Winter continued this week with single digits, ice skating, frozen fingers and troubling furnace—the works. Winter, bleak and noiseless, the locals’ favorite time of year.
The ice has not subsided. There’s a tundra-like continent to cross between the porch and lilac trees, where the remaining snow has been glazed into an uneven surface of doom. Known routes have become obstacle courses of icy treachery, a mockery of balance and grace and knocking many of us down.
I say ‘knock down’ where some use the term ‘slip.’ The reason I do this is because ‘wiping out’ on the ice is not a slip. It is a multi-step gesture of humor and distress. And while it may begin with a slip, it ends with a decisive blow to some undeserving part of your body. Even if you save yourself, and don’t go down, it’s nasty gall to what remains of your youth.
Goose season is coming to a close. Finding carcasses will now be harder for the scavengers. The gulls and feral cats will grow lean. The closed food establishments and empty Dumpsters at job sites mean there is less food to go around. I watched a flock of crows following a cat—chasing him, really. Their numbers made them a vital threat to the cat and he ran quickly, but seemingly not terrified.
To me, it appeared he was being brave and holding his own, though in truth, I think he was in grave danger. He ran straight along the ditch row, in belly high snow, as the black birds menaced him. Five of them circled not 10 feet above, taking turns in swooping lower and hollering right in his ear.
Being part of a many generation potato farm family means I spend at least part of every winter sorting, organizing and sometimes throwing out, old equipment. So, last fall, when we harvested the Indian corn by hand and spread it on benches to dry in the greenhouse, it was with a particular piece of equipment in mind; the hand crank corn sheller.
Stacy and I found it last week, deep but safe in a storage container out back. The crank that I remember turning with splendid ease, though, could scarcely be budged. Halfway round it came to a stubborn halt. We hauled the sheller to the greenhouse and got it to go just a little, but something seemed wrong, so we quit, much to Dylan’s annoyance.
Dylan is Stacy’s son, almost 4, and keen on all things mechanical. Later, I told my father about the sheller and in what good condition it was and the first thing he asked was if I greased it. Then he told me where the grease fittings were and when I had done that, then it would turn with barely any effort at all.
This is what I remember from my own youth. We’d get the flywheel going so fast that the box rocked on its stand and you could hear the oppositional disks whirring by. You’d throw in as much corn as it could handle, as each cob successively slowed the mechanism, then came the wonderful noise of corn raining from this wood box. On the opposite end, the naked cobs came tumbling out.
The corn sheller is not a toy, of course. It is a dangerous machine with exposed moving parts. Once we oiled it, it took off. Corn was flying, and as the sheller’s own momentum took over there was the sound of ringing and whirring metal. The wood box on a sturdy platform rocked with its circular course, and one at a time, cob after colorful cob disappeared into its chute. Stacy was cheering, and Dylan stood smiling, transfixed. I could see him studying the thing, preparing to push me aside and do it himself.
An original advertisement for these machines read, “The proprietors claim that it can be propelled with perfect ease by a boy eight or ten years of age and shell as fast as the ears can possibly be supplied by hand—and this too for hours without interruption.” Dylan, though not half-of-age to propel the machine, does. He works as hard as he can, and in thirty minutes his arms ache, his cheeks are flushed, and the hair on his forehead is damp.