Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waiting for Rain at the Farm

I’ve been rebuilding a big powered speaker we used to use for Siobhan’s old standup bass, a band and a half back, when I was living in Chicago. I’ve been waiting for the rain, but it hasn’t come yet.  Now for a moment the sun has come out, though the clouds are black in every direction.

 The parts came in two installments. First the brown UPS truck stopped where the driveway used to turn in—it’s backwards to the road, but safer than trying to pull over when there’s no shoulder and a sudden drop into the ditch that races with floodwater when it rains hard. That was the big JBL high-frequency driver for the horn; we’d blown that at a charity gig for a group home for the developmentally disabled. It didn’t matter that much when you’re using it as a low-frequency bass amp.  Then we managed to break the input and that pretty much sidelined the thing.  The UPS guy knows me pretty well by now; he commented that the package was too heavy to be a book, and it wasn’t from Amazon, which is the usual reason for him to stop by. I told him what it was for and he sympathized.

The second was from Brian Hendrix down in Florida; it was the input component console.  He’d sent it Priority Mail, which made sense from his end—he’s in a nondescript quasi-industrial park south of Orlando, and it’s not far from the post office on Michigan Avenue, right on the way to the entrance to the Florida Turnpike. Priority has the advantage these days of including automatic package-tracking, too, which can matter when you’re sending a lot of packages of sensitive electronic components to people who are depending on you to have things ready for the next bar or lounge gig.

But Sharon doesn’t get out of her little white truck, so if something doesn’t fit in the mailbox, she doesn’t deliver. In fact, she sorts the mail, along with Kathy and Dennis, so she doesn’t have to bother putting most packages on the truck—she just fills out the yellow-green delivery attempted card and puts the package in the pickup shelves. If I get the mail in the afternoon, I can go straight in and pick up the package rather than waiting for her to return to the post office and let someone file it. 

Yesterday I was going over the copyedits of the Dylan chapter, and it was complicated—I was having to listen to every song I’d quoted to make sure I had the words exactly right, and Harry and I were supposed to go out riding at 4. I called him at 3:30, knowing he was fabricating the kitchen cabinets for the farmhouse, and was probably going to get himself wrapped up in the sequence and the details and lose track of time. 

As it turned out, he couldn’t extricate himself from the glue and the clamps till just after 5, so I didn’t check the mail till 7:30 when we got back. It was close to dark by then;  the clouds had been moving in since 4, and Harry said we’d have rain after midnight.  The big corporate weather site had said not till this morning, but Harry has lived here all his life, so I tend to believe him, and not to fault him when he’s wrong.  We are in what’s loosely called the Hudson Valley—the gentle swale that great river has cut over epochs, as it has wandered between the Litchfield Hills over in Connecticut, and the Catskills over here in New York. In fact, ours is the Rondout Valley, carved by that river between the obdurate conglomerate stone of the Shawangunks, the easternmost vestige of the old Appalachian range, and the Catskills.  Because it’s a valley in a valley,  weather is quixotic, and our own valley, formed by the Kripplebush Creek, is even more isolate and unpredictable.  Often you can sit on the old metal lawn chair that’s on the uphill side of the barn, sunlight on cool mornings, shade on hot afternoons, and watch the thunderstorms rage in a line five miles north, marching west to east, for hours.

I checked the mail and brought it in, putting the delivery notice on the dining room table before sorting the mail into its four piles—hers, mine, catalogues, junk for the recycling.  I put the water on to boil, took a shower, and listened to the radio while I was making dinner.  It hadn’t started to rain, but when I let the dog out before going to bed there weren’t any stars visible.

This morning it was still dark and threatening, and a few sprinkles hit the windshield of the old man’s Ford on my way in to the post office.  Dennis went over to the shelves as soon as he saw me:  book or manuscript? he asked from the corner, trying to determine the size of the box. I buy a lot of very used books, and they come by Media Mail, which is extremely cheap though the time frame of delivery is pretty flexible. I told him what it was, and we were both a little surprised at the size of the box which, as it turned out, was mostly full of Styrofoam peanuts. 

