« October 2016 | Main | December 2016 »

A Lot Happens on the Road to the Farm

Road to the farm

I texted Mavis and asked if she had a fair amount of ground pork on hand. Indeed, she did, and would set it aside with my name on it. I was glad for a trip to Baldwin Brook and the slow meandering drive to get there. The stretch of road doesn’t offer much, which of course is what I love. You could stop at one of the two chainsaw shops along the way - Stihl or Husqvarna - depending on your pleasure, but other than that, it’s mostly just you and miles of stonewalls winding through the back roads of eastern Connecticut.

It was one of those drives that afforded more time inside my own head than was probably helpful, but maybe it’s good to be trapped in a car with the things you do not understand. Things that on the surface, I get the explanation of, but lack true understanding once filtered through the heart and conscience. And so, a prisoner to myself, I grappled with thoughts of why we do not provide seat belts for children on schoolhouses, the cruel irony of shooting water protectors with water cannons (in sub-freezing temperatures), emotionally driven tweets by our president-elect, farmers being forced to jump through multiple expensive hoops in order to legally sell meat, and how after 21 years of marriage your old love song makes little sense, so you wait until a new one finds its way... and it's worth the wait, because rookie love cannot own a song like this. 

(Actually, that last part can be added to the short list of things I understand.)

Driving along, attempting to let go of current affairs and my inability to make sense of most things, my thoughts drift to a different time - some 200+ years ago - when 5,000 French troops led by Rochambeau marched this very road from Rhode Island to Old Wethersfield where General Washington waited, and upon their arrival, planned the final battle of the Revolutionary War with Rochambeau. Years prior, I’d stood in the very room this meeting took place, but at the time it did not occur to me to consider Rochambeau’s journey there (I’m somewhat familiar with Washington’s travels during that time). Recently however, a local historian shared with me the story of this road. According to his research, it took two days for the soldiers to pass through the area, and if one visualized the scene for only a moment, it is easy to understand such an event was likely the grandest, most ominous experience that folks living along the footpath would witness in their lifetime. Two straight days of troops passing through. He also explained the French troops were not without money, which prompted settlers to capitalize on the opportunity, selling produce, bread, shoes, and medicine up and down the route. While my understanding of war remains dubious, my imagination cannot resist dropping back to this moment in time, when traveling this road.

A lot happens on the road to the farm.

Lately I’ve had no idea what to write about because so many things seem hard right now, and it kind of sucks to write about hard things without the ability to wrap it up in a pretty bow of clear perspective at the end. Being on the other side is comfortable. You’d think at my age I would accept the discomfort, the lack of understanding, and could write my way through regardless. But I can’t, so I’ve been writing less and watching more. Speaking less and listening more. People will be hurt and sometimes they will heal. Injustices will occur but will not always prevail. There will be times when love wins, and times when it does not. There are many things I do not understand, and a few things that I do.  

I pulled onto the dirt drive and made my way through the covered bridge; my order was in the farm store cooler, just as Mavis had promised. I grabbed some raw milk and a pack of country ribs, too, then placed my cash in the vintage saltine tin on the table. Back home, spices are gathered and the pork is combined with ground venison from the buck Adam brought home on opening day. Sausage is made and we’ve completed another step in filling the freezer. I guess that's one more thing I understand. Just look at how the list grows.

Remarkably Persistent


No stickers for absentee voters...

Today I’ll fold up the monstrosity of a drying rack that now occupies half her room, and unpin the shawl that has been blocking on her bed. I’ll dust and vacuum and do those subtle things a mother does that mostly go unnoticed, but are the markings of home and if absent, are deeply felt. I miss her always, but selfishly, I’ve missed her even more during this charged political time. We talk and text every day, but of course it’s not the same. Though I do love that of all the text exchanges we’ve shared during the last week, there was only one all-caps text (true measure of emotion, yes?) from my otherwise stoic daughter, and that was the text alerting me of Gwen Ifill’s passing. Priorities. There was a second all-caps text immediately following that may have included the words, God has left us (true measure of emotion paired with paternally inherited dark humor). 

