Time is like a river in which we stand facing down-stream. Time washes around us and carries life away. We are much more certain of what has happened than of what will.
We have but limited ability to sense what is coming toward us – and when it has passed, we are left wondering how we failed to notice. Some are things that are all but mathematically certain. Knowing this, they still manage to take us stupidly by surprise and we stand speechless, both at the event and at our own amaze: Obviously this would happen, why am I so surprised?
Well, the snow fell this winter and we were not too surprised. It stayed cold for a long time, and the snow piled up and up and soon there was more than four feet of it draped on the new Euclidean marvel in the trees, and on the decidedly non-platonic Clark nearby. The trees and their shade and the cold and the Vermontness of it all meant that there was precious little to be done at the site until late April.
Initially I had been quite cavalier about how much work I could do in the winter. You see, I’ve worked outside in the winter before: sliding precariously on roofing underlayment; standing for hours with stamping feet frozen to clubs as cedar shavings piled down and cedar shakes went up; chipping last night’s rime off of the deck and cutting through framing lumber half iced over. It is absolutely zero fun, but you can still get things done.
The thing about four feet of snow, though, is that it doesn’t plow itself. It doesn’t shovel itself off of the work surface, or away from the site so you can get to the work surface. It just tends to sit there until something moves it, its hands folded smugly Newtonian-wise across its crystal white bosom. The prospect of applying the force required on weekly basis just to do a day or two of carpentry, cover up, and repeat the following week left me cold.
So I did what any sensible person would do: I adjourned the work around Thanksgiving to be taken up in warmer days, and contented myself with shoveling every part of Mount Snow, especially the roof of the summit lodge, with my fellow patrollers.
When spring did come, there were a few other things that needed to be tended to before work could begin. There was a wedding of friends. I began taking a biology class in January and the final was in May. Our actual house needed another section of roof stripped and replaced. (Of course, it rained the night I got all the shingles off, so we had water in the house.) There was another wedding of friends. I needed to find a new job to replace the stream of wealth flowing from my work on ski patrol. Lawns to be mowed, etc.
In early June, we did finally get to the site.
To those from away, all New England is of a piece. In fact, there are those who consider New York a part of it, so poorly known is our region in the rest of the country. But the folding of the land itself is different between the states, as are the characters of their people and even the scent of the air.
In autumn, you can chase fall south and in spring, you can turn back the clock just by riding up the river for a few hours. It was so good to come back for a short weekend with Jamie and try to show some progress.
Nothing beats framing for a feeling of accomplishment. We break that plane for the first time and push upward against the laws of nature. Blah de blah: the walls go up.
A 12 foot tall 6×6 wall is a heavy sonuvabich. To pull this thing up, I bought a “come-along,” which are so useful and awesome I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t already have one. You should go get one if you don’t have one – just to have it. Because it’s fun to have useful things. That’s why men collect pocket knives, even if they have desk jobs.
We threw a line over a couple of small trees, and looped a tow strap through the top of the wall. Then, slowly and carefully, cranked it up up up until we could get underneath it and push.
This was great for Jamie especially, who has never worked on a home construction site and so has never had that feeling of “putting something up.” Blah de blah, the walls go up. But is there anything more human than stacking, raising, erecting? Like love for a dog, the instinct goes so far back in our bodies that it’s almost basic to our biology. It’s such a simple thrill that even guys who work on production houses and build wall after wall still get a quiet kick out of that first wall, then, later, covering it with a roof.
Even on those crews, some dope is going to say what everyone else is thinking but won’t say because it’s stupid: “Startin’ to look like a house, now!”
Don’t be that guy. That guy is dumb.
But hey, so it is.
We only had a short time, so we didn’t build any more walls. We just put the one side up, braced it in place, and covered over the deck as best we could. The tarp over Clark had, of course, sprung another leak. So we re-covered that thing again, made it all fast, and got on our way.
It was so great to be back at it. After a winter of visiting the place and thinking about work, finally we were back at work.
But still standing in that river, of course. Still facing down stream.
There are two kinds of motorcyclists: those who have fallen, and those who will fall.
Within those inescapable groups is another that some riders escape: those who fall by crashing into (or being crashed into by) another vehicle. Even with out knowing when you will fall on a motorcycle, you can be comforted by knowing that you will fall. The probability of whether you will crash into another car is less, but it is still present.
On June 22, after a long day riding in Vermont and New Hampshire with Jamie’s brother, Colin, I was heading home through a small western Massachusetts town. A moment’s inattention.
Or, more aggressively, I declared a personal war on the Honda Pilot, and took out the first example I saw…as soon as I saw it.
In any case, the upshot was two injured hands (both sprained, one fractured) and a broken leg. The leg required surgery and a rod. My very first thought upon finding myself on the pavement in a field of broken glass was, “You must be fucking kidding me.”
No, you stupid, stupid man. I am not kidding you. Well done.
Time also folds and reveals itself in obvious contradiction: As I get older, days get shorter as the rush of the river picks up. Yet while impending death makes you claw at the minutes, it also extends time. It has taken me probably the same amount of time to recover from this broken leg as it did for me to get to the same stage with my shattered ankle 21 years ago, but it has seemed like ages and ages longer.
I no longer feel like limitless possible lives wait ahead; at best, there’s one. And it’s disappearing while I limp uselessly around the house.
No health insurance. We couldn’t afford the premiums and we didn’t qualify for subsidies because I made too much money in 2014. Even in the wake of $30,000 of medical bills, we still couldn’t have afforded the premiums. Math doesn’t work that way. Could I have not ridden the motorcycle? Hmm. Good question.
We accelerated plans for marriage, though we’re still planning the “big day” for September. Jamie has excellent benefits and since we knew that there’d be more, we had a small, simple ceremony at the house with friends and family that could make a quick trip. It was very, very nice.
I’ll be able to write much more about that later but for now, the upshot as far as this record is concerned is that nothing has gotten done on the cottage. With no progress, there has been little about which to write.
And then they killed my dog.
Dogs that tend to go in the road tend to get killed by cars. This is not a vagary of the time-stream that should cause surprise or shock.
But there’s just no preparing for just how lifeless death does feel when you pick your sweet boy off the road and limp up the driveway to the dooryard. Or for the way that time, swelling or shrinking, simply stops.
It’s amazing to me that, never having heard a dog get killed by a car, I nevertheless knew exactly what had happened the instant I heard it happen. And then all time stopped and waited for the rest of my senses to catch up to the reality of his poor broken head.
I think that four or five days passed without time moving, much.