Let it burn - #64
A delivery from the country.
It was four cords of wood and it came in the dark of night. They had insisted despite our repeated offers of “it can wait”, “it’s not urgent”, “take your time.” Their replies were adamant, but light-hearted.
“You’re our first big load! Good to work out the kinks.”
They were driving from another small town, the kind you need to zoom in real tight to see, and when you do, all you see is a tavern, a school, two churches, and nothing else.
Last year, we ordered two cords of aspen in December, and we burned through that softwood by February. This year, we weren’t making the same mistake. We had one cord of aspen left from a summer order, and placed our winter order in October: four cords of oak and piñon. Even ordering wood happens with a cell phone now. They prefer to do their business via text to keep track of repeat customers.
“Hello again! Are you doing wood deliveries yet for this year? We’d like to put it in an order of hardwood this time.”
“Hey! I just had a baby 2.5 weeks ago so once i am healed up a little more from the c section ill be starting my wood orders! I can cut oak and juniper. Last year you took rounds. Oak is very hard to split with an ax - would you like it split?”
There may be no rest for the wicked, but there is no rest for the good either. This is their sustenance. We tempered our texts with the assurance that we could just wait — we wouldn’t go with someone who could do it faster. She’d just had a baby, for christ’s sake. If the house was cold for another week or two, we would just wear an extra sweater. After all, wood here has its challenges. When we first moved, everyone's first question to us was “part time or full time?” Our question to them was “where do you get your wood?”
No one had a good answer.
I had a guy but then he didn’t show up last time.
The last one I used ripped me off and gave me the wrong wood.
I don’t recommend anyone I've used.
So last year, when we happened upon this couple and they delivered what we asked, when we wanted, for a price that felt fair to both parties, we clung to them.
By the time our wood was finally arriving, it was Halloween night. The high altitude sun had done its work to melt most of what had fallen in an early October storm. I sat by the kitchen window reading, lights low to keep one eye on the dirt road wrapping around the pines below, up to our house. I’ve come to know the movements, the lights, of the travelers. Is it too fast and are they too sure the road is clear? The teenager next door. Is it thoughtful and methodical and disappears before the curve? The arborist. Is there a light bar? A tourist.
That night, I was watching for a beast bigger than usual — the wide headlights of a truck bigger than ours and the glowing red tails of a trailer. It was past 9pm, long past sunset, even longer past any other activity on the road when I finally saw them. We put on boots and canvas jackets, hats and leather gloves, and we went outside to direct the carriage of wood into the open space behind the house.
Our wood people are a husband and wife tag team, along with their two Colorado dogs: some mix of shepherd and cattle dog, a little husky or samoyed or malamute for size and seriousness. They sat in the bed of the truck, barking, the usual woof blurring into an announcement, “Woof! Woof! Wood! Your wood is here.”
You don’t have to help unload the wood. You also don’t have to return your grocery cart or replace an empty roll of toilet paper, but you do have to go to sleep knowing what kind of person you are. They’d been on the road the entire day and were behind our house in a moonless night working by headlamps to unload an ungodly amount of dense wood. And so, we were as well.
And we got to talking.
Over the course of the winter, they’ll deliver more than 500 cords of wood, mostly from deadfall, all over the region. Their drive to our house, without delays, takes some hour and 45 minutes. They prefer text because it’s easier to keep a paper trail all in one place — not just of orders and invoices, but of attitudes.
“I can’t thank y’all enough for being so patient today,” she said to me, arms full of wood as we crunched through the remaining inch of snow, the tall grasses still standing triumphant against the return of winter.
“Oh my god, are you kidding? You just had a baby! I can’t even believe you’re here.”
“Well y’all are just so nice — wanna make sure we deliver ‘cause not everyone’s like that.”
Their journey to our house that night had been fraught. Their original delivery date had been delayed by the first major snowfall of the season. They hadn’t been able to cut enough wood in the weather, and they’d been plagued by faulty machinery and brave predators.
