When I was imbibing the pinyon smoke and stacking the cord-wood yesterday, I felt as unconditionally happy as I did last summer in Paris when I walked down Rue Mouffetard with a freshly baked loaf of bread. Simple pleasures for simple people, I guess.
Two days earlier I learned with shock that the sawyer who has provided my firewood for 25 years couldn’t truck it across county lines this year. The transport ban is an effort to limit the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive species that has destroyed more than 10 million ash trees in the lower Great Lakes region. I’d spent the fall creating this blog instead of getting in my wood. Suddenly it looked like a long cold winter awaited. Then my son put me in touch with a buddy selling wood within the county. He came over Sunday morning with a one-ton Chevy dump truck that fit down my driveway, and he dropped that cord right where I wanted it. I put a John Hartford CD on the boom box in my garage and got to work. John Hartford’s songs about steamboats and muddy river bottoms never fail to take me back to my roots when I lived in an old water mill on the Little Miami River. One of his songs goes, “There’s nothing like a crooked old river to straighten your head right out.” And there’s nothing like a fortuitous pile of wood to make an old hippie/hillbilly happy in December. Except maybe a fresh baguette or a Cuban cigar. I lit a Monte Cristo (don’t tell my cardiologist or Condaleza Rice) and did a little clog dancing in the rain while stacking wood.
As water droplets dripped from my beard, I wondered for a moment, a fleeting moment, whether my attention had returned irrevocably to its native soil. Would Paris and all its allures dim and falter in my imagination? Naw. I heard the counterpoint of another song somewhere in my head. It’s an American song about an American home away from home. “How can you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Pa-ree?”
Then I remembered a postcard found in our Paris apartment. It depicted a photo of our modest building taken sometime in the 1920s. The ground floor was occupied by a wood and coal merchant who also sold whiskey and tobacco on the side. Rue Mouffetard was a slum then, probably had been ever since the Phillippe Augustus wall fenced it out in the 12th century. In times of civil strife and revolution its hard-scrabble denizens had always been the first to man the barricades. I recalled passages in Les Mis, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast describing how the shivering masses of the Mouffe had to scrounge a sou just to buy a few sticks at a time from the wood merchant.
There are hapless hillbillies everywhere, I thought, and with a month’s worth of firewood stacked and sheltered from the storm, I could be their king.