The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for June, 2018

Kisses So Sweet

You stood in the door of the girls dorm 

Alone in the late summer’s heat

I sat on the steps on the concrete warm

And quietly offered a seat

Shy you were then, and I too was scared,

‘Twas a wonder we ever did meet

But there on those stairs in a moment we shared

I found that your kisses were ever so sweet 

 

You walked up the aisle and pulled alongside, 

Together we promised our lives

I promised forever to love and abide

Together as husband and wife 

Together our lips touched and made us complete

Like honey from heaven, your kiss was that sweet.

 

You laid on a bed in motherhood’s glow

A child asleep on your breast

I looked at the two of you proud just to know

A feeling too deep to express

A woman whose heart held enough love to meet

The needs of this child, and still kiss me sweet

 

You stood on the pier in a gray winter coat, 

stretching to catch a first view

I stood on the deck of the barnacled boat,

My memory filled up with you.

Returning from sea, I could feel our lips meet

Better than memory, your kiss was still sweet

 

Alone in the house, the kids all departed 

And finally space of our own

we boggled at silence, a feeling uncharted 

A quiet road laid in cobblestone

With nothing to interrupt, naught to compete

You filled up the space with kisses so sweet

 

You in the bed breathe a steady ballet 

of weariness piled in a heap

I came to bed late, and leaned in to say

“I Love you” – I knew you were still fast asleep

And deeper than passion, truer in sleep

Your dream found my lips, and kissed me so sweet 

Morning Start-up

Morning Start-up

From somewhere deep in the sawmill floor, there starts a rumble.  

Good morning, Beastie.  I’ve missed you these months since I last visited.

It is no mere random rumble that signals the waking day.  I know, from years of listening, exactly what motor was just started.  And can predict the next.  Far across the expanse, a conveyor belt begins its toil.  A floor chain begins to drag its way through smooth-worn races.  The whine of hydraulic systems scream to life.  Like an orchestra warming up and tuning in its pit, the double bass and the oboe thrum, the trumpet blares, the flutes trill.  The saws whisper to life around their wheels.  I stand on a catwalk, waiting for my work to begin, to see how well each machine operates.  My calibration work the previous night will prove itself through repetition.  

But first, I let them warm up.

I listen to their private rituals, the sub-steel begins to vibrate with a complex harmonic, each machine putting some timbre into the growing cacophony.  I smell the air filling with the scent of saw-guide water, lube oil, hot rubber as a conveyor settles into its track, and yesterday’s dust is disturbed and wafts like yesterday’s coffee.

But I do not look.  Not yet.  I hear.  I smell.  I feel the pulse quickening through the steel beneath me.  I have no need for eyes yet to know what I sense.

And then, it begins.  From the dark void where the biggest machines loom like monsters in a closet, the mighty bandsaws sing out their first long notes.  16 feet of log is cut into three unequal parts, two dropping off to the sides, the center carried on through till it reaches the end of it run to the next transfer.  With a heavy, lumbering thud it roll onto its infeed toward the canter.

From my place between the edgers, the scent of green pine sawdust wafts and flows with Life, spreading over the mill like a morning mist.  The newly-opened wood has announced its arrival.   I still wait, still hearing the rhythm of motors, knowing where each mechanical thud indicates the arrival and passing of a board.  I still only smell.  Only feel.  It is not yet time to see.

Not quite yet.

The first boards crest the incline, are singling up into their lugs, and dropping over the decline one at a time.  I know this with my back turned.  They trigger the infeed table, and nearby mechanisms join the jangled rhythm of the music.  I recognize through all this seeming random vibrations the peculiar pulse of the individuals like footsteps of old friends approaching my door.  And still, I do not see yet.  Almost, but not quite yet.

And then, with a crack like thunder a Board is caught up in mechanical forces, drawn onto the infeed table, and positioned for its sacrifice.  Boom, there’s the first press roll.  It won’t be long now – a few seconds in fact.  One roll, two rolls, and then out of nowhere the shrill sound of three circular saws slashing their way through the board.  There will be two pieces for me to watch.  Three rolls, four rolls, and they begin to lift in reverse order.  It is directly behind me, hidden in an iron chamber. But the sawdust begins to spit out down the conveyor below me.  The first board is nearly here.  Now.  Now is the time to see.

And suddenly, in my mind the entirety of this huge monster of a mill disappears from me, and only this conveyor exists.  At five-hundred feet per minute the light blonde pine of two boards and two edgings burst out from under the catwalk and into view, flying with sure efficiency.  In a fraction of a second I see where the saws cut, analyzing the position of the cut edges against what I know should be.  One twelve-footer and one eight-footer have been made.  The edgings, not even but well-balanced, have been separated from the board as close to the edge as the wane allows for these boards. They are parted from the boards at the end of the conveyor, by steel fingers that lift only the boards, and drop into the waste conveyor while the boards travel on to their next destination.

It was a good cut.

And then, as seamlessly as it left, the rumbling roar of the mill floods back into my consciousness, and my eyes see nothing again.  In a half-hour, the entirety of my mind will have tuned itself to the rhythmic dance, cycling between seeing and feeling several times a minute.

