The Bearded One belts out Tom Jones’s “She’s a Lady” to scare away critters as he trudges downhill from the unheatable barn in the dark. “It’s only six o’clock and it feels like ten,” he says. He prefers to be outside, but it’s pitch dark at five now, and 28 or 29 degrees at night.
Indoor projects take on a new premium in the coming cold and dark hours of life in a valley. The Bearded One will pick up the guitar again. By the 20th or 30th rendition of his lonesome cowpoke on the trail song “How I Miss You Baby,” I will once again outlaw it outright and demand that he write some new songs.
I will make a science of keeping the fire going in the stove with the luxurious kindling packets he dried and tied together back during the ten days or so of actual hot dry weather we had this summer. I will consider learning to knit, as I consider every fall.
Many wintertime projects are inspired by the farm life and the animals. Last year I wrote a novella about a bear. We have bear tracks all over the place these days. Another winter I wrote an essay about my Grandpa Cy, a Montana butcher born in 1898, who was also an artist who drew coyotes and wolves and cats for us. The essay is about another one of his creations, fashioned on those long Montana winter nights with his brother who was also a butcher — walking canes made out of bull penises. Yep. You read that right.
The dog and cat are searching for their indoor selves, too. Ruby is snack-centric, inquiring casually for treats every twenty minutes for five hours every evening — do I look like a vending machine to you? Garfield’s fur is growing thick and he is getting into trouble. He goes wild out of the clear blue and starts attacking the couch. He recently decided to start climbing the fragile, plastic-covered hoop house. He walks it leisurely as we hiss and honk to try and discourage him from doing it any more.
The chickens’ lives have changed, too. The five new chickens, all 2-month-old hens, were born on the same day as our first seven chicks. We got them from a breeder for $10/each — two Americaunas (Jane and Cheetah), a Silver Wyandotte (Danielle), a Golden Wyandotte (Anna), and a Rhode Island Red (Leah). The last three names finish off our son’s list of girlfriends. They’re all good laying breeds and full-sized birds, not bantams. The Americaunas are as big as Kimber, and she’s got her hands full all of a sudden with a dozen juveniles under foot. She goes to bed really early now.
Our son made a piece of turkey breastbone art back in elementary school. We put it on the fall harvest altar with next year’s bean seeds and a candle, which I light just as the Bearded One gets out his 12-string.
He has a beautiful, deep baritone voice. “How I miss you baby, when we head out on the trail, oh how I miss you baby…and the cold dark nights and the red ant bites and the barroom fights are hell.”
His lyrics bring to mind all the Harry Potter books and movies full of spells and charms and magic words designed to ward off the bad stuff and bring on the good — maybe I’ll let him sing it a few extra times this year.