A Yankee Notebook, Columns

Don’t be too Hard on Us

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – The calendar claims it’s the first of October. The thermometer claims it’s the first of August (and will, until next Saturday). The soft maple outside my kitchen window, always the first tree on the property to turn, already has turned so far that, like Woody Guthrie’s famous potato stew, you can read a magazine right through it.

In years past – now, regrettably, long past – this was the time for the annual dash across the lake to the Adirondacks to get the firewood into deer camp for the coming hunting season. On a particular weekend the other regulars and I gathered to buck dry maple, oak, and ash into stove-length chunks, truck it to the woodshed, and rank it on the “new” side, to be used last, if need be. I once took an erstwhile son-in-law with me to meet the guys and help out. He seemed a pretty tough cookie, but it was the only time he ever went. I don’t think it was the work that turned him off; I’m pretty sure it was the language. My own memories of driving home on Sunday afternoons with freshly cracked fingers and a sore back are bittersweet.

Now the preparations for winter are much tamer. I’ve got a window sash to prime, paint, and install before the snow flies. The firewood – enough for two years, the way winter is going these days – is ranked and dry by the boiler in the cellar. The little roadster’s registration and inspection are due. I’ll get all that done when she goes in later in the month for her annual service and oil change. Then her winter shroud comes down from the attic, the battery gets unhooked, the three mouse balls go into her three cavities to deter shelter-hunting mice, and then it’s bye-bye till May – or maybe April, the way winter is going these days (a frequent refrain). The square-pointed shovel’s already on the porch, and the bucket of sand at the head of the ramp.

There’ll still be the problem of crossing the ice-roughened yard to the garage. But there are pointy poles at each end of the expedition and boots equipped with varying degrees of traction, from mild (studded soles) to crampons fierce enough to tackle an 8000-meter peak.

And one more thing necessary to the crossing: my iPhone, which, should I fall, will at the uttering of a single sentence bring help to the yard before (it is fervently to be hoped) I freeze to death. I know that Siri’s there, and ever ready. I’ve just discovered, in my never-ending quest to catch up to the cyber-universe, that I can set the alarm just by saying, “Hey, Siri, set the alarm for 6:30”, and then turn it off the same way when it beeps in the new dark of the morning. She’s always listening. (If you’re reading this aloud, you may be awakened tomorrow morning at 6:30. Sorry)

We’ve arrived officially at the hold-my-beer part of autumn. It’s a tacit, but fierce competition to see who of us can wait the longest before turning on his central heating system. My own goal is November first, but (with winter going the way it is these days) I may make it a bit longer. I’ve got to query the internet whether I get an exemption when entertaining overnight guests who hate to be chilly.

One of Robert Frost’s best depictions of rural New England life is “The Code.” I’ve long considered it a touchstone in understanding where we’ve been, A farmer who bulls and jams his help – though, to be fair, he doesn’t spare himself – calls up to his man on top of the hay wagon: “…the old fool seizes his fork in both hands, and looking up bewhiskered out of the pit, shouts like an army captain, ‘Let her come!'”

Naturally, the man on top of the load, who’s built it, knows how to unload it – which he does, in ten fast forkfuls. The last he sees of the boss, he’s treading hard to keep his head above the deluge. Later, when he goes to look for him, he finds him in front of the blazing parlor stove on a hot day with the door open, looking utterly disgusted. He doesn’t fire the man who’s buried him, who did just what he was told to do.

So, considering the history of the expression, “Bring it on!” (George W. Bush had an unfortunate experience with it), I will restrain myself from similar machismo. I will not in the slightest be tempted to head south for the winter. The heat will go on when I can’t stand freezing anymore, when Kiki jams herself against me all night, and the butter out on the kitchen counter is as hard as granite at breakfast time.

The dues we pay for living here – and staying here throughout the year – are nothing compared to the joys we feel at the changing of each season, and our quarterly invocation, Bring it on – but don’t be too hard on us, if you please.

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