Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mud season wins another

R.W. was a guy who drove from his house to his barn, though it was just one building over, and he had to go all the way down to the road to do it. Driving was faster than walking, though only slightly, and spared him the silence of the country that surrounded him when he walked; also, then he'd have his truck with him no matter what happened, and wouldn't have to walk back to get it. When he was challenged on his hard-driving lifestyle, he'd bring up a neighbor, another Vermont farmer who had milked cows for fifty years until he retired, moved to Florida, promptly had a heart attack, and died. This was in mud season, May, a wet and cold time in Vermont, when everything was still just frozen enough to stick a truck in a ditch.

I happened to know him because, at the end of my first year at the university, I'd taken to hitchhiking out into New England to see what I could find, and came down into Middlebury one time, to find a sign on a bulletin board there in the Laundromat perhaps, asking for a hand, no experience necessary. I was the living example of no experience, at least as far as a dairy farm went, though R.W. also had Morgan horses and did a bunch of other things too. He agreed to take me on. I said I could get out there as soon as school got out, and that was early May, which was just around the corner. I hitchhiked back to Boston to finish school and figure out how to get up there; I ended up twisting the arm of a poor friend who had a car, as I didn't have one, and was willing to take a couple of days driving way up there. It was about six hours maybe, Boston to Middlebury; little did I know, at that time, that Middlebury was an important place in the world of language education; I hadn't met anyone, hadn't heard of it, didn't really know any of that. It just seemed like a beautiful place, far from Boston, in the most rustic and beautiful countryside one could imagine.

R.W. was proud to say that the farmhouse I'd be staying in, on a creek a few miles outside of Middlebury, was a few hundred years old, and that accounted for the lack of some of life's comforts, like a shower. I'd throw my overalls, covered with whatever I'd been shoveling, in a big pile which all smelled the same; I'd take a long hot bath and listen to blues; it must have had electricity. I slept like a log until early when I'd be aroused to go milk the cows again. I was lousy at milking cows in spite of R.W.'s patient instruction. He wouldn't let me near his horses which were quite valuable, though I shoveled after them quite a bit; I couldn't blame him, I was pretty incompetent. I had no experience whatsoever, and furthermore, was just off a year in university at which it seemed like every drug imaginable was being passed around my dormitory, and everyone was in such a haze, that I couldn't help but be influenced, even though I left regularly and aggressively virtually every weekend. I think in the month I was there, in that farmhouse outside of Middlebury, I was only beginning to get a focus on life, and see things clearly enough to perform competently at anything. Yet just keeping my life going was a little more than I could handle; I needed a ride into town just to do my laundry, and then would be saddled with a big sack of it, unable to say walk around and meet someone. It was a bit dead in the summer anyway; I think I was there a month, and hardly talked to anyone.

R.W.'s family was nice enough to me; they had me over for lunch, often, and fed me well. I ate ravenously, being unused to such hard work, and again, being virtually unable to stock my own cabin or function very adequately there. Still a college kid, I'd never really cooked much, but worse, was thoroughly exhausted upon coming home, and couldn’t even go to town for groceries; it was about five miles. I hadn't figured out the transportation yet; hadn't gotten a bike; hadn't done anything, really, to make the situation viable. At R.W.'s house, the television told of Watergate, which was unfolding as I was there. I might have said something about it, because I was already thoroughly convinced that Nixon was a crook, and had broken in, and was absolutely guilty. Of course, I was from Boston also, where that was a relatively centrist position. Conversations with R.W.'s family were therefore not productive; we were too far apart on the topic at hand, and they couldn't imagine having lunch without the television; they were isolated; the television was their connection to reality.

R.W. had a father and/or an uncle in the area, and we would occasionally go up and work for him; he also had horses, only many more, and also more famous. Perhaps they would do business as well; I'm not sure. This was the extent of the traveling I did while I was there; the rest of the time, I stayed home, in the bath, blues on, that ancient creek right out my window. My windows open, my dreams were heavenly, though I don't remember them. The place was charmed and haunted at the same time; I could sense generations of drama there, yet, to me, it was the first silence I'd ever experienced; the first time I was totally, completely, alone. At first, I really loved it, craved it., and breathed in the fresh air as if it were my first breaths.

At some point, after about a month, R.W. pointed out the obvious: it wasn't working. This may have had less to do with my poor milking skills, than with the fact that I was so utterly unable to take care of myself in the little cabin. I stlll had no car; I'm not sure if I was capable of buying one. I doubt I could sustain myself without one, or if he wanted to keep giving me rides to town. He was tolerant about the rate at which I would extract myself from the cabin; I left the place walking. I hitchhiked down into Albany by late night and somewhere outside of Schenectady, got stuck for the entire early hours of the morning, on an exit somewhere out in the woods; again, there was nothing but silence, for miles around; it was long past the time that I prized that silence, and now, I was kind of hoping for some voices, some company, a new direction. One summer job was down the hole, and it was only early June; time to get another. Where, or how, I had no idea; but, for the moment, it was just me and a very lonely highway, until I figured it out, or until dawn, whichever came first.

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