Friday, November 16, 2012
It's Not Ordinary
There's a moment just before the dawn in western Maine. It's not ordinary.
You have to have a view of it. The valley tumbles in the gulley where the river slinks by, and we're bedded on the slope. There's enough height to the windows to see something.
The mountains are massed on the right. They're a kind of feminine. They don't have the brutish angularity of the Rockies or the asexual simple dun dirt waves of the desert southwest. They have the curve of a lover's hip under a blanket. The highway's there, hard by the river it replaced, but you can't see it. The moon's gone home and the stars haven't got the horsepower so the road is an anonymous pancaked ribbon mixed in with the hayfields. It's an unnatural shape here -- flat -- so you can find it in the dark.
The semis cruise on by, their wheels invisible at this distance, looking like phosphorescent caterpillars crawling along the treeline. Though we've been here near three years, my wife and I still mordantly say, "Logs" every time a truck laden with boles cruises past. They go day and night to the mill that nobody in their right mind would want stinking of sulfur in the middle of their town, but everyone knows in their hearts that it's the only reason the town is here. It makes paper that no one much needs except the people that make it and the politicians that keep the place open for them. If the town doesn't need the mill, it doesn't need anyone.
They used to float the logs down the river in a big wooden scrum, and collect them at the big falls just downriver. I think of it now and again as I pause at the window in the kitchen in the starlight. The hollow thunk of the boles jostling for position in their languid race down the river must have been something. Mainers thought it was too hard on the river to have trees floating down it, so we travel half a world and get oil to make gasoline to feed a chrome horse and buggy and drag the trees on a ribbon of nasty congealed tar from Venezuela next to the river no one uses any more. It's a kind of progress.
It was too hard on the men, too, they say. Walking on hobnailed boots on the big cylinders of wood and poling the jams apart was tough work. They are all kept safe now. They wash down their oxycodone with whiskey and nod on their couch until their cigarette sets them alight and the house burns down around their ears while the firemen stand outside and tell the neighbors you can't go in there. But they weren't in any danger.
I'm all alone with the peach and powder blue of the southern sky. No one need be awake but me. There will be no heat that I do not make today, and I can't stay long to watch the color spread across the sky and rob it of its stars. The sun is working now, and I can see the entire world is silver with frost. The sky is Maxfield Parrish over a world of Albrecht Durer.
You rake out the coals and put in each junk of silver maple and oak like an offering. The smoke comes that signals the fire in the offing and you sit a minute and stare at the twinkling embers brought alive with air and attention and wonder if the world will ever be warm again.