Raspberries are coming to life.
Adam and I are currently three years younger than my own mother was the last time we lived in Vermont. At the time, I did not think my mother was old, but I'm sure I thought she was older. That was decades ago and as difficult as it has been at times, not returning to Vermont sooner, life certainly has a way of working itself out despite our best efforts to muck it up. If one of our half dozen attempts to move back ever materialized, I fear the way we approached the land would have been rooted in youthful idealism more so than aging pragmatism. Because at 43, you can imagine being old in a way that you cannot when you’re 33. At least, that’s how it is for me.
The good news is we’re not actually old yet, so we can still go about this process with relatively youthful abilities, but the choices we make, particularly those related to settling on a raw piece of land, are done through the lens of two people who appreciate the passing of time, with bodies whose finest hour, in all likelihood, is a thing of the past. In short, we’re not going to place the barn and the garden 500 feet from the main house. We know better now. About a few things, anyway.
Adam took quite a few trees down last weekend as we continue to prepare our mostly wooded property for gardens and such. Clearing land is never easy; I can’t think of much else that makes me feel so destructively human, but opening up the sky and readying the soil is the only way this piece of earth will see substantial food production. Patience is essential. This is going to take some time.
With chainsaws screaming, we whisper promises of how much better we’ll make the land in the end... trust us. The remaining trees look on, incredulously. There is more clearing to do, but these before and after photos show a good first attempt for the year.
Many years ago we lived in a house with a quarter mile long driveway - give or take a couple hundred feet. And it was entirely uphill. Both ways. We were in our early twenties and by gum when it snowed we grabbed shovels and cleared that entire freaking thing by hand with the ease of young Olympians (because it sure felt like driveway shoveling could have been an Olympic sport). We were unstoppable.
Last year for my birthday Adam gifted me a snowblower. Ladies, don’t be jealous. It was a Craigslist find from an older woman who used it for one year and then decided she’d be better off living in Florida. We’ve been getting so much snow in recent years that he thought I’d like it for clearing paths to the chicken coop. Not something that is necessary with just a few inches of the white fluffy stuff, but around here you just never know when a blizzard is going to hit. He figured the tool was priced right and didn’t take up much space. Not a bad idea to pick it up as a gift for his chicken loving bride.
A couple of months ago I was talking with a friend about this new machine in my life, and she commented that she prefers shoveling. I get that. We do a lot of shoveling too. Mostly we shovel, actually. 33 year old me would have scoffed at the idea of spending good money on a loud, gas-thirsty snowblower, but 43 year old me? Yeah, she knows better. 43 year old me is discerning and knows when it’s time to flex her snow-shoveling Olympic muscles and when to embrace appropriate technology. Time’s ticking and the years are flying by; if a snowblower can hang out in our garage for those days when the snow comes fast and hard overnight, leaving us to deal with the forecasted six inches that actually resulted in over a foot... well, then I guess that’s just what we’ll call peace of mind. Perhaps even wisdom. I hear we acquire some of that with age. Anyway. Little decisions, like why not pick up a snowblower if the price is right, just to have on hand? And why not put that barn much closer to the house? And why on earth would our water source be solely dependent on electricity? And so on.
About two weeks after this conversation with my friend, our neighbor died suddenly while shoveling snow. It's the sort of thing you hear about on the news, followed by lots of warnings to "be safe out there." I don’t know when our little street will get over the shock of Bill's passing. I’m sure no sooner than his lovely wife Nella, his devoted son Paul, and his loyal canine companion, Fenway. This family has lived across the street since I was about twelve years old; my father has painted the inside and outside of their house several times over. Adam and my dad hunt on a parcel of land they own in another part of the state. Good and kind neighbors. All you could ask for, and more. We weren't close friends, but good neighbors are just as valuable. I remember about two years ago Emily went up and down the street handing out flyers soliciting donations for goods that she was collecting for women’s shelters throughout the Hartford area. This kind of thing is hard for everyone. It’s hard to ask, and it’s hard to give. Scratch that, it’s not at all hard to give. But nowadays it seems a day doesn’t go by that we are not presented with righteous and noble opportunities to give. It can feel like a lot. Also, Hartford is not exactly our immediate community, so the folks on our street might not feel as compelled to give as they would had the cause been more local. Regardless, this was something Emily was working on and so I encouraged her efforts. On collection day, there were a few parcels dropped off on our front porch. But of all the parcels dropped off, nothing quite compared to the quantity and quality of goods that were delivered by Bill and Nella. I remember not being surprised by their generosity. It seemed fitting.
Bill was not an old man, mid-sixties is my guess. The last couple of years, with Emily needing to leave the house most weekdays for classes, we would often drive by Bill on his long morning or afternoon walks. I thought of those walks immediately when I heard of his passing. But he was so active... this makes no sense. The weight of snow is intense and doesn't offer much in the way of explanation, nor does it ask permission. Nobody plans to take their final breath while shoveling snow.
When we drove by Bill all those times, as he enjoyed his daily walks, I noticed he always carried an oak leaf in his hand. Always. It was never the same leaf, but a fresh sprig he picked up with each new outing, the colors changing with the seasons. Why? I wondered, but never asked. If I am fortunate enough to see Bill on the other side someday, I’ll be sure to ask about the oak leaves.