But for now, this first board is alone.  There is a hole in my mind where the second board should be, and it niggles at my awareness.  I finally turn, and see that the operator is wrestling the Board back into position – it had twisted sideways.  He will leave it once it’s restored, boards move better in groups sometimes.  And so I go back to waiting, listening, marveling at the Beast, at its pulse and rhythm, at the ripple of its sinews.

Yes, good morning Beastie.  It’s been too long.

What did I come here for?

It took 700 miles, and more mountain passes than I could keep track of, but finally, the Wall came down.

I stood, in the middle of an inland sea so old it had run dry, cradled between two vast mountains. And there was not one other person besides myself.

A thin strip of tarmac strung like telegraph wire from one side of this valley to the other. Above, storm clouds played with the mountain peaks, cubs toying with the adults. Their rain squalls fell into the stoic peaks and ridges, and moved on when they could not disturb the stillness.

And so I stood, in the midst of this imperturbable stillness. The petty worries and thoughts of my own invention swirled into its silence, there was no struggle, they were simply absorbed into irrelevance. I watched them go, wondering if my soul would be next, if I would be swallowed into irrelevance too.

With a sudden stirring inside, I hoped I would be.

I wished to be caught up in this Larger Thing, to embrace my own insignificance, to be nothing. And for a moment, staring up at these impossibly enormous peaks, standing in an impossibly enormous valley, I could feel it. I let go of myself.

And then, I wept.

It was an overwhelming relief that came over me. Being swallowed whole into this Stillness And even when once again my head was filled with the rush of wind, and the rumble of machine pushing me along, that Stillness stayed with me.

No, wait. Not a part of me, but rather I a part of it, unable and unwilling to let go. I stayed with the Stillness

This was what I had come for.

First Cutting

The early morning air was quiet.  It was  still, and heavy, slumbering in a cool dew.  The hillside to the west signaled to the valley below the coming of the sun, bestirring life and getting it ready.

And we moved around the barn, readying our machinery there in the farm’s common area.  The tractor, and the trucks, wire and hooks, fuel and water.

And gloves.  We needed gloves.  Well, I did at least.  This was not my usual job, but my work was intermittent, and required travel, and I was home on the farm for the summer’s first hay-cutting.

We were already into the pasture when the sun’s light reached it, climbing above the eastern hills to dry this crisp coastal air, and to dry the tall grass, and to warm our bones.  A mist arose at this warmth, and we tarried a few moments, feeling it’s early-season warmth.

It was a light sun, a light that rested gently, toyed with the living things, lifted scents upward and spirits outward.  Completely unlike the later summer, when crops toiled under a heavier, more intense light, that laid itself down and smothered the plants in life-giving warmth, pushing the plants to grow as fast and hard as they can before the waning harvest season.  No, this was a light sun.  And my spirit soared with the field-hawks looking for breakfast overhead.

The machinery was brought to life, and we lined things up, ready for a task it had been months since we had done.  The mower had been here a few days before, and half the field was cut, and raked into rows.  The other half still stood tall. We divided duties and the baler started lumbering its way into the field.

My son and I worked together to lift the bales into the truck.  The two farmers, brothers who’d been doing this since childhood every year, operated the equipment in the field.  The farm had passed from homestead to dairy farm through 4 generations, but we had only moved to this pioneer farm two years previous, and while I had baled hay as a teen, and last year here, it was my son’s first time out.

The chuff from the grass that had lain drying in the field most of the week stirred up with the baler’s passing, filling the field again with the fresh aroma of life.  All around us was nothing but grass, no road, no trail – just a row of bales in an open field – and it felt good under our boots to tread upon real earth.  We worked fresh muscles against the task of picking bales up, and bucking them into the truck.  I took an especial joy in showing Andrew how to buck, kicking his knee up under a bale almost as big as he was, and shoving the moving bundle onto the truck’s bed.

About the time our morning strength began to wane, a station wagon appeared on the edge of the field, and cautiously navigated across the open grass that wards us.  It was my wife, and in the back of the car she had put a small grill and steaks.  So we sat in the midday sun, drinking our full of water and grilling steaks there in the middle of the field, an honest-to-goodness tailgate party.  Later in life, in times when I needed something to think on to bring me peace in a moment of angst, this moment, the quiet sun shining strong, the light breeze blowing thoughtfully in from the coastline at the mouth of the river, the smell of cut grass and this sense of belonging – that this work was exactly what we were meant to do, the feeling of fitting into the Puzzle of Life just so – it comes to me, and takes me back to the Center of things.

And as the sun’s rays began to climb the eastern slopes, and long shadows lay across the field, our last load headed for the barn.  Andrew and I sat together on the back of the truck with our bales, legs dangling over the side and bouncing tiredly across the field towards the road to the barn.  We took off our gloves, and the earthy smell of sweat, dirt, leather and grass lodged itself indelibly in our minds.  Summer is now here.

The sun finally rested. Our tired muscles were washed, and laid down to sleep.  And a working peace grew into being a part of us.