“Well I’ll tell ya, it is hard to cut wood when you’ve got a mountain lion hangin’ around.” She told me the mountain lions in her town were feeling casual. Even her friends in construction said the cougars were unfazed by the heavy machinery they used to repair the roads, strolling casually by. And when one such cougar wouldn’t leave her wood chopping operation alone, she had to shoot at it four separate times before it turned back, slinking deeper into the woods.
“I didn’t wanna kill it. We’re just a coupla mamas yelling about staying away from each other’s kids,” she laughed.
“Is that the hardest part of the job?” I asked, assuming it wasn’t but always nervous making conversation.
“Oh, no, no I’d take a mountain lion any day. The hardest part is some of the customers.”
“Oh yeah, you know we get all kinds of people being like ‘What do you mean you can’t come today?’ and ‘Can you hurry up?’ and just making all kinds of crazy demands on us like the world revolves around them, like we’re not trying.”
“Sounds like rich people.”
“You got that right.”
That day, we’d expected the wood to be delivered around 8am, per their own request. It was already over a week late, but their early morning plan was thwarted by a comedy of errors. They’d had some issues with their truck first, and after repairs, made it halfway to our house with the trailer of wood before another problem.
The tire on the trailer had ruptured. They had to abandon the wood and drive all the way home to find another tire, manage their four kids including a 1-month old, drive back to the trailer, replace the tire, and get back on the road. They updated us throughout the day and were constantly met with our assurance that if they needed to reschedule it was fine, but they were adamant. They had another delivery they needed to do the next day. They wanted this wood off their trailer.
While we loaded wood into the shed and she regaled me with stories of her side hustle making cough remedies from herbs, Ben and her husband were having their own conversation amidst flinging logs from the seemingly endless stacks.
Ben later told me their talk in the trailer bed had reflected the one I was having — about the entitlement of the wealthy in this area. The husband asked Ben what we did for a living with a tone that was less curious about our careers and more curious about how we’d come to own this home. My wife’s a writer, I’m a mechanic. But the real answer is timing and privilege. Because we bought our house at historically low interest rates and before the prices increased here, our monthly payment is a third of what it would be now. Now, we could not have bought this house — not now, and likely not ever again.
Their conversation turned to politics, the election days away. The man, burly and strong, was sharing his concerns — the country isn’t in great shape. It’s easy to agree. There is no care infrastructure, no guaranteed sick leave, no affordable housing, and healthcare is so impossibly expensive that you have a better chance of getting help through a successful GoFundMe campaign than through your insurance. And all this we can agree on. What we can’t agree on is who will fix it and how.
The wood we burn comes from Boebert Country. I’ve written about Lauren Boebert before. Outside the resort towns and mountain biking destinations, 4’x6’ posters of Lauren Boebert litter the sprawling landscapes of Colorado’s Western Slope, declaring it her land. Boebert voted against veterans. She claimed on her own website winning funding for Colorado, but had in fact voted against all those measures. She has not passed any legislation. She’s been arrested for disorderly conduct, careless driving and operating an unsafe vehicle after rolling her truck into a ditch, failing to appear in court, and commanding her dogs to attack her neighbor’s dog. Her husband was also arrested for exposing himself to underage girls, and then again for domestic assault against Boebert. She tried to bring a gun to congress.
Here are some things Boebert voted against:
giving medals to the Capitol Police
a bill allowing the FTC to seek damages against businesses engaging in false advertising, fraud and anti-competitive conduct
legislation aimed at preventing scams against seniors
helping state and tribal governments distribute carbon-monoxide detectors to prevent inadvertent poisoning
reauthorizing the National Marrow Donor Program to help leukemia patients
the INVEST in America Act, providing federal aid for highway and transit programs
the Allies Act to provide additional visas for Afghans helping U.S. soldiers during the Afghan War
I cannot understand how an allegiance to the republican party somehow makes this right. I get that there are conservative values, but I find it hard to believe that those values include scamming the elderly and letting people die from leukemia and carbon-monoxide poisoning. Boebert herself uses her team colors of religion to align herself to her base, tweeting things like “Jesus is Lord!” That very same Jesus quoted in good ole Matthew 26:52-54 “Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”” The sword being broadly understood to mean “weapon of death.”
