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My Weekly Post

New England Mardi Gras

On Saturday night I went to a potluck at my friend Deb’s house. She loves Mardi Gras and almost never misses it but this year, for various reasons, she couldn’t get down to New Orleans. So she threw a party instead. Everyone was greeted at the door and bedecked with the famous bright beads of the Bourbon Street celebration and most people brought some kind of Cajun dish. There was jambalaya and crawfish, rice and beans and even the King Cake, with a little prize inside for the lucky person who finds it in their slice. When Mary Lou bit into her cake and came out with a little plastic frog, we all cheered. Queen for a Day! and gave her a crown.

I’ve never been to Mardi Gras. I can remember in college that was number one on my list of things I wanted to do before I turned thirty. Well, the roads never led in that direction. It was always north, north and further north. And now I’ll never see the city as it was before that catastrophic storm. I once had a correspondent named Nettie Armant. She wrote to me faithfully from her home in California. She was not a native to that state, but rather, she grew up in New Orleans. She wrote to me of her memories there, how her husband had courted her in the French Quarter and the excitement of the Mardi Gras. Each year in February, I received a big box from Nettie. Inside were the colorful beads of the celebration, doubloons and small toys thrown from the floats, also pictures and sparkles, anything celebratory. Nettie sent me other things, too, including a new dish for my new puppy, Mayday. The dish with Mayday’s name imprinted on it is still in service on my kitchen floor, where my old lady, Mayday, who turned 14 today, eats from her stylish, imported dish. Nettie had a big heart and enjoyed releasing part of it to me, whom she had never met.

The reason Nettie wrote to me is because of her love for New England. That’s right, New England. It fascinated me, how a woman who was born and grew up in New Orleans and who lived in California, could love New England so much without ever having been here. I suppose it's not so different from my own desire to visit New Orleans. She told me that, though she had never been here, she hoped one day to come and visit this place of her dreams. She wanted to see the colors of the autumn leaves, the tall snowy mountains, the curling Atlantic. Next best was to subscribe to Yankee magazine. And to write to me. She signed all her letters to me, Dearest Love.

I saved a lot of her letters because she expressed herself very beautifully and because it was such a puzzle to me, where this love had come from. Once, some friends of mine were living briefly in southern California and I realized they were in the same city as Nettie. By that time, Nettie had been moved to a nursing home, her hopes of coming to New England gone forever. I asked my friends, both born and bred in New England, if they would do me the supreme favor of visiting Nettie for me. They agreed to and went to see her in her room. She was thrilled by their visit. They all took pictures and enjoyed the unusual visit, strangers linked by one idea: New England. I assume they talked about New England, though I don’t know. I think of all this now, many years later, when it is time for that poor, disfigured city to rise up once more and celebrate its heritage. I hope to get there one day. In the meantime, Deb's party will suffice.

Nettie has moved on. She told me once that her cherished and long gone husband was at rest in one of the famous cemeteries of New Orleans and that was where she would go when the time came. I don’t know for sure, but I think that is where Nettie is now, in her New Orleans home, next to her beloved, all dreams at rest.
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Divorcing Harriet

Harriet has been acting up lately. I wish I knew what triggers these rough patches. She had been so good for so long, I was telling everyone we had finally cleared the last hurdle and were home free. She turned one year old two weeks ago and I felt that she had finally become a dog, a well-mannered dog. She’s a great little dog with an adorable face, which is very much to her advantage. But then one night last week, she completely breeched her housetraining, hopped off the bed in the middle of the night, relieved herself and then hopped back onto the bed and went back to sleep! In the morning, I spent half an hour on my knees, scrubbing the carpet. I was less than pleased. The feelings lingered so that when I went down to the post office, I ran into a friend who asked me, completely innocently, “How’s that little Harriet?”

“We’re getting a divorce!” I said, half facetiously.

“What?” She seemed shocked.

“Well, at least, we are going into counseling,” I continued while sorting through my mail.

“What happened?” she asked, looking distressed.

“Oh,” I said, “She’s just bad. I think she was born bad!” And I left the post office, in a hurry, still not completely free of my bad mood from Harriet’s midnight transgression.

Harriet and Mayday were in the car, Mayday in her beloved backseat, Harriet riding shotgun in front. They enjoy our excursions to town, a change of scenery. They ride as if every inch of our journey needs their scrutiny, every pedestrian or leashed dog their barking alert. But we only had to get the mail that day so we headed home. Coming into the house, the phone was ringing. When I picked it up, a woman from town whom I don’t know very well said, “I understand you have a dog you want to divorce. I just lost my dog and I’m interested.”

