This winter, I found myself constantly slipping on the ice. One day, after watching me fall for the umpteenth time, my pragmatic Mountain Man said, “You’ve always got your head up in the clouds. You’re looking at the mountains, at the sky, at everything except where you’re going. That’s wonderful. That’s you; but why don’t you just watch your feet so you can see the ice and then you won’t fall as much?”
“No,” I answered. “I might miss something and I’d rather fall.”
“I knew you’d say that.” Mountain Man replied.
That conversation in a nutshell sums up the difference between Mountain Man and me. While I’m off in the clouds thinking, dreaming, writing, falling and picking myself back up again, Mountain Man is steadily focused on the task at hand.
Last week, Mountain Man left Red Pine Mountain towing a horse trailer and taking two of the youngest and overly exuberant dogs. I was left alone on Red Pine Mountain and the responsibility of keeping the farm running rested solely in my hands. Mountain Man’s final words to me were “Don’t burn the place down.” To which I responded haughtily, “Of course I won’t.”
Weeks before Mountain Man had started planning his trip. Not only the routes he intended to travel but also the care of the farm and its smooth running while he was away. Daily he cut wood and stacked bin after bin in the shed so I’d be able to keep our outdoor boiler functioning. “Why the heck are you getting me so much wood? I won’t need all that. I’ll be fine.” “You wait,” he said. “You’re going to be surprised how much wood you’ll go through.” And I didn’t have just one pile of wood. He left me three piles. Dry wood, seasoned wood, not so seasoned wood. The techniques of keeping this outdoor boiler running would confound a scientist, and I listened carefully while he explained the burning system. And I learned that if I should let this beast of a boiler go out, the water inside it would freeze and burst our pipes and our boiler which had taken so much of our savings would be damaged.
He dragged box after box of kindling into the house for the wood stove so I wouldn’t have to use the axe to chop it and possibly cut off my fingers. He shored up the well in the barn to make certain it wouldn’t freeze and installed a new heating system and water line so I would be able to run water for the horses. He was afraid I would fall into the well reaching for the hose, a makeshift system he had in place while the barn was being finished.
Worried that I wouldn’t eat in his absence (he does all the cooking), he prepared and packaged individual meals for me complete with instructions for reheating.
Every day he checked the Weather Channel to make sure he wasn’t leaving Red Pine Mountain during harsh weather.
“Don’t worry about it. Don’t make such a fuss about it. If you want to leave, just go. I’ll be fine and I can take care of things. I’m not helpless you know.”
“No, I don’t want to leave you with any more difficulties than necessary. That boiler is a lot to handle. I also don’t want to leave you here with all seven dogs so I’ll take the two trouble makers (his affectionate term for our slobbering, exuberant 165 pound newbie, Tobias, and our German shepherd guard dog, Lilly, who considers everyone an intruder unless instructed otherwise by Mountain Man).
“The dogs will be fine. I’ll be fine. Just stop worrying about it. It’s no big deal.”
Finally, the day arrived when he felt everything was under control, and off he went. I let out a sigh, partly in relief because we had been in such a flurry of activity preparing for his departure and partly because the farm already seemed so empty.
And as the days passed with Mountain Man away, the nature of Red Pine Mountain changed. Gone was the hum of equipment running, gone was the sight of the tractor working, gone was the sound of music emanating from the shop. Gone were our evenings spent together laughing at the antics of our dogs. The farm was still and much too quiet.
The weather turned harsh and I discovered just how much wood a giant outdoor boiler consumes. My arms ached as I threw more logs into the belly of the beast, and I appreciated all the piles of wood Mountain Man left me because they were rapidly disappearing.
One night after crawling into bed exhausted, our 6 pound Chinese Crested dog started barking. “Be quiet Alvin,” I said, but Alvin would not be silenced. I headed into the kitchen to see what all the ruckus was about and discovered flames shooting out of the toaster oven which I had forgotten to switch off. I grabbed Mountain Man’s handy fire extinguisher, put out the small fire and gave Alvin very special treats, for without his barking, I would have been oblivious to the situation. Mountain Man’s parting words echoed through my mind, and I resolved to be more diligent.
This past week, I have come to realize Red Pine Mountain is Mountain Man. Perhaps I put our life into words but without his hard work every day and his attention to detail, Red Pine Mountain would be in shambles.
In his absence, I am sharing some of my favorite photos of Mountain Man, always looking where he’s headed, always sure footed, always working hard. Mountain Man who shows his love through his actions, and a sweeter love I could never find.