Brian Hendrix is pretty much the only guy to go to for tech help if you’re a musician in central Florida, and that includes the ones who work the tourist hotel lounges and the kid-themed restaurants that have grown up around Disney World. In the grownup bars you’d better know every Eagles tune, and every Jimmy Buffett hit; in the kiddie palaces you’ve probably got a worked-out script that treads perilously close to the real guys—Raffi, or David Gonzalez—who have made it big enough to have agents and tour schedules. You’ll know songs about dolphins and monkeys and also more than a few of the tunes off the latest three or four Disney animation movies. You're putting on a happy face every night of the season, putting it on so hard it hurts at night to let yourself go. Off season, you've got repair projects piled up-- mixers with bad channels, processors missing their power sources, iffy cables-- and you'll be calling Brian to see what he's got and what he can order for you. Better do it now, while you've still got folding money left from the tip jar or the basket on the stage lip or the after-concert CD sales off the folding chair your girlfriend manned back when she still believed in you.

  If it weren’t for Disney World,the part of Florida  where Brian has his shop would be a wasteland, pockmarked here and there with sinking subdivisions and faded trailer parks populated by the old,  too poor or too gullible to head for the parts of the state that have something resembling topography, or scenery, or views.  There are shallow lakes where the ground has sunk a bit over a few million years, and there’s bass fishing; the Seminole tribe found excellent foraging before the speculative fevers of the 19th and 20th centuries in Florida pushed them out.

It doesn’t get much different, there from here, though there’s a similar economy.  There are the tourists, here and there, and there are the locals, who try to eke out a living as symbiotes or parasites. The musicians, there and here, nurse old or cheap equipment, and Brian sends a fair quantity of tubes and transistors, toroidal transformers and the like up this way.

So I have the big case split in two, and I’m using a flashlight to illuminate the places where the press-on connectors go into the circuit board.  It’s dim, but since I rarely work out here at night, there aren’t any good lights to turn on. Throughout the year, I let the daylight determine my working life. In July I’ll be writing or practicing or thinking, staring at the screen and then out the window at the hayfield, till well after 8. There’s the break to ride, sometimes early, when it’s hot; sometimes late when Harry wants to push up Mohonk before it gets too close to the time when the landscapers race their trucks over the summit, pulling trailers with their zero-clearance mowers tied down provisionally rocking back and forth as they head too fast for the light and the blind curves.

In the winter, I start late and finish in the dark, sometimes the light of the monitor the only source. I have that flashlight I’m supposed to remember to bring back and forth, but often I forget it, and stumble down in the snow, negotiating the icy patches by moonlight. Like the animals, like most other people who are here year-round, winter is a time of longer sleep; the days are often marked by necessary bouts of hard labor in the cold. Sometimes I fall asleep on the couch out here, reading till the pages blur, and awaken, disoriented and disconcerted, very very late.

It’s supposed to be raining right now;  it was supposed to be raining this morning, and last night; and it’s supposed to rain tonight, and tomorrow, too. So I have set aside all the outdoor chores—painting the window wells of the old house, picking the riper blackberries before they fall to the ground from the sheer weight of the fruit on the slender boughs, thinning and moving, cutting the new storm door for the back house dutch door and fitting it. Harm has his hay-trailers out in the section he cut last week before the last bout of rain.  He complained to Harry that we’ve got too much standing water over in the next section, and he wants to wait another week or so to see if it will drain.

He’s not going to be happy if it rains hard and long, like it should. But it hasn’t yet. The clouds are black sprays beneath a veil of lighter grey torn here and there to show the blue.  Over on Mohonk Mountain, the lower layer moves swiftly, obscuring Skytop and the Bonticou Crag while, further along the ridge, the sunlit areas seem sharply greener by contrast.

We’ve got some time.  The rains are coming in from the west.  It’s a Canadian cold front, slow-moving, stalling sometimes and then picking up momentum again. We’ll probably know when to close the windows on the old house; the creek will start to rumble and rush as it fills from its headwaters just down from the Catskills, in the Vly. The front will hit the mountains, pushing over them, then fly down the other side and, where the cool air meets the warmer uplift from the valley it will drop its moisture in blinding sheets, and the smaller, narrower cuts will fill with rushing water.

The USGS map shows our creek in its drier, more permanent version, beginning where springs draw to the surface and even in the droughts the rocks are slick and shiny with moisture. But if you work your way above it, you can see that there’s another five or ten miles of dry wash, waiting for those sheets of water coming down the mountains in a roar that can overwhelm the county culverts and rip the blacktop off County Routes 213, 3, 4, even the wider and more barricaded 2, which runs into Catskill Park.

