Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Our hand built cabin in 1979. My mother visited once we had a roof over our heads. 

In 1976 we (my then husband Mike and our four kids) moved to northern Vermont as part of the huge tide of back-to-the-landers making their way to rural areas to homestead in lieu of city life. When cleaning the closet in my cottage recently, I came across several hard cover floppy disks with "Cabin" written on them containing what I assumed were the typed copies of my original handwritten journals I kept about our Vermont experience. I sent them off to a company that offered to convert old files to something more readable on modern computers. Herewith is a portion of one of those recovered diaries with a further description meant for a collection I was making for the kids.

Diary entry: It was twelve degrees outside this morning when we got up. We ate breakfast, piled kids and dogs and tools into the truck and went to the cabin site in Danville. We spent the morning trimming trees and clearing brush. Even little Cassie helped. Bren and Kenny wielded hatchets. Straddling the trees Mike felled, they hacked at the smaller branches. Then Mike took the chainsaw and cut off all the larger limbs.
He is busy cutting trees. The woods are full of fallen giants. The snow is still deep, making it difficult to get around. Though I know the trees will offer us shelter as house walls, my heart hurts at the sight of them lying broken and helpless on the ground. I wish I could come to terms somehow with the tree spirits that now haunt our woods.

Further description:
"Tim-berrrr!" Mike yelled.
The kids and I scrambled out of the way as the branches of the big spruce whistled past us. The tree landed with a thud that shook the ground. Immediately the kids swarmed over it, hacking at the smaller branches with their hatchets. Cassie tromped through the snow making a path to drag the debris to the growing pile near the edge of the woods. Mike set the chainsaw down and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. "It's not much above twenty degrees," he said, "and still I'm sweating."
He glanced up toward the tops of two trees that leaned against each other in a tangle of boughs. "I've got to free the one that's hung up." He pointed to the partially cut trunk of the nearest tree. "I'll tie a rope to it and you can pull while I cut."
"Won't it fall on me if I'm pulling it?" I asked.
"Just pull hard enough to dislodge it," he said, "then drop the rope and run in the opposite direction."
I kicked at the deep snow with my boot. "I will get about two feet away in this stuff," I complained. "That tree is going to fall on my head."
"I'll be careful," Mike promised. "If it looks like it's going to fall your way, I'll grab the rope and pull it around."
He tied one end of the rope around the tree as high up as he could reach and handed the other end to me.
"Pull it taut," he directed. He started the chain saw and stepped to the base of the trunk.
I backed up until the rope stretched in a straight line from my hands to the tree. It wasn't very large around but it was tall. Its spindly trunk reached into the sky over my head.
"Start pulling!" hollered Mike as the blade bit into the tree trunk.
I leaned back, setting my weight against the rope. Mike cut the trunk clean through but the tree didn't budge.
"I'll have to cut the other one, too," he said. "Their branches are so tangled that the one that's still standing is holding up the one I just cut. Give me the rope. I'm going to tie it to the other tree."
"Won't the two of them fall together if you just cut the second one?" I asked, hoping to get out of harm's way.
"I don't think so," Mike said, handing me the rope. He yanked on the chainsaw's cord.
I backed away, nearly falling as I pushed through the deep snow with my heels. The chainsaw buzzed, there was a sharp cracking sound and a sudden, terrible yell from Mike.
The first tree struck the back of my neck and head, knocking me to my knees. The second pushed me face down in the snow. The branches sighed down around me, pressing me more deeply into the snow with their weight. I heard Mike shouting, but his voice seemed to come from a great distance. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see. I turned my head to free my face from the snow and cried out in pain.
"Are you all right? Are you alright?" Mike's voice was hoarse with fright. "Don't move. Stay still. I have to cut the main trunk."
The saw buzzed above me and suddenly the weight lifted. "Mommy, Mommy," cried Cassie. "Come out!"
Five pairs of hands pulled at the tree branches until I was able to roll out from under them. Brendan pointed to my face. "You have a big red mark," he said, his eyes wide and frightened.
"Why did you pull the trees on your head?" Kenny wanted to know. "Why didn't you and Mike just push them from behind?"
Mike took my arm and helped me walk to a nearby stump. He made a ball of snow and handed it to me for my bruise. Cassie and Jen leaned close. My legs shook and my head ached.
"I am okay," I reassured them. I took the snowball away from my face and there was blood on it.
"I'm sorry, Pauline," Mike said. "The book said that a tree falls against the cut. I really didn't think they'd fall on you. It's a good thing the snow is so deep or..." He stopped, seeing the fright on the kids' faces.


