• The Same Old Thing

    Two years ago, Tom and Nate seeded down a small field near the brook, just past the pig lot and right across from the upper field where we keep the Randall Linebacks. It was two weeks before deer season and Tom mentioned that at exactly 4:17 every day, a large doe, followed a minute later by a very cautious buck, made her way out of the woods and down into the field. The next day I sat with my back against a sugar maple and timed it, and sure enough, at exactly 4:17, there came the doe and the buck. Evening after evening, it was the same old thing.

    Every August, on the first day that offers the promise of autumn—a whisker of wet leaves and humus, a chance patch of hoary frost—Tom jumps up and talks about where we will put our tree stands this year and the first buck sightings, racks covered with felt. Summer gives up all of a sudden, the evenings fade sooner, and the night is darker and more pressing—no zephyr kisses on a warm breeze. The sugar-dusted fried dough of Old Home Day is behind us and we march through potato and honey harvest, pumpkins on the porch, thorn bushes and beagles pounding after rabbits, snowshoes and dim snowfalls, days and nights in sugarhouses, trucks stuck in mud, the planting of potatoes, beans, and corn, and then tacking up the horses for the July 4 parade.

    Some might say that life has few surprises if you live long enough: accidents, marriages, births, deaths, luck, no luck, bad coffee, dry spells, frozen pipes, a cold LaBatts on a hot day, and Parker House Rolls on Thanksgiving. But then your neighbor drops off a half cord of dried, split oak. A turkey shows up drunk on fermented apples at the country store. A seven-point buck appears on the first Sunday of hunting season, just a hundred yards uphill. A neighbor tells you about his secret fishing hole in the Green River. They’re unexpected moments but part and parcel of everyday living.

    Watching our town’s annual Old Home Day parade, I am on the lookout for the familiar. The bearded drummer with the Abe Lincoln face. The bagpipe band from Cambridge. Young kids and dogs, faces peering down from the high cabs of firetrucks. The muscle cars. The float with someone sitting on a toilet (a popular theme in our town). The veterans. The bright red 1949 Farmall. The couple on horseback. The cheese float. And whatever crazy entry Jed has thought up. He was the Cat in the Hat this year driving a bright red Seuss car.

    A few years ago, I took three of my kids up SE Corners Road, where I grew up. If you know just where to look for it, there sits the prettiest small waterfall in Vermont, hidden in a stand of pines. At the bottom is a small pool, lit by shifting circles of sun, overshadowed by the rushing sound of the falls. It was a perfect match in memory but mirrored how much I had changed.

    A few months back a neighbor took me aside and offered a few words of kindness. Her manner was a tad different than usual: more personal, more focused. She had thought hard about what she was about to say and wanted her words to make a difference. They did. It was a familiar face with an unfamiliar message. Words of kindness at the right time can be something truly new, not the same old thing.

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