When the fronts come down like this, the creek unfurls up there, taking in waters that in slower times would go to the Esopus Creek further down. Stones roll, then the unstable rocks move, as the detritus from earlier storms rises and frees itself from the once-dry bed and tree limbs, rusted gas cans, parts of a fallen barn, and all the rest that was scraped from the mountain hollows in the hurricanes of last October start down toward us.

You can hear it coming.  First there’s the rush and burble of water rising rapidly up the banks.  If you’re outside, at the right angle to the amplifying wall of the barn, you’ll hear it, and head in to put the windows back in the old milking room that’s now full of guitars and computers and boxes of books and stacks of papers and photographs and old magazines. Or you’ll head down to the old house to close the windows up on the second floor, in the bedroom.

If you miss that first wave, you’ll more likely hear the second, a sort of muted, distant rumble under the sound of water.  Small stones are racing along the creek bottom, bouncing off the rocks that are already there, slapping against the  miniature pebble beach made in the big storm year before last. The wind will pick up, and pieces of the sycamore trees will break off and crash down onto still-hard, dry ground.

Then the susurration of the rain itself, bouncing off the leaves, changing to a higher-pitched hiss as it hits the roadway, and dropping an octave when it crosses the front yard and hits the metal roof J.C. and his crew put on last year.  If you’re upstairs, you’ll hear the individual punctures of drops growing more and more frenetic until they merge into a full roar.

I hope you remembered to put the windows up in the studio. I hope you closed the workshop door when you were putting the still-unpainted screens back in, before you got distracted by some thought, some phrase, some rhyme that might be teased into something if you moved obliquely toward it. I hope you put the vodka in the freezer and turned the big tube-amp off so it won’t burn hot and unattended, impatient with disuse, till the morning. Did I leave that book on the metal chair?  If so, I hope I can unstuck the pages when it dries out. Will I hear from her? Are the cats in? What will I cook, listening to the radio turned up louder than usual to overwhelm the steady wash of noise from the rain and the hollow drumming where the roofline extends past the gutter and the water hits the half-empty galvanized pail set by the door to make filling the bird feeders easy on the bad winter mornings when the cardinals flashed red against the snow.

Each season carries over into the next, and the next, leaving things behind: the snow shovel still in the storm-entrance to the cellar, the half-empty 50-pound bag of pasture seed shoved onto the workbench next to the spare racing pedals for the good bike. Leaves,  red and yellow, still brilliant, still stuck between the sheets of waxed paper, in the book you open. A note from her, next to the bed, left under the pillow as a gift, small consolation, the last time she and you rose in the dark and you made coffee while she prepared to leave again. The picture of a dog who died last year, or was it the year before, stuck into a  frame holding that photograph of the two of you in the doorway, both of you shielding your eyes from the brilliant summer light, the light that will come tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, when the front has pushed through and the last trailing remnants of raincloud and grey dawn are somewhere else, somewhere east of here. Now it is silent, almost still, only the tall grasses moving just a little, waiting for rain.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Secret Lives of a Fallow Farm

We don’t have big, long-maned, heritage workhorses to shake their harnesses in the barn.  We don’t have horses at all.  We don’t have dairy cows in the old milking shed along the back of the tall barn, nor goats in the area behind the workbench and tack stalls, where the pigpen used to be. Chickens are all the rage among urban backyarders and back-to-the-farmers. Sometimes when Harry comes for a drink and dinner, or to consult about something, he brings a dozen eggs.  They are lovely; not brown and not white but blue, and pale aquamarine, and a greenish-pastel, and the yokes are a dense, supersaturated yellow.  Sometimes they taste, faintly, of coffee grounds or even melon; the chickens have broken into the garbage again, or the peacocks did, or the coyotes, and the chickens finished the job.

