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.


Sam L. said...

Said it before, say it again. Good thing words can't get pregnant, 'cause you got a way with 'em.

Casey Klahn said...

Yes, I saw the painting in your words. Good analogy. When Parrish came along, the woods were just getting their hair. When Durer drew, the world was only just reasonable.

The woods and the river have always been boom and bust, ever since my grandpap first worked them. The rivermen were more man than a million others today, and that's a fact.

I'd better shut up, now. Have a nice day, my east coast friend.

Leslie said...


vanderleun said...

A natural. The kid's a natural, I keep tellin' them.

rbee said...

"over the river and through the woods"has new meaning to me now",polite golf clap for this post...

Teri said...

Yeah basically the powers that be think the rivers are just too sensitive to allow any sort of work to take place on them. You want to see what freedom looks like? Take a look at any old picture of a river town. Look at all the little shops, boats, the very busyness of it all. Take a look at that same river town today. It will look like an architect's drawing. There might be a park along it, but no businesses, a few pleasure boats, no busyness at all.

The logging area I used to live in was shut down by the National Scenic Act. They talked a lot about all the new jobs that would be coming in. Of course, the new jobs didn't pan out. Tourists now have more rights than the people that live and pay taxes in the area.

Philip said...

Gotta have the mill. There's only so many French kids that you can put suits on and send to Augusta.

But when grant-writing gets taught, starting in elementary school, watch out....

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Sam- Thanks for reading and commenting and for your kind words.

Hi Casey- It's bust here now, but there are many good people about. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Leslie- ***Wheeze***

Vanderleun- You are like my barometer. You let me know what kind of weather I'm having.

Hi rbee- Many thanks.

Hi Teri- Thanks for reading and for commenting.

Hi Philip- The farmboys with a touch of neon about them amd their coquettes generally break down and wander back before they even get to a road with two stripes on it.

TmjUtah said...

Beautifully done.

I had a productive Friday. Accomplished missions, exceeded objectives, Did My Bit..

and wanted to tear my eyeballs out until about two minutes ago.

Thanks, sir.

The Dude said...

Okay, this is probably revealing too much information on a public forum, but yesterday I met a Mainer at work. We got to talkin', he said he was from way out in the wilds, so on a hunch I asked him where - Rumford, he replied.

Small freakin' world, am I right? He told me much of the history of that place, I told him of a well-written website he needed to start reading (this one, in case you were wondering) and about a neighbor he needs to introduce himself to. And buy some furniture from.

So if a tall stranger wanders by, there you go.

Anonymous said...

Has the piano been drinking?

SippicanCottage said...

Hi TMJ- All I did was look out the window.

Hi Sixty Grit- It is a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it.

The amusing part about Rumford is that around here, it's considered the big city. Go fifteen minutes north, and there's so much nothing it's jawdropping.

We've made many friends here now, but I'm mostly anonymous here as far as the writing goes.

The Dude said...

The good news is I got to spend a fair amount of time talking to the gentleman. He talked of USGS maps that show towns where if you are lucky, today, you might find two or three paths meeting in the forest. Of roads on maps which are dotted with homesteads that are now invisible. I learned much of the history of the area and the rise and fall of industry there around the river. Sounds like a fascinating place all in all.

Anonymous said...

At least they had rivers in Maine to float the logs down.

QC1 said...


Read your essay and it's spot on. Same thing happened here in Quebec.

Maniwaki was a lumber town but yet another mill recently closed here throwing more people to the unemployment line.

At one time (before the 80s) this town had a population of 10,000 + . Now it's about 5,000 - .

What happened? I blame the green nazis.

We do have one of the boats used by the lumberjacks to get to log- jams as a testament to our history. And a statue of a lumberjack (draveur in French) in the town park - but that's it. No lumber-no future.