That Will be Real Nice

January 24, 2017 § 65 Comments

img_5184We awoke to freezing rain, falling sideways on a sharp and persistent wind, and by the time I emerged from the house for chores, the land and everything it bore was rimed in ice. As it does every morning, my right shoulder brushed the outermost branches of the apple tree where I turn toward the pig’s winter quarters, and the sound of the ice breaking upon that soft impact was indistinguishable from the crackling of the clapboard cut-offs I’d used to kindle the fire.

It’s been something less than a real winter – we’ve had more snow than last year, but the thaws have arrived in clockwork fashion, and the latest has been a real doozy. It’s hardly been below freezing for the past week. If there’s an upside, it’s that Penny and I ski every chance we get, fearful that the next thaw will take us down to bare ground. So, in our own paranoid and semi-frantic fashion, we’ve actually skied a good bit, and there is no better tool for thriving in winter than a pair of cross-country skis. A chainsaw helps, too. And a splitting maul.

On Saturday, along with an estimated 14,996 others, we attended the Women’s March in Montpelier. I do not think I have ever been in a crowd so large; indeed, the traffic to and from the event was enough to close the interstate. Bernie showed and did his Bernie thing, and there was wonderful spoken word poetry from a quartet of Muslim girls, and singing, and chanting, and all the things one might expect of such a gathering. I was disappointed that Vermont’s newly-elected governor, a Republican who has gone to great pains to distance himself from Trump, did not make an appearance, but then again, if it’d come down to him or the poetry, I’d’ve taken the poetry every time. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that poetry trumps politics every time, even when poetry is politics. If that makes any sense.

I do not like our new president. I find him boorish and crude, loutish, an embodiment of a particular Americanized concept of power and success, which to me seems rooted in some sort of primal fear I cannot understand. If it weren’t for his newly-anointed position, he’d be almost laughable. Or, as I like to say: It’d be funny. If it were funny. My own fear is primarily the fear I feel on behalf of those who do not enjoy the privilege of my white, American-born, male skin. Though it’s true I fear for myself, too, and my children, and even so many of those who voted for him. Despite his proclamations to the contrary, I do not believe he has our best interests at heart.

In my mind, I distinguish between Trump and those who support him. Which is to say, in most cases, I feel empathy for those who saw fit to cast their ballot his way; I understand the disillusionment, the sense of being forgotten, unheard, misunderstood. Sure, there are surely some who voted for reasons I cannot fathom or even forgive, but I truly believe that those who cast this election as being solely about hate or intolerance are egregiously oversimplifying the matter. There is much more at play, here. Much more.

On the way home from the rally, I commented to my family that if Hillary had been elected, there wouldn’t have even been a rally, and that perhaps Trump’s election will in hindsight prove to be a turning point, a moment of awakening. And that furthermore, perhaps a Hillary presidency would have been more dangerous, if only because it might have enabled us to keep snoozing. I could be wrong about this.

To be sure, the rally was only a moment in time, an almost instinctual reaction to the circumstances. Perhaps its energy cannot be sustained, and we will all retreat to our respective corners to lick our wounds and figure out how best to carry on in this baffling world. But I’d like to think there’s something more behind it than that. Not that we won’t still have wounds to tend; not that the world won’t continue to baffle and bewilder, as it would have no matter who’d been elected. This much is assured.

Still, I’d like to think that the rally we attended – along with the hundreds of other rallies that millions more attended – isn’t merely a silk purse hewn from a sow’s ear, but rather the foundational supports of an entirely new container, a vessel that will carry us much longer and farther than the next four years, one that has room for many more than were present at these rallies, including, even, those who see salvation in our current president.

Now I see that the freezing rain has changed over to snow, and I think that maybe later, if it keeps up, there’ll be a fresh layer upon which to ski. We’ll climb the field across the road and glide into the sugar woods, and I’ll forget about everything else but the feel of my hammering blood and breath and the liquid sound of my skis in the new snow. Yes. That will be real nice.

 

 

 

 

 

What a Difference That’s Made

January 18, 2017 § 19 Comments

img_5138Last Friday I left the house early to run. The moon was still high and bright in the bluing sky, and I watched it over my shoulder, frayed clouds passing across it at irregular intervals. The road passed a sugarbush, and there my view was altered by the long bones of leafless maples, half-lit and shadowy. I liked how the moon seemed to bounce in time to the rhythm of my steps. Ball-like.

