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Hauling Lumber

According to legend, my mother's dad whistled like a pro. Supposedly as he tinkered around the farm, he taught Jazz tunes to the mockingbird that followed him from job to job, entertaining from a lofty perch nearby. The mockingbird at our place likes to use our "Truffula Tree" for his stage. It's not really a Truffula tree, actually a hackberry that stands alone after my son and I chopped down all the elms and sumacs around it, the hackberry now a long pole with just a bunch of dreadlocks at the top that caught the stage lights at the last Hoefest, or so I heard from various sources.

All winter, especially with snow on the ground, watching the other species of birds fight over the piles of feed outside my window, I wondered what happened to the mockingbird. Did he hush or fly south? According to Wikipedia the mockingbird doesn't normally migrate, just feels the blues when the weather's sour. As the weather changed, the robins showed up in the front yard, scoping for worms. The flocks of sandhill cranes drifted north on the current from the Gulf of Mexico, and you could hear them coo from lofty altitudes, though you had to strain your eyes in the bright spring sunshine to catch a glimpse of the flocks undulating in the breeze.

The migrating cranes always seem to indicate weather--in the autumn when you see them heading to our valley from the north, you know a snowstorm is on the way. Friday afternoon I watched them drift to the north, and the next day we got more than two inches of somewhat tropical rain. The river swelled with snowmelt and flooded the bottoms. This time of year the village of Verona, only four miles away from our farm, becomes a 20 mile drive, one way--unless you got a kayak and wetsuit. School absences are excused when the river rises, usually about a month off and on every spring, causing Verona to be a unique school that doesn't quite fit in today's corporate paradigm.

Virtually the smallest high school in the state of Indiana, Verona's classes are about the size as those in Boonville--about 25 to a grade. The school and town both boast a rebel history, and State and County officials are always threatening to shut the school down, bothered by little things like the excused absence based on the river being up. The gangsters of Education who pimp out of $100k office jobs in the city can't comprehend why kids are not required to attend school, but they're sort of at a stalemate because Verona's kids, landlocked by the two converging rivers, can't go anywhere else, either. Not all of them. Some of them could go south, to another county. Others west, to another county. Either way it's a logistical bussing nightmare, so the authorities let the laid-back school go on as if 2015 was still the good old days.

By Sunday afternoon the rain had soaked into the ground, and temperatures climbed near 70 degrees. My son and his buddies helped me frame up the walls for the greenhouse we're constructing on a concrete pad out back, until we ran out of materials.

"Go to Seymour and pick up the rest of the lumber," he said.

"It's Sunday. Think I'll just wait until tomorrow morning." I was still wondering how to stack the 12 foot 2 X 4's in the six-foot bed of my little Ford Ranger truck with the extended cab. Sounded like the makings of a see-saw, with the tailgate as a fulcrum.

When the river is out around here, the youth are homeschooled, which means if their parents are not in prison or at factory jobs in the town, they are unemployed and available to at least co-exist and watch TV with their kids. The boys were going to be hanging around all week, at least until the river waters finally receded.

"How about the three of you put your heads together, try to figure out how to restring the cord on the chainsaw," I said. I never wanted to be a teacher, nor a boss who gives orders, but I never liked fucking with springs and spools on pull-type small engine starters, either, and we had a few elm saplings around the concrete base for the greenhouse that had to be cut down.

The boys set to work on that project, all three arguing in the next room about the proper way to proceed, reminding me of kids in psychology class debating about gay marriage or abortion or AIDS or the other bullshit issues that have now distracted us for decades. With the river out, I have to function as a teacher for the youth, possibly a unique position for an eccentric organic farmer with leftist leanings to wind up in. Seeing a mockingbird appear in the tree out front, possibly to mess with the newcomer robins, I mused about the unique position I'm in, and concluded that everyone I know is in some kind of unique position. I think it was Sartre said that was the whole point about being human, so the Omniscient could experience limitations and stupidity. I've seen people in all kinds of unique positions, and I usually have to laugh, one reason I never could attend yoga class.

"You're too immature for yoga," my second Ex, a dedicated practitioner/instructor, concluded after yet another futile attempt to get me to join her and her friends in our living room back in Boonville, six years ago. "Why don't you go back to the farm?"

"I know!" The positions just cracked me up. I saw humor everywhere, slapping my knees like a drunken hillbilly while everybody got into the downward dog and all those other poses. I always had to flee to the farm, smoke a jay, drink some beer, and do some kind of occupational yoga like picking tomatoes or tossing hay to the cows while laughing my stupid ass off.

No sooner had we fixed the chainsaw and cleaned off that concrete pad, and a bunch of girls showed up. The boys set up a circle of chairs out front of the house. Basking in the first warm rays of the year, with Devil Makes Three jamming from the stereo that blasted out the open windows and front door, we soaked in the sun as the mockingbird abandoned his post on the Truffula Tree and perched instead atop the electric pole alongside the concrete block building we use for a shop. Maybe it was the weed in the joint somebody passed, but a good dozen of people were unanimous that the bird chirped in rhythm and tune to the song, "Bullet Flies." The tonal fidelity floored me and everyone else until the song ended, and we gave the mockingbird a standing ovation, possibly frightening him, because he flew back to his perch on the top branches of the Truffula Tree.

"Enough settin around," said my son. "Let's take the boat down to the river!"

I agreed to let them take my truck. The river is only a couple miles away, though closer now since she'd flooded. The kids loaded a boat in the trunk, and the girls in their red sedan followed the boys, leaving me in peace. The mockingbird, always in search of an audience, accompanied me out to where we're building the greenhouse, and I assessed the materials, scrawling out figurings in a notepad, still wondering how I was going to fit those 12 foot sticks of lumber in a 6 foot bed and haul them back from town, until about dusk when the boys returned, hooting and hollering from the back of the truck.

"Sorry, Dad," said my son, hands in his pockets, while the rest of the kids drove home.


"We broke the back window out of your truck when we were loading the boat."


"Sorry. I'll pay for it."

Fortunately, my son is not yet 18, and all the money he's saved up from picking watermelons for our neighbors is still in a bank account, in my name, so I really had to feel sorry for him. Today, with the temperatures soaring into the mid-seventies, I had to run to town and purchase the rest of the lumber, the 12-foot pieces fitting snuggly through the frame of the shattered back window, up against the dashboard. They barely stick out over the tailgate.

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