We aren’t growing organic kale or arugula or squash or sweet corn.  When they come into season we stop at Gill’s on 209 on our way into Kingston to get the oil changed or pick up primer at the Home Depot or make a party run at the discount liquor store. Cindy Gill stands at the counter, a flowered apron over her blouse and shorts, and rings up the pile of eggplants and peppers and squashes and beets and the corn and maybe we’ll be eating a roast ear we took from the Igloo that serves now not as a cooler but as a keep-warm and a steam-finisher for the ears that came out of the roaster.  That’s on Fridays and Saturdays and especially Sundays, when the weekenders make it worth their while to fire up the roaster, and the parking lot is full of Audis and Mercedes Benzes and BMWs and Priuses and upscale SUVS, and Cindy looks sympathetically over the heads of those stocking up for a week back in the city, as their children, already restless and viscerally anticipating the long, dreadful traffic jam that is the Thruway down to the Palisades Parkway and the GW Bridge, or to 17 and, eventually, the Holland Tunnel, misbehave in ways that remind you of the travail of parents not quite wealthy enough to have au pairs or nannies from Ireland, but too immersed in their own lives and the life of the City to have yet learned that it is their responsibility to control their children in places where heirloom tomatoes fall easily onto the concrete floor or, if their children commit such indiscretions, that they are responsible for apologizing, for making at least an effort to clean up, for paying for what exploded rich and red or yellow, sweet with juice no one will now revel in, onto the rough stained floor. We look back at Cindy with equal sympathy, and we sometimes break our own rules and get the paper towels from the rack by the onions and mop up the lost treasure and put it in the trash can behind the cash register.

Here’s what we do have. We have a hayfield.  In the late spring and early summer, close to a hundred redwing blackbirds will make their nests there, and they will perch, watchfully, prepared to mob the hawk should it try for the nestlings.  We have the hawk, a redtail, and his partner, whom we see less often, for she, too, is nesting just into the woodlot that separates our land and Harry’s. We have acres of milkweed dense along the edges of the hayfield, and many more individuals interspersed in the tall grasses at the middle, where the slight rise separates one spring flood-stream from the next. We have a snapping turtle who has laid her eggs in the remnants of the old woodpile, where the branches collected each spring after the winter blizzards, and every fall after the hurricane season, pile each year, providing kindling for the fireplaces and, every few years, the necessity of a burn pile, when the county lifts its moratorium, and the volunteer firemen are sure they won’t be overwhelmed by calls from those who can’t seem to understand that a burn should be far from the house and the garage, without dry hayfield surrounding the pile, waiting to carry the flames to woodlot or chicken coop.

We have seasonal visitors, we have sojourners, we have seasonal guests and fulltime residents. In the early spring, the sky darkens with waves of geese moving north. A pair of mergansers nests in the still pool where the creek has moved after the last big hurricane redirected its flow, carved out the swimming hole, and sent chunks of someone’s toolshed to rest atop the rusted remnants of a Model A Ford pickup truck and the inner drum of an old washing machine, back where the skunk cabbage and the ferns and the wild raspberry and rose hide things till the late fall and the scouring of life that leaves only the hulks and hulls and memories of things that come and go or perch or die here with us.

We have fish in the creek, so Harry assures us, though I’ve never seen one.  What I have seen are the crayfish, who explode from their muddy camouflage when your shadow crosses their habitat. Once a man came around the back and I heard the hollow knock and rattle of the unlatched screen from up the barn, as older neighbors say it, and I came down to see what he might want.  Georgie was still alive then, though old, and her barking had only a shadow of its old ferocity.  He had netted crayfish with his stepfather down there, and it had good memories for him.  Something he said, about learning to trust the new man and his slow, near-silent ways.  Now he had his daughter just on weekends; would we consider letting him bring her down there some Saturday or Sunday to see the place he and her grandpa had come to know, and to know each other?  Of course, I said, and you should bring your net if you’ve got one.  We don’t catch them ourselves; you would be welcome.  It was more than a couple of months, but one late-August afternoon I saw him skirting the house, following the line where cut grass met hayfield, a young girl, maybe eleven or twelve, striding in his footsteps, down to the creek, a net, the sort you might buy in a Walmart or a Dollar Store, in her hayfield-side hand. That was years ago; sometimes we see his truck parked on the side of the road, on the triangle of property the other side of the bridge, orphan land that should by rights be part of Harry’s clover field, but is ours because the properties were platted back in 1780 and the creek ran straighter, its boundary-banks a hundred yards the other side of where we are now. Once, not long ago, I went out to warn them of the poison ivy pressing up against the shoulder of the road, and I saw a teenage girl, tall and shy, sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck now rusted out below the door panels, her father a passenger, holding the nets across his lap.  I walked past without speaking to them; it was a moment close to holy and I wasn’t going to break its spell.

Harm hays the field once a summer, sometimes twice if the later season has good rain and sun.  He could do the first haying early, and be assured of two cuts, but we and he have decided it’s better to let the nestlings have full term to leave, and to allow the other nests and secrets to be undisturbed. The milkweeds in midfield, too, can shelter early Monarchs, leaving greater area for the brilliant yellow and black to flash in the evening light.