A bit farther down the road I came to the tracks of a large deer. It’d been warm the day before, and the tracks were sunk into the road surface. But overnight the road had frozen, and there’d been a wisp of snow. The snow had softened the hard cloven edges of the tracks, and so they looked much like little hearts pressed into the road, just visible in the milky pre-dawn light. I followed them until they veered into the woods.

It’s funny how that moon and those tracks have stuck with me, how much pleasure they’ve brought me over the intervening almost-week. I keep returning to them, again and again, as if they held some meaning beyond their inherent beauty and my good fortune at bearing witness to that beauty, though I know without a doubt how ridiculous this is. Just a moon. Just some tracks. On any other morning, I might have hardly noticed either.

But on this one, I did. And what a difference that’s made.

 

 

 

 

Workshops

January 12, 2017 § 7 Comments

I’m pleased to announce two upcoming workshops. I hope some of you can make it. Please email ben@fairpoint.net for more info. packbasketworkshop2bowlworkshop

Back to the Gas

January 10, 2017 § 35 Comments

Last night, shortly after dark, I drove past a small convenience store not far from here. There are many of these stores scattered throughout the hills and hollows of Vermont, and this one is little different from most: Stocked with cheap coffee and mediocre beer, strangely-flavored potato chips and canned soup, chewing tobacco and Slim Jims. There’s a little deli in the back where you can buy a decent-sized sub for four bucks.

On summer afternoons, trucks idle out front while their drivers grab packs of smokes and tall boys. On winter mornings, trucks idle out front while their drivers grab packs of smokes and coffee in styrofoam cups. During hunting season, there’s likely to be a rifle on the passenger seat of these trucks, barrel pointed to the floorboards. During most any season, there’s likely to be a chainsaw in the bed. A tow chain or maybe two, coiled in the corner like dozing snakes.

I like driving past this store. I like to see those trucks idling, imagine the tasks their owners are going to or coming from. I like going in the store, two: There are three women who work there regularly, and they’ve always got the radio on loud, and like or not, at least one of them is singing along at the top of her lungs. When it’s slow, they stand outside and smoke. I buy most of my gas and diesel there, a beer now and then. If I’m with the boys and in a magnanimous mood, I’ll grab a handful of ice cream sandwiches for the road. About once a year, I get one of those four buck subs. I like it loaded right up, everything except mushrooms. Never did like mushrooms on a sandwich.

Anyway. I drove past last night, a cold night, the lights over the gas pumps shining bright over the parking lot. Three trucks, two of them idling. I wanted to pull in, just to linger for a few minutes in the warmth and bustle of the store, and I started to put my foot on the brake. But there was nothing I needed, and I’d left my money at home, anyway. So I put my foot back to the gas and watched the lights fall away in the rear view.

 

 

Don’t Let This Happen to You

January 4, 2017 § 44 Comments

img_6890On the morning of New Year’s Day, I skied early and long, climbing the hayfield across the road, then looping through the sugar woods, then down again to an old logging track that eventually became a narrower trail, vaguely discernible in the abundance of snow. Eventually I arrived at the backside of a large pond a few miles from here, and there I turned back, as I’d been gone longer than promised already. On the ski home, I came to a place where a deer’s journey had converged with my own, the hoof prints laid over my ski tracks, fresh as could be. How pleasing to think of the animal following my path, if only for a while.

That evening, driving home from picking up a used exterior door, I passed a wild turkey hen flopping desperately at the side of the road. I stopped the car to see what services I could render, but the bird was badly damaged, one wing all but torn from her body. I dropped my booted heel on her head three times in quick succession, waited a minute for her nervous system to quiet, then carried her to the car.

On the remaining short drive home I felt a deep, almost tearful sadness for the bird, one whose roots I could not quite identify at the time, though in hindsight have come to identify as the juxtaposition between these two encounters: the peaceful convergence of the deer’s wanderings and mine, and the stark brutality of the hen’s demise. How fearful she must have felt, there on the frozen shoulder of the road, broken beyond repair, unsure of my intentions. And rightly so, as it turned out.