Then there’s Boebert, having meetings while posing in front of a wall of assault rifles.
At the time of writing this, Boebert is leading in her race for congress against Democrat Adam Frisch by around 1000 votes out of more than 320,000. There are over 750,000 residents in this district, and very few thought the race would be this close. It’s inspiring and infuriating at the same time.
In the back of the trailer bed, they aligned at least on one thing: the desire to be self-sufficient. The man told Ben a story about guns in his town: it was mandated every household have one. And that’s true. In 2013, their little town of 700 passed a law mandating that every household have at least one gun. There was one dissenting vote, his reasoning being that as much as the government should not be able to tell you that you can’t have a gun, it also shouldn’t be able to make you have one either.
The reality is, in a town of hunters, most people already owned a gun, even though it’s against the town’s law to fire a gun within city limits or even hold your firearm in a rude or threatening manner. So you should have it, but you shouldn’t use it, or even imply you might use it. But you better own it. As the wood man said to Ben, “ISIS ain’t coming here.”
ISIS was never going to that rural sliver of Americana, but gun violence might. In a 2019 analysis by The Denver Post, Colorado ranked fifth in the country for most mass shootings since 1999. We’ve generated enough fear to sustain the action movie hero, the lone ranger, the good guy with a gun. Guns are, after all, about control. The person with the gun controls the room. The person with the gun controls not only their own life, but the lives of others. They are dependent on no one, because when they wield a gun, everyone in that room is dependent on them. It is a super power. It is addictive. And it gives the beholder the feeling of complete and total control.
In rural lives that feel increasingly forgotten, control feels worth fighting for.
But the reality is, everyone who is not the 1% is forgotten. There is no infrastructure. There is no support. There’s DoorDash and Uber and Botox and Shein. There’s price-gouged insulin, water in plastic bottles, the Kardashians, and Elon Musk. There’s crypto and cool-sculpting and nineteen streaming services and just piles and piles and piles of bullshit.
We finished unloading and piling all the wood with the Milky Way clear above. When I am overwhelmed by life, it is a gift to see the swirl of the galaxy, to be reminded of my nothingness. I always return to the final scene in Men In Black, as the camera zooms out and out and out only to reveal we are but microscopic flecks in a universe trapped in a marble in someone else’s incomprehensible game. It helps to remind me to be outlandish and hopeful and spontaneous. It helps to remind me that worrying is pointless, but beauty and joy and kindness are not.
Before they left, I asked her to show me a picture of her new baby. It was a cute one, and I said so, adding, “you know, because some of ‘em are kinda alien looking.”
She laughed, chiming in, “it’s true and no one ever says it!” We wished them well on their season ahead, and they told us to call anytime. They were happy to bump us up on the list.
They drove away, back to Boebert country. Before, it might’ve felt like everyone who lived out there voted for her, but now, it’s not so clear. We’re waiting for news on the election that seemed like it would be a sure thing but is now neck and neck. It seems bound for a recount, despite how likely it seems that Boebert will still win — but not without embarrassment. She lost her own county by 14 percentage points, more preoccupied with fame than farmers. For much of the Western slope, she represents a teenage rebellion, a refusal to listen, a “you can’t tell me what to do” rage — they don’t want “parents” meddling in their business. They don’t want rules. They want to do it their way.
Self-sufficiency. That’s what the man told Ben in the trailer he aimed for, and that’s what Ben said he aimed for as well. It is, after all, in line with the rugged individualism presented as the core ethos of America. We don’t want to be reliant on the government, because look how shitty being reliant on the government is. But to rely on each other, on a community, to share what you have knowing it will be shared back. That is something that as humans we cannot run from wanting.
I still think about that first question we were asked, are you part time or full time. I thought, then, that they were asking are you going to be a part of our community? But over time, I’ve been able to see an undercurrent of something else: are you going to be able to take care of shit yourself?
The answer is yes. But the answer is also I wouldn’t mind a hand. Because I might have to fall asleep knowing what kind of person I am. But so do they.