Dragonflies and dumb wasps who come into the studio and pound their lives out against the screens until I give up, leave the keyboard or set the guitar back in its case, and go out back to loosen the screen and free the desperate grotesque to fly, dazed and disoriented, out into the hayfield or over to the milkweed patch that crowds the edge of the milkpail room where her studio stands orderly and still. Barn swallows who swoop, dive and disappear into the eaves. Snakes under the barn, under the kitchen, under the library, writhing quickly back into the field from the cut grass where they’ve been sunning themselves on the flat edge of the glacial bedrock that emerges, here and there, across the property. A blue heron who comes and goes.  A bald eagle whose nest is down at Harry’s other farm, above the place where our creek emerges from Pompey’s cave, meanders down the other side of Lucas Turnpike, and loses itself in the Rondout; he comes when Harm is haying, leaving the redtails wary and then if nothing large enough to interest him has emerged from behind the haymow, tenders the field back to the hawks and, a day or so later, the turkey vultures in for the dead snakes and the voles and fieldmice cut, bled and dead at the hands of farm machinery. Their doubly hostile names notwithstanding, they are beautiful in the air, their descents languid and geometric, though once they land their ugliness is quickly apparent to the weekenders who stop along the road above to photograph the rustic scene, Harm’s ancient tractors and the baler still boasting the name of a company long bankrupt, its brand not even valuable enough to merit purchase by some Chinese manufacturer who has taken over the business of making things that are used to make things.

Groundhogs, lumbering, insulted, into the dense growth on this side of the creek down past the Purple Martin house and the new river birches just now establishing themselves. A mink, last year; we thought he was an otter but he was too small, too quick, too inquisitive. That blue heron who takes up for a time, awakening me of mornings with his fatalistic, disgruntled cries as he arises from the nesting area to head for the Rondout where the better fish are found. Gnats, swarms of them, vibrating in the hot air below the eaves of the barn. White butterflies that float and flit above the mulch when she has been watering, or in the well beneath the newly planted river birch that replaces the willow downed in the great storm. Viceroys, miniature versions of the Monarchs. 

Ours is not a farm, though we call it that. We have no fantasies of a hardy, self-reliant life, in which we might reclaim some romance-novel picture of a homesteader or pioneer, tanning the hides of the cows too old to offer milk, cutting patches for the old shoes or panels to be sewn into capes and pantaloons. Our lives are devoted to the opposite of self-reliance, to mutual dependency, to trading and buying, to diversity and a healthy respect for the specialties and vocations of others.  Cindy Gill and her family, and the Davenports closer in to town, and the Sheehans, and little Amy with her organic stand selling just three or four things:  these are the people who provide us the greens and the squashes and the corn too sweet to be tender, requiring that we find the toothpicks after the last ear is done and the cobs are in the bag to be tossed with the other cuttings and leavings, down in the growth by the little willow, at the creek’s edge. Young Bush, Wayne Junior, hunts our property in the season, and sometime in late fall he brings us venison cut and wrapped in butcher paper, the contents scripted in wide magic marker:  Stew Meat. Steak. Burger. Charles Noble has 70 head of cattle who migrate across the open meadows of the wealthy weekenders, people from the city, in financial, who are charmed by the lowing and the sight of the small herd seen on a Saturday morning from the back porch. To get from one pasturage to another, he has arranged to cross our hayfield, and the herd stays overnight down in the lower reaches, where Harm doesn’t hay.  In the spring, after the slaughter, he or Francesca stop by with the charmingly packaged cuts, vacuum-packed and frozen, their brand, Moveable Beast, perfect for sale in the Manhattan farmers’ markets where they make their money, and the locavore restaurants down in Red Hook and Brooklyn and up in Harlem, where the population’s hip enough, and rich enough, for their particular culinary braggadocio.

What do we offer in return?  Buffer, recompense, reparation, even penance. Across the Rondout, on the Schoonmaker’s farm, the cropduster whines and roars; to make its runs, it must return across the edge of our woodlot, where, each first time of the season, we are sure it is too low and will clip the tall oak and crash. That sweet corn is better than the ears we get, or at least more tender, if a bit less sweet.  Like Charles’s tenderloin and Amy’s organic arugula and the Davenport’s tiny, misshapen eggplants of brilliant and unexpected hues and patterns like snake-skin or butterfly wing, like the Gills’ heirloom tomatoes and Peter Lundgren’s honey, these crops will make their way down to the city to feed the fashionable and the fickle. The big farms have sequestered areas for organic growing, and they are far more careful with what they spray, and where, and when, on the rest.  But this is still farm country, where ploughing edge-to-edge, where draining a wetland, where growing to the demands of market and not the ideals of diversity can be the difference between an economy-class winter cruise to the Caribbean and a bankruptcy sale in the equipment shed by the highway.