I take comfort in knowing the very things I’m missing and needing from her right now - her political prowess and critical, diplomatic mind - are the very things she is bringing to her floor mates in the dorm, and fellow students in class. In return, they share their skills and gifts with her. Like seed - these kids of ours - they scatter far from home, take root, grow into themselves and nourish others. Imagine that. Humanity is remarkably persistent and fights to carry on. 

She comes home on Friday and I’m sure I don’t need to explain my excitement. There will be chocolate cream pie in the kitchen and her ever-growing pile of The New Yorker beside her bed. She’ll be home for nine days... maybe it'll be enough time to read three months of back issues, or maybe not. I’ll make another pie if needed.

Yet to Fade Away


Adam won a major award.

The church ladies asked him to stop by first thing Sunday morning, to pick up his raffle winnings from the previous weekend’s holiday bazaar. There had been several phone calls throughout the week reminding him of his good fortune, with excitement that his donation resulted in not one, but two! prizes: a “very nice” watch and a “beautiful” handmade sparkly Christmas tree. Really he just saw it as making a donation when purchasing the raffle tickets, but the congregants were so excited for his double winnings, that he didn’t want to disappoint them by abandoning his treasure. Now we have a sparkly new tree and a “very nice” watch. And he’ll probably do it all again next year because he cannot resist a good holiday church bazaar. Or a roomful of silver haired ladies that, prizes aside, is basically akin to hitting the pinch-your-cheeks-and-here's-a-cookie grandma jackpot.

A few doors down, we stepped into the tiny bakery that is housed in a converted garage, attached to the baker’s home, at the foot of the local ski mountain. Moments earlier, the sun broke over the mountain’s peak and streamed through the single front window of her shop, casting light on a plentiful early morning selection. Croissants of all flavors including some that were stuffed with smoked salmon, creamy dill sauce, and thinly sliced cucumbers, trays of lemon squares, cranberry walnut tarts, berry and cheese danish, chocolate chip cookies, macaroons, scones, baguettes, and so much more filled the tall glass case from which behind the baker stood. She was kind and warm and seemed ready to greet the day, welcoming any person that might stroll through the door in search of the comforting truth one finds in the familiarity of homemade pastry and a hot cup of coffee.

She opened the oven, showing Adam a tray of breakfast sandwiches that were receiving their melted cheese treatment. A colorful assortment of open faced ciabatta rolls with yellow-orange eggs, sweet Italian sausage, red and green roasted peppers, and creamy white cheddar cheese. Just the sort of thing Adam was looking for so she wrapped one up for him. Once placed on the counter, I noticed the sticker that sealed the paper wrapped sandwich included an illustration of an older-looking man with the word “Belmont” printed above the portrait. So, ever-intrigued, I asked.

“Oh, that’s Ford, do you know him? He’s the farmer my eggs and sausage come from, a real character. Bit of a local ski legend back in the day, lots of stories about Ford around here. Missing a finger on one hand from a farming accident, and part of the opposite hand as the result of another farming accident, but still stays real busy with his land and animals. Belmont is his farm and I wanted to name this sandwich after him, seeing as it includes his eggs and sausage, but also as a nod to a great man. When I told him the bakery had a sandwich in his honor, with an illustrated “Ford” sticker to boot, he was both elated and humbled. He said, “Really? I was fadin’... I was fadin’... and you brought me back!”

Damn. Enthusiastic church ladies, pastry from the hands of the baker, and a ski-legend farmer named Ford who’s yet to fade away. All this and it’s barely 9am. Calling it a good day.



 Checking out a camp for sale near our place. Want to be neighbors?


