hood, the rich exhaust, the dirt of the road, the sweet ice cream, even the sweat dried on my skin. And then, back on Norway, my cone now down to the nub ends in my sticky fingers, here comes the other tractor again! It’s the same one, same guy, same wave, though now the smile’s more of a chuckle, both of us just a bit delighted at the little ways the world compensates.

And really, isn’t that the best way to be?


On the Air

Moon over barn before the storm

On Friday comes the biggest storm of the season thus far, the snow beginning in the evening hours and continuing unabated throughout the night. In the morning there’s a solid 10 inches on the ground and snow still falls. Historically speaking, there’s nothing unusual about a storm like this in early March, but this winter has been so consistently warm and weak that it somehow feels like a breach of contract, the promise of an easy glide into spring rudely revoked.

It takes me nearly three hours to clear our drive, plus the two others I tend. By the time I’m done, the sky has stopped spitting and is breaking into intricate patterns. I park the tractor, haul water to the cows, then stand for a moment under that fracturing sky, watching it separate into more shades of grey than I would have thought possible. So many colors within the one; so many different ways of seeing something I thought I knew exactly how to see.

Later, after the storm is long passed and all those shades of grey have faded from the sky, I ski into the woods to a spot where the yellow birch grow so big they don’t even look like yellow birch anymore, the bark turned brown and roughened by age, the trunks thick and branches twisted in improbable ways. I think the birches are like very old people: Hard to fathom but also strangely captivating, as if they’ve done something miraculous other than simply endure. As all of us must. As most of us do.

When I tire of breaking trail through the new snow, I turn back, now gliding easy in my own tracks, back past the yellow/brown birches and through a long sweep of young-ish maples. Dark coming on, but later than I’ve grown accustomed to, almost six o’clock and still plenty of light to see by.

Spring is close at hand. I can smell it on the air.


Pretty Damn Good

Town church under an early moon

Halfway through a half-assed winter, and the sun makes a glorious return, rising high and almost-hot, and suddenly it feels like the middle of March when it’s barely the second week in February. When we’ve barely had any winter at all. Standing in line to buy a pound of coffee and a tub of yogurt, I overhear someone talking about their climate grief, and then at the lumberyard I hear someone talking about how they started tapping two weeks earlier than usual and damned if they didn’t wish they’d made it three. The narrow gravel road we live on transitions between ice and mud and ice again, and Kyle tells me we’re going to need to increase the town’s budget for material; he’s been waging an ongoing war against the ruts and potholes opened by the constant freeze/thaw/freeze cycle and the big piles down at the town garage are disappearing fast. We’ve had two mud seasons already this winter, and it seem we might be on the cusp of a third. I vacillate between bemoaning the weather and wielding my own peculiar brand of stoic philosophy, which basically involves making up pithy affirmation sayings and then sharing them as broadly (and frequently) as possible, a past time which has not entirely endeared me to my family . “Comfort is where growth goes to die” is my favorite so far, though I acknowledge it’s not the most obvious response to a weak winter. But still: Comfort is where growth goes to die.

You gotta admit, it’s pretty damn good.

Music: Really digging this tune by Pony Bradshaw

Words: Really loved this book by Lily Brooks-Dalton


Any Kind of Answer At All

Winter passes as winter does, in fits and starts of snow and cold, in the pages of one book after another, the cat dozing on my chest while I read in the evenings before bed, in early morning forays into the high-elevation hardwoods at the top of the mountain road. There I watch the sun rise through the leafless crowns of the maples and yellow birch and eventually over the snowed boughs of the spruce and fir, glad for the silence and the solitude and sometimes wondering how different my circumstances might be if it weren’t for snow and skis and cold and this big swath of land where I soon find myself beyond the range of human sound. Or of any human sign at all. It’s good to wonder these things, I think, at least from time-to-time, just as perhaps it’s good to wonder how to be of use in a world that spirals further and further out-of-control with every passing day. Though it’s true the answers don’t come easy; it’s true I envy those who have any sort of answer at all. Or who seem not to wonder in the first place.

In the evening, I read again. The cat dozes, and I doze with him, drifting in-and-out of my family’s murmured conversation, stars visible in the sky through the window above my head. In the morning, the boy and I rise before dawn; he leaves for work and I sit by the fire until I’ve sat by the fire long enough and then I head back to the woods where it’s always clear I know nothing more than the last time I came here, or the time before that. But also where knowing doesn’t seem to offer any kind of answer at all.


The Clearest, Coldest Pond

The big storm hits with pounding rain and swirling winds, but the power stays on and the roof doesn’t leak, and in the night, toward the end of the maelstrom, the rain turns to an abundant snowfall – perhaps 5″ in total – so that by the next morning, the landscape is returned to its former winter glory. It is suddenly cold again, and at first light I ski to Dead Moose Pond, which is arguably one of my three favorite places on earth that I can think of at the moment. The early light is eerie and spectral, the conifer-green wedge of the surrounding forest like the filling of a sandwich between the grey bread of sky and ground. Despite the cold – it’s 5, maybe 6 degrees above 0 – the pond ice is rain-rotten beneath the new snow, and within a few strides I know I won’t be crossing, so I turn back and retrace my tracks to the road, then push north toward the summit of Wheelock Mountain, which is also arguably one of my three favorite places on earth that I can think of at the moment. And so it is that an hour later I find myself at it’s little-heralded-and-even-less-visited peak, which isn’t really a peak so much as a wooded plateau where the boys and I used to joke that every broken and bent over tree was evidence of a resident Sasquatch marking her territory. It’s been a some years since one of the boys has ventured up here with me; I try to remember the last time, the particulars of it, but I can’t, all I can recall are the Sasquatch jokes, all I know is that it happened, and that I surely failed to appreciate the possibility that it wouldn’t happen again. Or at least not for a very long time. But that is the way of it, I suppose, the appreciation so often coming too late for memory to salvage the specifics.

In the evening I fall asleep early, but not before I’ve opened the window above my head just an inch or two so that when I awake in the night I can feel the air drift across my face, just for a moment or two, like the tiniest, gentlest waves of the clearest, coldest pond you’ve ever jumped in.

Another year. I’m grateful to you all for reading and commenting. Happy New Year.

Also, here’s a nice one from Zach to close out 2022.



On the morning of my 51st birthday, I emerge from the woods on my skis at the top of the mountain road just as a man in a black Subaru glides over the crest and slows to a stop. His window descends. “See any tracks up there,” he asks, and I know he means deer because he’s dressed all in orange and it’s the height of rifle season, and when I say “no” (because it’s true, I didn’t see any, or at least not any to speak of), he smiles and says “I got one this morning,” and that’s how I end up shoulder to shoulder with a stranger in the middle of the road on the morning of my 51st birthday, me in my ski boots, he in his Lacrosses, peering into the hatchback of his Forester at a pretty little four-pointer with just that one spot of blood where the bullet entered. You’d think there’d be more to it, but no. Just that one spot. Just that small bloom of red.

A week later, and the snow is all but gone. A storm is approaching, the thermometer rising into the 40s. Before the rain, I walk a portion of the same route I’d skied the week before. Rifle season is over and muzzleloader season has yet to begin; there are no other cars at the trailhead. I have the woods to myself. The trail is a mix of hard-packed snow and open water; the sky a monochromatic grey, so dim and unchanging that my sense of time feels off. Have I been walking for 10 minutes, or 30? I know that it’s morning, but it somehow feels as if it could be nearing nightfall, as if I’ve been awake for 10 hours, rather than two, and the wind blows in sporadic gusts that sway the treetops but on the ground can barely be felt at all.


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.


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.


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.


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.