Tug Hill Crossroads
Celicia J. Robbins
Tug Hill Crossroads
North Country Writers Contest 2019 Honorable Mention, Fiction
It’s a repetitive sound that has bounced off the rocks and trees of Tug Hill for hundreds of years. She glanced back at her husband as he swung the ax again. Stacking her armload of firewood into neat rows is her repetitive task. She smiles as his ax finds its mark again. He is a strong man, fit and capable. Much more so than other men his age. He credits the clean air, but she knows better.
Lesser men could never survive such a harsh environment. For that matter, neither could many women. Living here year-round requires tenacity and fortitude. She glances up at the sun streaming through the leaves and sighs with contentment. The rewards are simple but precious, as nature often is.
Even after thirty-two years of living here, she still thrills at the first sight of spring. As the bright green of her garden bulbs poking their way through the snow. The snow lingers here longer than most other areas. When it finally leaves, it creates a season that isn’t acknowledged on any calendar. Mud Season. It’s the magical season of mud and mukluks that transitions spring to the warmth of summer. Summer on Tug Hill has its own sound. It’s a constant buzzing created by Tug Hill’s most detested dwellers: mosquitoes and deer-flies.
But if you can survive until Fall you are treated with a spectacular show of autumn color. And sweat, as you hustle to get enough firewood to survive the longest season of the year. Winter. The first snow can come as early as Halloween. Even though that early snow doesn’t stay long it marks the end of good weather.
Bending at the waist to gather more of the firewood, she thinks about how it’s winter on the Tug that sends most people fleeing. She chuckles silently to herself. Most SANE people. There have been many winters when she questioned their sanity for choosing to live here. Hardly a winter goes by without a news crew or two visiting to report on record snowfalls of lake effect. They love to interview a “local” who inevitably says, “You get used to it” or a snowmobiler who raves “It’s the best riding in New York!” Both are true. However, she doesn’t believe that anyone can get used to the unpredictability. Lake effect bands can shift so that everyone gets a short spray of snow. Or, they can set up over one spot so that a few hours of snowfall is measured in feet! With every heavy snow comes car accidents, power outages, and sometimes school closings. She has never gotten “used” to that stress.
Yet, for all its hardships she knows that she feels more alive here than anywhere. She’s far more capable than she ever dreamed possible. Even when a snowstorm knocks out their power, they have a warm home and hearty food cooking. The first day of a power outage is actually her favorite. While the plows are working to get the roads clear, she doesn’t worry about needing anything at the store. They are always stocked up on all the essentials. They have run out of milk during particularly long storms, but they have never run short on coffee!
When the power snaps off, her routine begins. With deft lifelong practice, she starts the woodstove adjusting the flue. Next, she puts together a hearty beef stew that simmer all day on the woodstove’s cooktop. With flashlight in hand, she heads to the basement. In the corner are a few buckets of water kept for flushing toilets during outages. There is simply nothing worse than being trapped in a house with a stinky toilet! Then she waits. She waits until her husband makes his way home over the snow-covered roads from work. While waiting she reads a book, she borrowed from the library in case the weather turns bad. She gets a new one every week during the winters. When he finally gets home, they share a cup of hot coffee. They work together to plow the driveway and shovel the walkways. Until a few years ago, she would do the shoveling alone... Until a neighbor fell outside his home. It took over an hour for him to get back inside and call for help. For days, everyone kept saying, “It could’ve been so much worse!” Since then, they work together. Never alone. At their age, the risk is too great.
She recognizes that last noise as the ax being settled into the chopping block. “Break time?” she asks over her shoulder.
He chugs from a water bottle before answering. “I’d say we earned one.”
She agrees. “I won’t say no. I’m starting to feel tired. And old!”
“You are old!” he chuckles gruffly. She threatened to hit him with a piece of firewood. He only chuckles more. “Are you too old for hauling firewood? Ready for Florida with all the other old people?” he asked only half-jokingly.
“Yes. And no.” She smiles as she set the last piece down.
“I’m ready for a pellet stove. We’re too old for chopping and hauling wood. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for Florida.”
“Me neither. But maybe it’s time to get an RV and spend winter travelling the lower states?” he suggests.
She looks at him quizzically. “I don’t think you’ve ever considered that before.”
He shrugs and takes another drink. “Thinking about retiring. I’m not looking forward to driving these roads this winter.” She nods, knowing that if she waits, he’ll have more to say. He continues, “A lot of little things that never bothered me before, are getting tiresome now.”
“I understand that feeling.” She straightens her back and rolls her shoulders as she looks around their home. “Still, I can’t imagine not being here for Christmas.” She thought of how lucky they are to have kids who live so close by. Most young people don’t stay. They follow the jobs to out of state careers. It saddens her to think about how many of her friends spend Christmas without their loved ones because they are too far away. There are so many unspoken hardships of life on Tug Hill.
“If you stay for Christmas, you may not get away until spring,” he replies drolly.
“Then we’d have to stay,” she counters stubbornly.
He crooks his head to the side and smirks, “Don’t say that I never offered.”
With dripping sarcasm, she says, “Sure. You offered.”
Slowly, he makes his way to her. She leans, comfortably, into the nook of his arm. “Guess we’ve decided to stay, then?” he asks in a quiet, serious tone.
She sighs. After years and years of marriage, so many of their conversations take place like this. Half unsaid, and yet completely in tune with each other. “At least for this year.” She nods.
His cheek rests against her forehead and he tightens their embrace. They lean against each other for a moment before he pulls away, heading towards his ax once again. “A pellet stove, huh? I’ll look into it.” Just like that, they had passed another crossroads and chosen to stay on Tug Hill once more.