Chipper

I decided to rent a wood chipper. I need mulch for the strawberry and asparagus beds. I need something to spread in thick layers between the rows of bi-color sweet corn and jewel-toned chards, around the fruit trees and under the hydrangea. I will rent a chipper and clear brush: stringy maple saplings, scrubby dogwoods, bushes I can’t name, and the tops of trees felled for firewood. I will hack away at the verge of the woods that every spring creeps closer to the house and feed it all into the hopper.

I looked at the chipper rental choices online while the smarter of my two dogs rested her muzzle on the edge of the keyboard. Stubby is a Bassett mix mongrel, twice as long as she is high. Last summer, on a routine hike in the woods, Stubby jumped into the brush and emerged with a full-grown grouse in her jaws. Stubby carried the flaccid body with her head high, not letting the drab feathers drag like a dishrag through the dirt. The bird was still warm and unmarked when we got back to the house, and dead. Quite dead: like the voles, the baby robins, the rabbits, the fawn.

Grandma is driving the pickup back to the farm from the grain elevator, “the mill,” she calls it. My sister and I are riding in the back, buried past our waists in shelled corn. It is a hot day. We are wearing cotton shorts and short-sleeved blouses: our play clothes. The corn is cool on our legs, we don’t notice the dust blowing back from the load. We giggle. Later that day we will find corn in our ankle socks, our panties, the little cuffs on the legs of our shorts. The shelled corn is the color of the Crayola crayon called Maize, neither yellow nor gold, but something deeper, something that looks nourishing. The corn smells like popcorn in the sun. It is for the pigs who live in the near field. This is back before the advent of the hog factory. Today we would say they are free-range pigs, although not organic. Grandpa and Grandma believed in agricultural advancements like vaccinations. The pickup cruises down the blacktop; I dig my hands deep into the corn, wriggling myself further under. The truck swerves a bit and we bounce with the thump-thump and jolt of something being run over. I look behind at the possum squashed on the road. Grandma is good at making sure she gets them.

~Ginny MacDonald