Thursday, February 19, 2009


Dark. There are no streetlights. Dusk is gone and so is the horizon glow. The nearest neighbor's mercury vapor yard lamp is an orange glow in his barn yard a half mile away. Other neighbors are a single orange dot on hillsides. We have a low wattage, energy saver coil lamp in the photoelectric lamp over the garage. It illuminates the gravel apron of the area in front of the two car garage. I zip up my leather coat carrying two packages of frozen sausage on my way to the Amish.

In the city recently, I forget to turn on the headlights of the truck. Only when my wife points out that the dashboard is dark, do I realize the error. Night in the city is bright. Turning from our gravel road to the main highway, I flick on my brights. The highway signs jump out in brilliant yellow. Turning right onto a paved county road and then another gravel road, I follow the crazy turns and back tracks of the river on my right. An old white clapboard farmhouse, deserted when they lost their job on the local dairy farm, pops up on the left. Then, the road becomes a tunnel through arching trees. A fork in the road and sharp turn left takes me up a precariously steep hill. A few nights ago, a red fox with a fluffy white-tipped tail streaks across the gravel. The ascent past Cross Creek Tree Farm, past the goat farm suddenly shoots the car to the top of the ridge. It's unnerving to reach the top of the hill and not see the road ahead. I slow down because this part of the gravel is snow covered and slippery. The ridge top road snakes across a panoramic ten mile view. One house perched on the edge of the ridge is cold and lonely tonight. A single lamp in the window and a car in front is the only sign it is occupied.

Quickly I'm plunged down a steep incline and back up to another ridge top and the elk farm. Another sharp left turn past the Quonset hut where they park their school bus with the day-glo fluorescent tape around the windows and escape route. Off in the distance the cars on the US highway inch their way to the east. A deer runs past me. I slow down and wait for another. Stopping briefly in case there's a slow, third deer, I look at the corn stubble in the field. If I were inebriated or in my teens, this road would equal the roller coaster ride at the state fair. It takes another steep dive downward past the ranch home with the old root cellar built into the side of the hill. I can see the white frame houses of the Amish farm. There are no visible lights.

Turning onto School Road, I must climb a short, steep bank while making an immediate left. I'm wary of the snow covered gravel. There are buggy tracks in the snow. A woman is walking between outbuilding bundled in a dark blue coat. From memory I walk across the large chunks of breaker rock, across the plywood remnants laid across frozen mud and up three wooden steps. There's something brown and furry in front of the door. When Titus opens the door I see it's the puppy recently acquired hoping for a warm night in front of the cook stove. The resident black and white mutt has retired to a warmer place in the barn.

"I hope that's not a wild animal in front of your door," I tell Titus when he answers my knock. "Naw, just a coyote," he quips. I think about the pile of scat in our back yard. I haven't seen the neighbor's dogs outside since January and then, only when Ron is watering the horses. A coyote has marked our territory. I mentally note to keep a closer eye on the cat at dusk.

Inside the farmhouse, the kitchen is warm and cozy. The children are gathered around the table or next to Mom by the cook stove. One daughter is propped against the back wall behind the cook stove, reading. There's a Coleman gas lamp burning quietly at the ceiling. Mom is holding a warm towel against her throat. She's not feeling well. The two youngest and an older daughter are coloring in books, reaching into a box filled with colored pencils. While everyone is involved in their own business, they listen as Titus and I talk about hogs. Occasionally a daughter will smile at my humorous mention of wanting to be a wurst maker. Titus corrects my garbled pronunciation. "The only German I know," I mention, " is how to count to three." I leave out the parts about learning to swear proficiently watching relatives playing cards when I was little.

We make a deal to butcher a hog. I'll contact a local farmer who'll drop it off at the Amish. Thirty years ago, my dad and I cut up hogs I'd raised on a small farm. I left the killing and cleaning part to a local slaughter house. Now, I'll be involved in the whole process from start to finish. One of my teachers-an American Indian elder once remarked about the benefits of putting your own self into a project. In real estate terms it's called sweat equity.

We raise our own food. We try to keep the food chain short. It may be edible podded soybeans, fresh organic tomatoes, farm raised potatoes, Amish chickens or in this case local pork. When we have dinner, it is not pre-packaged nor from a long distance. Our organic farmer neighbors-the ones that moved away to California to raise medical marijuana- often were pressured by a community of organic snobs to change their diet. Fads among the community went from vegetarian, to juice diets and finally to organic raised beef . Each was short lived. I have no forum to raise nor issues to debate. I have been a vegetarian and health conscious all my life. Like Fritz Pearls once said, I do my thing and you do yours. If we disagree,too bad, it can't be helped.

Titus' wife hands me a tub of raspberry yogurt. I thank them for the yogurt and the previous gift of cornmeal. I walk outside. I'm totally blind. Even with the low single light in the kitchen, I cannot see the steps. Then there's the brown furry lump somewhere. I stop, feel for the porch post and reach down for the step with my foot as if I'm testing the water in a pool. The blue curtains hanging in the windows effectively curtail all ambient light. I know my eyes will adjust. By the time I'm down the steps and on the breaker rock, Titus opens the door. "Are you all right," he says. "Yeah, fine," I say. He shines a light for me . I put my yogurt on the seat next to me and drive back. I keep a wary eye out for animals crossing my path.

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