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PREVIOUS DAY'S MUSINGS ON A NOTEBOOK PAGE
SERVE AS AN INSTANT REPLAY ON THE GAME OF LIFE

The thermometer says it's 24.8 degrees outside as I perch a mug of coffee on the window ledge and settle into a rocker, with notebook and pen. The hot liquid leaves a plume of steam on the glass as I look through it to make out the complexion of the early morning.

The grass is frost-white, the sky low and gray. Saturday's wind has passed, and the twigs of the walnut and maple trees barely twitch. Something darts along a branch, and my eyes don't need to focus on it to recognize the jerky motion belonging to the red squirrel that has claimed the trees in the front yard as its domain.

The little creature shoots up to the top of the maple, nibbles a bud and races back down to chase off a flicker. Some blue jays appear and get the same bum's rush. I don't understand red squirrels. They must wear themselves out getting enough food to fuel their overactive metabolism. If they could break out of the vicious circle and slow down, they wouldn't be so hungry. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.

I start to fill up a page with a description of the previous day, to enjoy it again by recording it. Like a sports fan with his instant replays, I like to think about yesterday's work from the comfort of this morning's chair.

Starting at the beginning, I sketch a well casing, scratching a ripply line to note the water level. It has held steady at four feet for a week. Good news for a guy tired of hauling a tank around every day.

I moved some bales out to the herd and noted that the cows were fleshed out well for winter. That's good, for it's a long time until the grass becomes green again, and a little fat will come in handy in February.

The main job for the morning was to be wood cutting, so I start the little Deere. But before I can hook up the trailer and collect my gear, the engine begins to miss. I park it by the shop and find the plugs are full of soot. Something's not right. Inside the distributor cap I find the points are bad and make an unplanned trip up to the Ridge to find some tune-up parts.

An hour later the points are gapped and the new condenser is snapping out a good spark when I ground a plug wire. I line up the fly wheel, time the distributor and am rewarded with the chug of an engine, which means business.

Kathleen and our son wave goodbye and head up the road to go Christmas shopping. A few minutes after they leave, Marv pulls in with his old Chevy truck. We settle up for some chickens and then go over the hill to find his family a Christmas tree.

We knock off a couple of worthy topics as we scout the evergreens. Christmas shopping takes a few lumps. He tells me about his vineyard, and I describe how a visiting grape producer recently taught me to prune vines. We discourse about the human immune system as we drag a Scotch pine back to the truck.

After lunch I drive the tractor and trailer over to Johnson Creek to harvest some fallen ash trees at the bottom of the escarpment. I noticed them last summer and had been looking forward to collecting a wagonload of this prime firewood.

The old poem runs, "Ash wood wet, or ash wood dry/the king will warm his slippers by." This load would be "ash wood dry," for, despite the showers of the recent week, the wood was well-seasoned during a summer of drought.

I write about the day but know that sentences in a notebook cannot capture the simple pleasure of filling a wagon with firewood on a crisp December afternoon. I cut a couple of trees, stop, take off my logger's helmet and toss the ash into the trailer. The pile grows.

I pause to look at the tight, narrow growth rings that tell the hard story of these straight trees that have struggled to inch their way skyward in the dim light of the forest understory, only to fall short after 40 years. There is a lot of heat in the wood, stored sunlight from the 1950s.

The tractor worms its way through the trees and stops at another bunch of fallen trees. I cut a few, then the wagon is filled to capacity. I saw up some wood for the next load, then turn the tractor around.

The warm house makes my cold face burn. It's one of the things about winter you forget. For supper there is leftover beef stew and slices of fresh, homemade bread. Long after dark the shoppers come home with a rustle of bags in the hallway.

Then it's Sunday morning, and I am sitting, caught up to the present. A cardinal lands on the fence near the mailbox, a spot of red glowing on the somber landscape. I take a deep breath, glad it's a day of rest, though you would never know it, watching brother squirrel trying to be everywhere at once.

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