Friday, March 16, 2007

mauls and wedges

The sky opened for us, last week. But the vineyard was too wet. The northwest corner was immersed, and algae had begun to form there. I’d sunk past my ankles in the muck as I tightened the trellis wires.
So we took to the beach, scavenging for posts seven foot tall, the breadth of your fist. After the snows, after the storms, after twenty inches of rain in no less than three months, the beaches are stacked heavy with trees battered to an appropriate size. And so we went there.

It’s three years older than me, said the older man, of the truck, as we three crammed into the cab. The youngest son sat bitch, legs pinched together, that he might avoid the girth necessary for the stick shift to operate. I sat at the window, pressed my forehead to the glass, watched the moisture in my breath collect, impair my view.
The truck was a flatbed. And built in 1954, from the tab stuck to the ashtray.
The older man pressed the starter, a knob to the immediate right of the gas pedal, and she gunned to life.
He chose to avoid the driveway; the latest storm had rendered four Willows, shredded their yellowy remains across the stones of the road, a wood pile, and whatever amassed under that broad, plastic tarp. He drove instead, into the field, and tucked between the northeast corner of the vineyard and the eight-foot deer fence that ran parallel to the road.
We took the back roads. The older man told us that she aint exactly legal, and took us deep where the trees reach so high on both sides. Where the trees twine together up there, like fingers church-and-steepled.
We passed the homes of friends; counted four divorces in five miles of road.
And at the intersection at the bottom of a hill, from the top of which the older man held the brakes, we found the third son.
He’d parked his car in the trees on the northbound side of the road. He sat cross-legged on the hood. Slowly, he drew his legs from beneath him, hopped to the pavement. The older man fixated his eyes on the rearview mirror, cursed the chance of a car coming over that hill.
The third son hopped onto the flatbed. And when the older man gave no sign of contradicting this, the youngest, to my left, saw the opportunity. He squeezed out as I lowered my body, tucked my head against my shoulder, and he too found his place on the flatbed, against the cab.
Three miles further and we left the paved road. For dirt, potholes, and a glimpse, through the tightly-threaded stony-barked Doug Firs, of the beach. The boys back there stood on the flatbed, gripped at the cab, ducked under branches. I stuck my head out the window and the breeze parted my hair, long and dark now, with streaks of grey, and I whooped to the boys and they whooped right back.
We left the trees behind then, as the road broke into the open. High bluffs to the left of us; a broad yellow field to the right of us, more bluffs below that, and the water. The grasses were matted, rotted and darkening. The snow had crushed the life there, and gravity was not forgiving.
We tore from the road, found our way in that flat grass. When he reached the bluffs, he parked parallel, and I looked out the window, down the bank.
He told me this is the last time we’d collect from here. The old woman who owned it, she was gone, and she’d left it to the university.
I told him great and he grimaced. Told me the university would turn around and sell it, and it would subdivide, three parcels at the least.
We got out. He pointed, there, a house, in those trees, a house, not to mention they’d flatten the existing one, rebuild from that foundation, but bigger.
The third son, spiteful as he thought of this, mentioned the bluffs and how high they were and they would never build there.
Again, the older man grimaced, said they’d make a road. Blow it up. He turned his back on us, took two splitting mauls, six wedges, passed them out. Then, the chainsaw and a tank of gas.
We found the trail. The bank was made of clay, and we descended with little difficulty. Tossed the mauls and the wedges to the rocks below, and climbed the last twelve feet with a rope tied to an Oceanspray.
The older man told us he wanted forty-five of em, the posts. Check the insides, he said. Watch for rot, he said.
I took a maul and three wedges. The third son, likewise. To the older man went the chainsaw. The youngest, he took to hauling the logs up the bank, to the truck.
The wind was weak, at the beach below the bluffs, and quickly, I broke a sweat. Removed my sweater. We worked in silence with just the slap of the waves around us.
I split one Cedar post and the smell of a spicy cider reached up gently. I split another and the salty, clammy rot of the wetlands lashed out. When I stopped my chopping, mopped my brow, and asked the third brother, did he have a girl yet, he just smiled, ran his hand through his thinning hair, foreshadowed by the porcelin scalp of the older man, and the waves chided, lapped the toes of my boots, and I split another round.