Perhaps, too, there is something about our current political landscape embodied in my sadness. The evident brutality of it has made me uneasy; I feel almost a little shaky at times. Don’t get me wrong: I recognize that brutality is inherent to our nation’s doctrine of exceptionalism, no matter who holds the reigns. Nonetheless, something is different now. Or maybe it’s not so different; maybe it’s just clearer, more outspoken and, in a tragic way, more honest. Maybe that’s what’s most troubling.

I’d hoped I could coerce the boys into dressing the bird, but they were deep into a long-promised movie when I arrived home, so I laid some newspaper on the floor and got to plucking. The feathers came out easy. They were so, so soft in my hands.

•     •     •

The other big event of New Year’s Day is that my hard drive crashed. Being the fool I am, I did not have much of anything backed up, and much was lost. I say this because the complications of recovering from this event (and honestly, it’s sobering to be reminded of my dependence on this technology) will likely mean fewer posts for a while, and probably some old photos, because much as it pains me to admit, I know at least some of you are here for Penny’s photos as much, if not more so than my words. I mention this also as a reminder to those of you who do not regularly backup your computer: Don’t let this happen to you!

 

 

 

 

Snow

December 30, 2016 § 33 Comments

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Before the snow. Feeding chickadees

The snow began falling late yesterday morning. I was deep in the woods extracting a large ash I’d dropped months before but had been too busy to retrieve, moving slow because I’m sick but still enjoying the way the forest feels on the cusp of a storm. Quiet but with a gathering energy, the midday sky shades of steel. I halved the length of ash for easier extraction, choked the two halves, and drew them in with the winch. A nice, nice piece of firewood, 70-feet long if it were an inch, nearly a foot-and-half across at the base. It’d been half-dead on the stump already. All dead now.

I skidded the tree down to the house, bucked it, and the four of us set to splitting, though I ducked into the house for a time to dry out and drink some tea, during which I watched my family through the window, listening to the metronomic thwacks of the splitting mauls, the murmur of a conversation I strained to make out but could not. Feeling a little guilty over my proximity to the fire while they labored in the snow. But not too guilty. I’d done my share. I’d do more before the day was out.

This morning the snow was falling still, though short of forecasts; there was maybe five-inches on the ground at daybreak, not the expected ten or more. Beautiful nonetheless. I blazed fresh trails on my chore rounds – to the cow water, to the layers, to the pigs. Still sick, still moving slow, the energy of yesterday now tempered by the quieting sensation of the new fallen snow. I never really wanted to live anywhere it doesn’t snow, though come April I’ll be weary of it like everyone else, watching it slowly disappear from the north-facing hills, wishing for a warm rain to wash the last of it away.

•     •     •

It’s almost the New Year, which seems like an appropriate time to mention how much I appreciate all my readers. I feel incredibly grateful to have such a kind, thoughtful, and supportive readership. Honestly, writing here wouldn’t be the same without you. Thank you.

Good Gloves Don’t Grow on Trees

December 26, 2016 § 22 Comments

I take my gloves off for milking and lay them on Pip’s back, directly across the knobbed ridge of her spine. Palms down so the curve of the gloves match the curve of her ribs. I always do it this way.

Later, when it’s time to go to the woods to finish bucking the red maples I’d dropped the day prior, I cannot find my gloves. I do the usual things: Search the designated cubby in the mudroom, check the warming shelf of the cookstove (three other pairs, but none mine), blame the boys. Always, blame the boys.

And I then remember. Of course. Pip’s back.

I gather the saw, chaps, helmet. Drink some water, because I don’t like being thirsty when I’m working in the woods, and though I could bring water with me, it’s more than I wish to carry. So I toss back a pint, enough to see me through, but not so much I’ll have to pee. Because the other thing I don’t like when I’m working in the woods is stopping to pee, all that fumbling of chaps, pants, underwear. The balance between thirst and peeing is a tricky one, and I don’t always get it right.

I gas the saw, carry it bare-handed to where the cows are gathered around the remnants of a round bale. They look particularly resigned today. And yes: There they are, my gloves, still atop Pip’s back, exactly as I’d left them nearly two hours before, and I wonder why she hasn’t tried to shake them off, or if she’s even noticed their small weight, or perhaps been broken to it by all the mornings I’ve laid them atop her.

I set the saw down, pluck them off her back, slide them on. Glad for them. Because they’re good gloves, and good gloves don’t grow on trees.

Music: The Turnpike Troubadours doing Doreen. Fan-freaking-tastic!