Thursday, August 31, 2006

winter goldI'm a stasher by nature. I stash yarn, I stash fiber, I stash stationery and cards, I stash ink refills for pens and printers, I stash jams and jellies, and I really, really have a thing for firewood. Which is why the sight of this, curing in my front yard, makes me oh so very happy.

I'm not the only one with a thing for firewood. A few houses up from us is a small, extremely tidy little house inhabited by two wonderful people who happen to be in their late 80s (perhaps early 90s?). But their age is deceptive. They go deep into the woods to get materials for wreaths in the fall, they clear their driveway by hand in the winter, and they rake blueberries in the summer. We tend to trade things throughout the year -- a pint of blueberries from them is reciprocated with a jar of strawberries from me, which is reciprocated with a jar (same jar, washed and returned) of chocolates... and so it goes. I love these people.

He is a wood man. Not by career, but by aesthetic. When they were tearing apart the inside of my house, he called to ask if he could possibly come by and take the wood for firewood. Of course I said yes. That Christmas, he gave me a box of kindling made from the old plaster laths of my house. Each tenderly and perfectly cut to size, all nails removed. I do not use that kindling. I admire it as a work of art.

His woodpiles are equally astonishing. Crisp perfect rows of wood, stacked with such skill that I suspect you could pull out a log from the very center and nothing else would move.

Last year they reluctantly traded in their wood-burning stove for a gas stove. The hauling wood and cleaning the ashes was just too much. It was indescribably strange to drive by their house on a snowy evening and not smell a fire.

So I've had this gorgeous mound of firewood curing in my front yard all week. On Saturday there was a knock at the door. It was my neighbor, ostensibly there to return a jar (freshly refilled with yet more chocolates). Talk quickly shifted to the firewood. He was enchanted with my firewood. We walked over to it and inspected a few logs. We discussed how long it should age, and we went into the barn to disucss where it should be stacked and what mode I should use to transport it from the pile into the barn.

And then he finally blurted out, "If you need any help stacking this wood, I'd be happy to come on over."

Ever have that feeling of simultaneous heartbreak and delight/pride/honor? (I'm sure the Germans have a word for it. Scharfenfreudenleinscheinmeinleikenschulemenekengenden or something.) Well that's what I felt. Here's someone who's been on this planet a long time, who's had more fires and stocked more winter woodpiles than I can ever imagine, and who now finds himself woodless.

You know I'll be asking him over to help when the stacking begins. Not because I want to get free labor out of a 90-something-year-old man but because I know what pleasure it will give him, and I long to learn every secret I can from him about how to make the perfect woodpile.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I knew going into it that this would be a lost summer, a series of sunny, beautiful weeks clouded by the constant overwhelming understanding that a very big deadline sat at the end of it -- and that every step I took along the way needed to contribute to my getting there.

Still, I don't think I quite anticipated what a beautiful period of time it would be.

The garden has never been more beautiful. The peonies and delphiniums, the hollyhocks, the roses, the lilies, and now the eupatorium and phlox. In the lower gardens, the vegetables continue to produce faster than I can eat them. Cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, basil, dill, chives, zucchinis, lettuce, spinach, radishes, asparagus, even okra. With three rows of plump onions following close behind.

The current objects of my affection are these Italian Rose beans ripening on the bush. At the end of the summer, if all goes well, their contents will be collected and poured into a glass jar that will be lovingly coveted and slowly, tenderly consumed throughout the winter months.

The same abundant rain that created a stunning garden this year also helped produce one of the best blueberry crops in at least a decade. Which is pretty important in these parts, since a lot of people rely on the sale of their blueberries to put oil in their tank for the wintah.

You know what happens when you have a good blueberry crop?

That's right. Pancakes. Lots of 'em. Slathered in maple syrup and accompanied by crispy bacon. (Reminds me of a story: Apparently a friend of a friend of a friend of get the idea...named his child Christopher Paul Bacon. Only a few months later did someone point out that his name was Chris P Bacon.)

But I digress.

Life has otherwise pretty much consisted of this, from morning till night. Sitting at the laptop staring at words, reading words, thinking of words, typing words, muttering them, deleting them, shuffling them... I'm starting to feel like a short-order word cook. "I need two paragraphs, over easy, with a side of sidebars!" Coming up.

Welcome relief has been in the form of Don and Robert, two dear friends who occasionally sneak up to the house to ask, "We know you're busy..." (if I start to cry at that point, they know to turn around and get back into the car) "but maybe you'd like to go sailing?" On goes the sunscreen, down I go to the dock, off we go into the sparkling waters, and by the time I get back home, I feel like a completely new person.

The other occasional distraction would, of course, be this. For some reason Casey has decided that the best spot is directly behind my screen. It's actually a very effective way to keep life in proportion. When I start tearing my hair out about something (just how would you define semiworsted yarn anyway?!?) I glance beyond the words and see this guy. And everything returns to its current state of abnormality.

Along the way, I've consumed far too much of this. Marks & Spencer Gold tea. A hearty malty assam that I dilute with far too much milk and sugar, far too many times per day. I find that the more elaborate I make the tea tray, the more time I buy myself to think about something other than words. But I know it's been stressful because I've gone through a three-month supply of tea in only eight or so weeks. (This won't let up for another month, so I've sent to England for more provisions.)

Time marches on, and we're already nearing the end of August. Even writing those words sends a note of panic down my spine. But what a beautiful time it's been. I hope it's been so for you as well.