Monday, December 6, 2010

Because November Always Feels Sad To Me.

Every few days, when I drive South down RT 110, I pass this little farm, close to the road, nothing fancy. Very plain and UN-fancy in fact. What appears to be vague untidiness to the untrained eye is, in actuality, simply many years worth of I-Just-Might-Need-That-Someday. Cats lounge on the crooked stoop, and bask all over the dooryard. An old farmer lives there, I forget his name now. In December, balsam trees for sale line his porch railing, occasionally we've bought a Christmas wreath from him. Locals will know who I mean. He has a certain look about him...slight but strong, gaunt cheeks, lined face on which perches thick, horn-rimmed glasses. (Are they actually left over from the 40's? Where does one even buy such things nowadays?!?) In winter he wears a wool flap hat with grey hair bristling out underneath, and a checkered, moth-eaten, Johnson Woolen Mills coat. Summer, even the hottest August days, will find him in a long sleeved, flannel shirt. Tilling his huge garden, working outside every minute, no matter the weather, he is more Vermont than Vermont is. When I picture him in my mind, I always see him in black and white just because he seems so timeless. Daily, as I'd pass, I'd look for him driving his tractor, so ancient that it's unbelievable that he even uses it for work when the only others of it's kind are paraded down the middle of town by collectors on Memorial Day, or chopping firewood, or letting his tiny herd of bony cows out to pasture. I'd think, "When I have more time, I need to stop and photograph this man." The way he moves, slow, but with purpose, the way he runs his gnarled hands lovingly over machinery, swings an ax through cord after cord even though it seems a light breeze could blow him over, strokes the spine of an elderly Jersey...he reminds me of my Great Grampa Gray and every old Vermonter rolled into one stubborn, whithered body. For ages, I've been reminding myself to try and capture this fleeting New England strength on film, never was there a more perfect subject, classic and strangely beautiful...iconic. As the months rolled by and other things took priority, years slipped away while I always put it off as a thing to do "some other time". And then, a while back, as I drove by, I saw the farmer, standing in the spot his tractor was usually parked. A shiny, out of state truck with a flatbed trailer behind it was pulling out, with the antique secured carefully on board. The way the man's hands were stuffed, too deep in his pockets and the slump of his shoulders that, despite his years, had never been there before, told the whole story. I felt like stopping on the side of the road, and sobbing, so tangible was his loss. Maybe it's silly to think a man's heart and soul could be broken this way, but it seems it wasn't the only change. At night, there used to be a warm, yellow glow spilling from the cracked windows of his ramshackle barn where he'd be busy with the evening milking. People would come, and he'd fill whatever bottle they'd bring with fresh, raw milk for a couple of bucks. Although I can't imagine there was ever very much, the rest would be picked up by the regular milk truck. These days, the barn sits cold and dark, and for the first time ever, in my memory, a blue, flickering flash from a television set can be seen in the farmhouse window. It feels like defeat, like age, like grief. A man, I'd only spoke to a couple times really, letting go of all he's ever known or probably wanted. I like to think he was happy in his simple life, happy to serve his purpose, and I mistakenly assumed he would go on forever. Picturing him, sitting in the half-light with his tired, work-worn hands folded on his lap, staring blankly at reality TV and other things he can't possibly care about, so great is his love for his farm, always gets inside of me, aching deep down, right to the very core where my real Vermont self is hiding. The unfairness of aging, rural destruction and poverty combined. A helpless, hopeless sadness of losing a way of life. And perhaps I am sentimentally projecting feelings on him that weren't there...maybe this man who once drove his cows down the springtime river valley in the dusk, when the lilacs scented the banks, and the whippoorwill was calling goodnight, maybe he truly DOES want to sit inside with his re-runs. I'll never have those photographs to match this blog post, I wish, more than ever, my camera had recorded the way it was. What is a picture worth again? Is this anywhere near a thousand words yet? Because, in my regret, those pictures would have been worth far more.

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