Oh dear, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that not everyone understands my weird sense of humor. Or maybe it wasn’t even the case. I wasn’t even sure. Maybe for a split second I was ready to give her up! In addition, my mind registered the speed with which the news had passed through town. Like lightning.

“No, no,” I said, “I was just joking, I wouldn’t think of letting go of my Harriet!” I asked her what happened to her dog and she told me she is pretty sure a coyote ate it. My heart lurched. What a horror! I felt like I should give her my dog to make her feel better. I have often thought of that very possibility as coyotes roam around here all the time, sometimes howling so loudly I think they are close enough to touch. I can’t imagine what it would be like to realize my beloved, naughty or not, was inside another animal’s stomach. I expressed my sympathies, as best I could, but told her, no, Harriet’s going to stay awhile longer, hopefully she’ll be turning over a new leaf.

When I got off the phone, I went over and sat next to Harriet, who was sitting on the couch near Mayday. I put my arm around her. She looked at me as I told the story, that there are coyotes on the loose, looking for little dogs and that there are also bereaved owners, anxious to take on dogs who aren’t working out in other homes and when I was finished, she lay down with her head on my knee and sighed.
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Winter's Fire

Farmer Jay has been clearing logs from around the edges of the big field to the southeast of my house. He’s gone back into the cordwood business, he tells me, after a brief hiatus. He did not say why but I assume the favorable price of cordwood might have something to do with it. Cordwood is expensive (I can remember paying $45 a cord, years back, but I’ve heard prices as high as $275 a cord more recently) but there’s a lot of work in it. I don’t think the hourly wage of anyone who cuts cordwood for a living is very high. Plus it’s dangerous work.

So the familiar whine of the chainsaw began. He works alone but within sight of many of my windows so I glance out from time to time, an interesting diorama to watch when I look up from my work. He works with a skidder, cutting the tree first, limbing them and then dragging the trunks across the field, stockpiling them up by the road. Standard logging practice. Looked to me like a lot of maple and ash but I didn’t look too closely. I could see from the fir boughs that were mounting that he was also cutting pine. Though these fields belong to my neighbor, Jay manages them, keeping the edges trimmed and picking up trees that go over in wind and ice. This makes it easier for him to get as much hay as possible from these big and mostly productive meadows. I don’t know of any nicer fields in this town or the next. Aside from the fine horse hay it produces (I am told it is very good quality) and now the harvest of hardwood, these fields provide a great beauty, which is no small product.

He spent several days cutting and I watching. The pine boughs out by the edge of the stone wall were mounting and the day that I wondered what he would do with those also brought my answer. With his skidder, he pushed the boughs into a big high pyramid and lit fire to it. The fields are covered by a very thin blanket of snow. The pile let up a big plume of smoke and for several hours, that was what it was, a green pile with smoke rising from the center. He kept pushing more limbs and branches toward the pire. At one point I walked out to the center of the field to get a closer look. As his yellow growling machine revved and rammed, I could hear the snap of wood, perhaps being broken by the force of the blade or maybe just the heat of fire inside the burning limbs. It sounded like a massive hearthfire, snapping and cracking as flames finally burst freely up through the pile. At moments, it seemed he was driving the skidder right into the fire. I stood in the cold and watched. Dense near the earth but thin above the treetops, the gray tower of smoke rose high into the air, visible, I’m sure, for miles.

The day was ending. After darkness fell, I looked out to see the brush still flaming, a big cozy red circle in the blackness. It was a clear night, stars bright. A satellite drifted silently overhead. I wondered if Jay’s fire was visible from space. The morning brought a snow squall, dusting the fields and every branch. Flames were no longer visible but smoke still moved slowly upward, a lazy climb, like a tired runner. When the workday started, Jay returned. With the blade of his skidder, he scoured the edges of the fields, pushing long branches into the pile. The fire burst up again, muscular and inspired. The smoke regained its ambition, arrowed into the sky. Throughout the day, the tower of brush alternately flamed and smoked, a physical, vocal, theatrical presence in the otherwise still, silent field.

Last night, I could still see a bright pile of embers glowing in the darkness of the night. Today only a wide charred circle in the white field remains, the end of the week’s performance and a mystical footnote: that massive amount of matter, vanished. The long logs piled up by the road have yet to be dealt with.

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