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autumnal pause

          Looking out my window at clouds so low it felt like you could touch them just by raising your hand the way you would to ask a question in class, I was struck by the fact that I could. Not only could I touch the clouds, I could just stand there and look. I could stand there and look, and ask questions. There was no, one nagging thing that it was just about getting too late to do, no other thing that was haunting me with how good it would feel to –finally, at long last – get done and no other thing that was ringing my phone or knocking on my door, so I just stood there, looking out on the sodden world. The clouds had been low all day, and where they dipped down over the forested mountains and into the valleys they deposited rime on the trees like Christmas scenes in a department store window. I could picture a little toy train choo-chooing its way down through the mountain across the way, sending a plume of cheery little-engine-that-could smoke up to blend with the clouds. And with the cold, damp, cottony, almost-frozen stuff of the universe settling in, it occurred to me how much I like winter.

          In summer you can’t stand there and look, wonder and ask; you have to do!! Tote that barge, lift that bale; use every one of those warm daylight hours to draw in the crops, sail the boat, nail the boards, run the pump, visit the beach, tan the limbs, wash this and that and do it with an explosive exaltation before its all over!  Summer can be so crass. I’m biased when it comes to autumn: it is by far, my favorite season.  Some years here in the mountains we will get a cold snap early on, which will turn all the leaves brown over night.  It usually warms up after that, but the warm, honeyed yet crisp light of autumn just isn’t the same without the brilliant yellow leaves of the cottonwoods and aspens and the fiery red of the dogwoods.  This year the most spectacular time was at the very beginning of autumn, when the nameless little shrublets in the under story of the forest turned all at once, and with the sun glinting off the brilliant leaves it looked a little like the forest was lit from within. Can’t do that on a TV.

          Now it is snowing a little bit, which is nice in its own way.  Once I’ve gotten all my end-of-season chores done like hauling in firewood and battening down hatches, it’s nice to anticipate the upcoming ski season.  Already you can climb up Porphyry Peak and ski down, if you’re careful, and soon it won’t be hard to ski the seven miles from there to town, even if the snow bridges aren’t in over the creek crossings. Its fine to contemplate to be sure, but when the real snow falls, someone will have to shovel it, and after the quarter mile of shoveling I have to do, seven or eight miles on skis is a tad less picturesque. Someone send me a snowblower.

          The Hindus have a concept of the various stages of life, starting with childhood – naturally – and moving through youth, being a householder, then on to spirituality and yon into old age. This householder crap is a bunch of crap, I’m telling you. I’m looking forward to the spiritual part, where I get to look out of more windows. But I have no choice; I hold a house, and it holds me.  My new house (well, it’s not technically “new” anymore, I guess, since I’ve been living in it for a year, but it’s still new-ish…) is inching along toward completion, but in the long view, I guess no house is ever really finished.  By the time I get the finishing touches done, it will be time to remodel.  Its lucky for me that I have a very high tolerance for clutter and incompletion.  Unlucky for me, or at least for my house, is that I’m always getting bright new ideas.  My latest is to start raising chickens.  My friend visited me the other day, and brought me a dozen of the most charming, varicolored, speckley, brown eggs of all sizes and textures.  One was even a turkey egg (tastes just like chicken eggs, but has an incredibly tough shell).

          Eating my way through that dozen made me remember back in the old days, when I lived on a farm and we raised chickens.  We didn’t raise them, really; we just provided nests inside the barn, and went out there once in a while to collect eggs.  Every so often we’d discover a little brood of chicks parading around who had been hatched under the hedge by some determined hen.  Other times we’d find a possum nesting instead of a hen, and tempers would liven up as we debated whether possums actually do eat chicks or if they do not.  Even now, in the internet age, you can search away to find the definitive answer to whether or not possums are feasting on your eggs and chicks, and find a wide range of opinion on possums and their food preferences.  As a practical matter, we just evicted the possums as we found them. 

          So I want to raise chickens again, but that means building a hen house, and that means providing some sort of heat in the winter, and that means….It means that my house will never, ever be finished.  But that’s okay; I’m not expecting a visit from Martha Stewart or Donna Reed any time soon.


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