And here the entry stops! It all ended well. I had a headache that night and the next day, but the deep snow and the myriad of needled branches saved me from getting killed. I have two more disks to send to the data recovery company. I hope they are as revealing!

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Where I Am From

I am from the depths of the round, gilt-edged mirror that hung over the fireplace mantle, reflecting my first homecoming, from the unremitting ticking of the Seth Thomas clock that bonged on the hour, and from the voices and faces that morphed slowly into mother, father, brother, sisters.

I am from the beamed and shuttered farmhouse whose walls hugged me close and kept me safe, from the giant maple that leaned over the road and the locusts that dropped their sticky yellow catkins on the broad lawn; from apple trees bent low for climbing, from stone walls where snakes lazed in the summer sun, from stream and pond and open meadows, and woods that begged to be explored. I am from a place of gentle blue hills and lazy river valleys and small dairy farms, a place of Yankee ingenuity and rock-ribbed landscapes.

I am from shy purple violets, delicate lily of the valley, milkweed and chicory and Queen Anne's lace, giant mullein and sugar maples, tall hollyhocks leaning against the side of the barn; from golden roadside grasses and the sunlit ripples of the brook that bent around the yard like an elbow; from the wild blackberries and raspberries that grew in a tangle and scratched the unheeding hand; from the deep rich loam that fed the lettuces and carrots and round, red tomatoes; from the small ring of fairy flowers that grew beneath a slender birch.

I am from songs sung to make work less arduous and feet that danced when chores were finished; from a distant Native American woman of the Anishinabe tribe, from French explorers and settlers with names like Desrochers and Brien and Guertin; from the Dutch Longstreets and the English Clarkes; from the Bird Clan and the Hoof Clan, from Parisian huggers and kissers, and from cool, remote aristocrats.

I am from the lovers of sweets and the corpulent, from engineers and artists and explorers, from students of history and teachers of science, from Civil War generals, and shopkeepers. 

From Yankee thrift, from"a stitch in time saves nine" and "pretty is as pretty does." From "waste not, want not" and "make do or do without." From "never look a gift horse in the mouth," and "always wear clean underwear in case you are hit by a bus." From ocean goers and river-crossers, from survivors of two World Wars and a Great Depression.

I come from rosary beads, sacred Sunday mornings, and black robed men and women, some of whom preached one thing and practiced another, whose meanness was covered by a thin veneer of charity, who drove me, finally, to seek a kinder, clearer way. And I am from distant Native American stock, from those who respected the land and conversed with the spirits, yet waged war on their enemies. 

I'm from far away places across the sea - Ireland, France, England, the Netherlands. I am from remote Canadian settlements and bustling Canadian cities. I am from the New World - dense woodlands and wide-open plains, New Rochelle, NY, the Massachusetts mill town of Holyoke, and of the rural Berkshire Hills. 

I'm from tourtieres (meat pies) and fruit pies with crusts made in heaven, from homemade chocolates and handmade lollipops. I'm from real butter and fresh eggs and whipped cream, corn on the cob and Boston Baked Beans, maple syrup and hot hasty pudding.

From the grandmother who came down from a north central Canadian farm to work in the silk mills at the age of 14 and who spent her first week's salary on a hat so large you had to peer under the brim to catch a glimpse of her face; from the grandfather who was part carpenter, part artist, part photographer, part magician; from a third cousin named Longstreet who, in the 1800s, commanded the Southern Army at the battle of Gettysburg.

I am from the old black and white photos of my childhood farm, of a slow pony named Blaze and a female cat named Roger. I am from a blue plaster bunny that appeared in my Easter basket every year for as long as I can remember; from the green china teapot my mother used every day; from the blue Columbia bicycle I helped to buy for myself with chore money. I am from the colored photos of cousins as teenagers, of weddings and the next generation dressed in old family christening gowns. I am scarlet sunsets over blue mountains, the hiss and tumble of coastal waves, the yellow corn pollen dust in August. I am birdsong and raindrops and star-bright nights. 

I am from the dust under my feet and the air that I breathe. I am from beauty and sorrow. I am.