Five years ago, the barn was filled with bats.  In the twilight, they would emerge, black clouds against the deep azure of the near-dark sky, racing along the grass and above the meadow and down by the creek, erasing the air of mosquitos. They are all gone, now. Three years ago at this time, the milkweed patches were thick with Monarchs; yesterday I saw my second of the season, or perhaps the third.  Each year we look, a bit fearfully, for the ungainly first landing of the heron, listen pointedly each morning for the drumroll made by the pileated woodpecker on the hollow of the dead tree where our woodlot meets Harry’s.
The bees are back; Peter Lundgren is secretive and a bit smug about his cure for Colony Collapse Disorder; he should be, since in this scarcity economy he can charge goldbug prices for his wild honey. Our clover, our wildflowers, cacophonies of color down at the edge of the wetlands, are noisy with his bees on the right afternoon, in the right month or week.  He brings us a tub of honey when he comes by to argue Puritan theology with me after the harvest season has begun to wind down and before the deer hunting season has begun.  There’s a few weeks in the late fall when he comes by not often, but more often, the old pickup packed with beekeeper’s equipage piled disorderly from bounding around in the fields between hives and colonies, pulled into the driveway, while he waits to see if I will emerge from the house or studio, having time to talk of theological precisions few others could tolerate.  I was at one time a scholar of the Mathers and the Winthrops and the others who defined a steely intrepid way of conceiving human life, in New England.  A boy of ten, I received my own Bible from Reverend North in the nave of the First Congregational Church in Guilford, Connecticut, the prize for memorizing all the books of the Bible, plus two long passages, one from the Old, one from the New Testament, and reciting to the Sunday School class four separate Psalms, one each Sunday for a month, assigned to me by the assistant minister, a theology student at Yale who came out to train and who, while kind, remained unmemorable.  His name is lost to me, but Reverend North’s is not, for he preached the old Puritan way: uncompromising, with no effort at rhetoric, building his sermons on a logic so clear and so unyielding that all of my writing since has been made to construct its opposites.  I write not like the iron law of the Heavens but like the unruly vines that keep the dog from marching unimpeded through the undergrowth down to the fast and dangerous part of the creek. 

Peter’s bent is different; he came here from Minot, North Dakota to train as a poet at the college, and somewhere the language of the Bible possessed him fully; now he is the rebbe of a tiny congregation replicating the church of the first years after Christ’s death. He accuses me of Antinomianism or, worse, pantheism; I suggest certain fallacies in his doctrine; we talk of our grown or near-grown children and the perils they will face. Then he starts the old black Dakota, and all the tools, the hoods, the gloves, the boots, and the spare screens and the roll of wirenet and the pruning shears rattle and shake in the back till the carburetor steps back from the precipice of vapor-lock and the engine steadies, and he lets in the clutch and heads for home.

The bees are back, but the bats are not, and each year the Monarchs have shown fewer and fewer.  We are, I said, recompense and reparation; not just us, but many others up here, for whom the land is not a picturesque escape or a romantic folly-in-the-making or simply scenery to be photographed from the side of our road, Harm’s old tractor on one side of the frame, balanced on the other by the loom of our tall, asymmetrical barn and, beyond it, the low outlines of the old house with its red metal roof an appropriate contrast to the deep blue of the summer sky. Paul and Sarah at the top of the ridge, his hammer echoing across the valley as he repairs the ancient barn, her screen door slamming as she goes out to dump the garbage in the composter; Harry with his vineyards and his clover fields, great swaths of his property  left to scrub or meadow, slow-emerging woodlot and untouched riverbanks unvisited by the dangerous unpredictability of human tourism. The bald eagle is back, after forty years. The mink is perhaps a harbinger.

I don’t know what it is I do here.  I have little to show, if wild honey or the venison or the eggplant are the particularities against which I must measure what I make.  Perhaps it is enough to witness; perhaps it is enough to listen hard and stare relentlessly and seek faithfully to do honor to the waves of wind across the hayfield, the bowl of the night sky and the torn curtain of the stars. It’s all I have, and so I offer it.