Once In Vermont
By the clamor and sounds
One could imagine there was
A mob of trucks and other
Vehicles pulled into the
Farmyard, but it wasn’t at all
That way when I got there.
This was a long time ago.
To the life of an old timer
Or the valley and river itself
Running through, it was only
As old as yesterday.
But I was young and so was
The teenage boy, and his father
Clayton was living down
There alone with the boy after
His wife moved out and only
A few years more before
Clayton was also gone with
A new wife and the boy would
Be old enough to marry — and
Come to think of it — I would
Around then be married, too.
It was a Saturday morning,
Clear sky open autumn day,
Trees shaken of leaves
Except for the oaks on
Owls Head Mountain
Which always held its leaves
Into deer hunting season.
I was a friend with Clayton and
His son, or at least they were
My friends since I was a newcomer
To the valley and didn’t at all
Mind helping out with their farm
Chores…walking right off the road
If they were haying, spending an
Afternoon stacking clumsy bales onto
A flat wagon and later throwing its
Load up into the barn loft hatch.
Everything built from scrap, cut
Trees for timber, salvaged shingles
And boards saved from carpentry
Jobs to finish their own house —
Pay was enough to eat,
Buy gas, keep things running.
It was the double shotgun blast
That made me curious to visit.
Both shots brilliant and decided
At ten in the morning — no way to hide it —
No one down here really to hear it.
I walked the gravel driveway between
Upper mowings before it dipped
Into the farm door yard and for all
Gun play and engine commotion
It took a moment to find where
It was coming from. Off
To one corner of the field, in
Shade of the pole barn and a few
Dead hardwood trees I caught sight
Of father and son bending down
In swift work to the far side of
A small tractor. And then one
More shotgun blast. Surrounding
All meaning of sound, making me
A little edgy if it wasn’t too late
To back step away and forget what it
Was I had no idea . . .
And that’s what took me further.
The boy saw me first, glancing
To his father who casually
Raised his head and nodded up
Hello. By then I was to the
Tractor…saw the luster of
Blood on their leg trousers and
Boots, rifle leaned against
The pitted tire, chain saw
Streaked in blood and sticky dirt,
The six and maybe I counted seven
Legs of cows, innards in a pile,
The unforgettable sensation of being
Bathed in the living, and surprised
At not suffocating in this unexpected
Horror — I mean the river is
Startling beautiful 50 feet away,
Yet there is a glory all its own
Right here — making food. It’s uncouth,
Rotten, the rifle much too big for
The business, but there is
No mistake of the shot.
I would stay long enough for one last
Leg sawn off the trunk body
Later carved open and emptied —
Two cow heads rolled off into
Tall grass like the burled
Elm stumps that won’t split, but those
Heads have faces looking worse dumbfounded.
The pack of mother dog and puppies
Roost in them for days.
It’s just food for winter and
What happens. Next weekend
Clayton and his son might tear down
The tractor or rig the plow
On the jeep made ready
For first snow. Finally haul
Down firewood from the hills.
I came by for a short visit
And got one. Knew the job
Was done when Clayton took
Out his pipe and re-lit the
Bowl, breathing peacefully
Over his work.
B O B A R N O L D
Once In Vermont
photo ~ Susan Arnold 2016