This week I learned that twenty seven degrees is my cut-off for showering outdoors. I guess I could do it, and probably even would do it, but the wanting-to has definitely waned. Sleeping is still fine and toasty though, so we’re doing alright. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of a steady mind, not for the sake of claiming existence on some quasi-enlightened plane, but as a matter of self preservation. Of communal preservation. Everywhere I turn right now, people are running around losing their ever-loving cool, and it’s fair to say about half of these people are going to be real disappointed come Wednesday morning. And then what? Because according to each side, the country is going to implode if the other candidate is elected. So yes, people are losing their cool, and maybe it’s justified, but it won’t change the outcome or the so-called implosion. But here’s what I keep telling myself: If we lose our minds now, what are we going to do if everything actually implodes? And I'm not of the ilk that is sitting around waiting for that to happen, or heck, even believing it will happen, but what if it does hit the fan? If we can't manage the idea of a less than desirable outcome, how will we manage the reality? Kinda seems vital to remain calm and steady. Measured. At least that’s the plan around here. (Which is not to be confused with complacency.)

One voice over the last several months has consistently served as a reminder to keep perspective. It was a pleasant discovery, allowing me to forgive Mr. Rather for assigning my former town with an unflattering and not-entirely-true moniker. I’ve come to appreciate his writing as a sort of zen-intellectualism that is mostly absent in journalism today; delivering the heavy stuff in a way that is informative, yet still leaves the reader with an ounce of hope. Sometimes more than an ounce. I love this quality to his writing because living inside the absence of hope is one of the most difficult places for a human to reside.

Someone recently said, “I don't know if there's a Pulitzer Prize for something like Journalistic Sanity within the context of Social Media, but if there were, Dan Rather, it belongs to you.” 

Yeah, I'd have to agree.

I've been having some conversations with Emily recently about cynicism versus skepticism, recognizing the difference between the two, and exercising one over the other. Then I came across the following piece from Dan Rather, and although our conversations have not been entirely within the context of writing or politics, they have not been unrelated, either. Maybe there is something here for you, as there is for me:


Woe to the nation that succumbs to cynicism. It is a poison that suffocates hope, extinguishes the light of intelligence, and severs the common bonds of humanity. I fear we are facing an epidemic of cynicism in the United States and it is an infection that could send our democracy onto life support.

When I came to Washington as a young reporter to cover the Johnson Administration, I entered a small White House press corps that was almost exclusively made up of men. The most influential, the leaders, were old men. Some of them often reeked of whisky, cigarettes... and cynicism.

I respected the fact that they were survivors of long wars in the journalistic trenches, and they were--in the main--good reporters who could write well, quickly, and under deadline pressure. But I was a bit aghast at their deep, abiding cynicism and I remember going home to my greatest font of wisdom, my beloved wife, Jean, and in the earnestness of a young couple eager to sow the seeds of long-term success, I told her I don't every want to become like that.

Webster's defines "cynical" as: "believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest." All the fiber of my being, all my life experience up to point, led me to the opposite conclusion. Sure some people were bad, but not most, and certainly not categorically all - even in Washington, let alone the many millions spread across the vast continental expanse of our great nation.

I remember desperately thumbing through a thesaurus searching over a list of synonyms for "cynical" to come up with something more akin to what I felt my profession as a journalist should demand. After a while, I came to the word "skeptical" and it struck me. Webster's defines "skeptical" as "having or expressing doubt about something (such as a claim or statement)." That seemed to be the job of a reporter, saying "I hear what you have to say but I am going to check it out." I was happy to march under the banner of skepticism, and I have ever since.

Many young colleagues of mine have heard - more than they can probably count - some version of my professional credo: "A reporter's job is to be skeptical but not cynical." And it turns out this approach to life doesn't just benefit journalists. I have heard some version of it from scientists, police detectives, military generals, judges, and so many others. Cynicism is a downward spiral. Skepticism is a healthy way to find truth in a complex world.

And yet today, we, as a nation, are in danger of losing the battle to cynicism. We have a broken government because some have decided to play to cynicism for their own political gain. We have a press corps that has too often confused cynical slogans with prescient analysis. We have had the motives of experts from science and industry challenged with cynicism by those who do not like the conclusions based on fact.

The great wit Oscar Wilde once said: "“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

Stephen Colbert addressed the notion with a fuller definition in a commencement address at Knox College: " Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge."

I know which world I would rather live in and I hope a less cynical world can await us after November 8.




Take care of yourselves, friends. Let's all do our best to remain skeptical, hopeful, and steady.