Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Neighbors and Tradition

We are blessed with many wonderful people as neighbors.  When I say neighbor, you must remember that my nearest neighbor is a mile away.  Our neighborhood is roughly our township.  Our neighbors live in perhaps a 5 mile radius of us.  We live in a very flat area and can see many of these farm sites from our windows.  If we can't see one or another, it is only because someone else's woods or building is in the way.  So everyone still does really feel like a neighbor.  "They live at that place just over there."  or "Just past Tom's woods, there..."

This morning I started a new and exciting winter exercise plan with my neighbor, Connie.  It was fun to work out with a friend and I hope that the anticipation of companionship will keep me motivated.

As an aside, you might also notice my new ticker.  I've had a love/hate relationship with tickers that I've written about on occasion.  It got too embarrassing for awhile to keep one up, since I wasn't really doing anything.  A ticker that just sits in one spot isn't really much good for anything but guilt.  Hopefully with this new motivation, I'll be able keep my little guy moving.

As I was leaving Connie's house today, her brother-in-law, Gary, pulled in on his snowmobile (they are generally called snow-cats around here, because of our proximity to Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls, or just sleds).  I had a few moments of feeling like the transplant I am as I thought about Gary and his snow-cat.  Most everyone but us has snow-cats.  Most local people use them to get from farm to farm, since most people have relatives at the neighboring farms.  They also might use them to check on cattle or fences during the winter.  And they are also for fun.  Many people start their kids on the small sleds as young as 4 or 5 years of age.

If I had a snow-cat, I might have ridden it over to Connie's instead of driving the car.  Why start a car when something smaller will do? (Four wheelers accomplish the same purpose for locals during the summer months.)  Sometimes I can almost justify the expense.  There are many times I might run over to a neighbor's for something, but then I think to myself that it can wait.  "Don't waste the gas, Mary."

We don't have a shop in which to take care of maintenance.  Our kids don't grow up dinking with tractors or watching the older guys do so, we don't have fences or livestock to check on.  And I guess, much to my kids' chagrin, we don't really have the money to spend on the kind of toy that takes constant expense in gas and maintenance to run regularly.

So see, we stand out a bit.  Others near us probably must live just as frugally as do we.  And yet they have snow-cats and we don't.  It's a difference of "cultural necessity."  For us they seem like very expensive toys.  But for those who grow up here, snow-cats are just a fact of life.  It is as basic as a pick-up or snowblower or plow.

And that's another difference.  We don't have a pick-up.  We have a family van and a sedan.  The sedan is for the errand running when we have few enough people travelling.  It saves gas.  But a pick-up? That's a luxury. Not for most of our neighbors, however.  They need them for work.

So all this ran through my mind as I saw Gary come into Connie's all bundled up in his outdoor gear.  First we heard the approach of the snow-cat.  Then we see him amble in, bundled from head to toe, taking off his facemask as he came around the corner.

Since I was on my way home anyway, I went out as Gary went in.  I was looking forward to smelling the wood smoke from the outdoor boiler (which most everyone around here uses to heat their homes). But instead of the wood smell, which was very nice upon my arriving at Connie's, I got a kind of wood smoke mixed with snowmobile smell. Not bad in itself, but not what I anticipated.

And now I fear, I come another tangent, because I really like the smell of snowmobiles.  For my first six years, I lived in a rural area of Eastern Washington where they also have winter.  So locals do have snowmobiles (they are not snow-cats there).  I remember snowmobiling with my dad and uncle and cousins and I suppose other friends and neighbors.  Because of the fixative power of the sense of smell, I always associate the smell of snowmobiles with those fun times during my very early years.

I can always tell when my teenaged son, Matt, has been out snow-catting with friends, because the mud-room will smell of snowmobile.  And I often pause to take an extra breath.


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