By the time this is readable, I won’t be where I am, visiting kinfolk in New England. I was raised near here, on the shore of a rather large pond – large enough to support three pair of loons, their six (in the aggregate) kids, the game warden’s airplane, and the two belonging to the Fletcher brothers, who own the wood turning mill in town.
It’s winter and a moon, full and crisply carved, the color of raw milk, rises, indirectly backlit, pouring its glow across the snow-covered ice. A trio of birches cast their shadows through the multi-paned window and over my desk and keyboard. Ice a foot or more thick expands against the shores and its own weight, sending cracks roaring the mile and-a-half to the opposite end.
About 100 yards from the kitchen door, a hand-dug well, topped by a concrete cover on which is mounted a green long-handled pump, provides drinking water, at a modest cost. I carry a teapot full of hot water to prime the pump, then fill a couple of 10-quart pails, before holding the handle up tightly on my shoulder and drain the water so it will not freeze in the pump.
You only have to make that mistake once – freeze the pump – and then spend an hour or more pouring hot water down the outside to melt the ice inside. Try that sometime: freeze a kettle of water so the ice cannot fall out the top, then unfreeze it by pouring hot water over the outside of the kettle. It can be done, but not quickly.
I run back along the driveway to the kitchen before the pails of water started to freeze, a winter-in-the-Maine version of running water.
One of my jobs is to cut wood with my very own bucksaw, and then split it with a maul and a couple of wedges. I’d rather be playing.
When we started making excursions to the property by the lake, Dad nailed a thermometer to the outside of the living room window. He’d bought it in town at Eustis’ Hardware. The next morning, it was stuck at 20 below zero, and remained that way until nearly noon when Dad gave up, yanked it from the window frame, and carried it to town. He was somewhat unhappy when he entered the hardware store, asking for a replacement.
Mr. Eustis took him outside to a box of thermometers and told Dad take his pick. After opening several boxes, Dad settled on the one he already had, the first of many with needles pointed at 20 degrees below zero.
One of the great things about the shortened days of Winter is they hit Dec. 21 and start to get longer. Already some shrubs are beginning to leaf out. Soon the hills will be covered in pastel, like a really huge Monet.
One night a couple of years ago I’d swum out from the shore and lay back, drifting, floating, on a glassine surface bathed under a silver floodlight surrounded by thousands of tiny, sometimes flickering, celestial candles.
If you think about it too long, when you realize some of the candles have not existed for thousands, if not millions of years, you become very small.
A Common Loon called from the middle of the lake, disturbing my reverie. They are interesting creatures. Their family has been around a long time, and the current generation thinks that offers ownership rights.
Dozens of aircraft pass over the lake every day, and most pass without complaint. But when one known to land there comes within earshot — long before they can be seen over the encircling mountains — the loons fire up, asserting their would-be dominance.
Though their nests are widely spaced around the lake, they hold bi-hourly “muster,” waking long enough to call each other to say all is well. Then the woods returns to silence. Theirs is not a difficult language to learn, if one is patient, and spends time listening.
I have a scar on my finger where the buck saw jumped from a log and cut me. That felt a lot better when it stopped hurting.
And I eventually learned that splitting wood can be fun – though more so with a gasoline-powered splitter.
Next to me at the table is my great niece, whose name, I think she’ll be proud to one day understand, is the same as her great-grandmother’s.
The youngster talks in short sentences. “Pa-oh,” means Play-Doh. “Hep” means she can’t get the Pla-Doh out of the can by herself.
She dropped some on the floor. I suggested that was not a good thing. She made a tiny piece and slowly slipped her hand over the side of her chair, looking and smiling at me all the while, as though to distract me with her glittering eye-jewels.
It didn’t work. I have many life experiences, and some of them have taught me to see more than one thing at a time. No more Pla-Doh for awhile for you, Little One.
She lives in a city now, but she’s one of the reasons I write about what I do.
Photo by sogrady
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