August 2010


The dawn did not break, not at first.  It slid in from the east, hushed and muted.  The mountains to the west remained as dramatic as ever, but seemed a mere indistinct, clouded backdrop in comparison to the high hopes for the day.  The Woodworker hit the starter on the coffee maker, negating the automatic 6:45am kick-on.  His internal clock seldom functioned properly when law school beckoned, but it never failed with an epic climb and fine, stalwart companions on the line.  He dripped a thimble full of heavy whupping cream into the too-strong coffee, and stepped outside to survey his well-traveled tomato plant.  The air was chilled, and as still as it ever it gets up on the borderline.  He gazed east, over the lake and towards a rising orange glow.  Finally, suddenly, violently, the dawn broke, shattering the crystal water of the lake into shards of brilliant jagged fire.  Almost time.

The Woodworker stepped back inside the cabin and immediately felt the dry heat of the stove, both comforting and a bit unwelcome. Summer was nearly gone, and had passed too quickly.  The look and smell of coming snow was heavy outside the ancient and cracked windows.  He poured more coffee to warm the dregs left in his Georgia Bulldogs mug.  Soon, the Beekeeper’s Wife would discover its absence and reclaim the old and chipped cup.  It was probably their mother’s, originally.  The Woodworker was not a thief, but he did enjoy things that were perfectly suited for their purpose- most coffee mugs were too big or too small or too thin or too thick or had poor handholds or some other flaw and for some reason the Bulldogs mug seemed just right.  The coffee was good.  He could hear the Schoolteacher beginning to stir in the other bedroom.  She would be on time, excited, and good-natured today, as she always was.  She would not complain.  She would make it to the top.  She would probably bring treats.

The Woodworker checked his gear.  Boots.  Gaiters.  Flannel.  Fleece.  Rain jacket, a gift from his Mother’s best friend.  Snow pants.  Hat.  Gloves. Ice Axe. Two Ropes.  Sandwich, Cheese, Candy, Jerky.  Extra garbage bags for rain covers.  Knife.  Map.  Hydration bladder.  Water bottle.  Camera, the Beekeeper’s Wife’s little one for this trip where balance and being off-balance were factors to weigh against his large telephoto lenses.  He stepped outside, to the red-stained stoop that served as entrance to the cabin and glanced over the route description one more time, despite having memorized it the previous day, and for years.

Going-to-the-Sun.

He looked out towards the west again and soaked in the brilliance of his parents’ purchase, their vision.  He fully expected the summit to be a shocking and incredible experience later in the day, but nothing could ever match the view from his small stoop.  His gaze shifted, as it always did, to Chief.  Five years and one day ago he had perched on its summit, awed.  It was warmer then.  He remembered his brother.  It was definitely warmer, then.

There was movement at the tack barn.  A lone figure pushed open the broad, creaking, somewhat-sliding door.  For the last time, at least for now.  The dawn crept over the rise and revealed the Summer Help, who was much more than that.  He was a Brother, too.  He wasn’t here five years and one day ago, but he also knew of times that were warmer.  The day marked the culmination of a summer’s journey for the Brother, although he did not expect a tidy resolution.  He did not know what to expect.  He would make his own brother proud, know his guiding hand on the slippery, treacherous, rapidly-becoming-snow-covered cliff faces, and share the summit with his envoy, a gliding, diving, watchful golden eagle.  He would feel grief.  He would feel great happiness.  All day, he would feel.  The next day, his knees would do the same.  On the drive home.

The Woodworker sipped his coffee.  Sighed.  Wiped away the not-unwelcome wetness rising in his eyes.  Closed them.  Thought.  Missed.  Wished.  Opened them.   And he was happy.  As happy as one can be up on the borderline.

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Six years ago today, I was sitting in Property I, learning about the feudal land system and who can own the wily fox.  It was my first Friday morning in law school, and I was in the front row of the lecture auditorium, favored Pilot V5 pen perched incorrectly in my hand, rubbing what would become a three year callous on my third finger.  Scribbling out the theories of property ownership, the thought pulsed in the back of my mind, as it had since January, when I had asked for a few nights off from waiting tables to prepare for the LSAT: I can do better, this time around.  My misspent collegiate hours can be rectified, this time around.  I will graduate at the top of my class, this time around.

A secretary knocked softly on the big metal doors to the auditorium, slipped into the room, quietly handed the professor a pink scrap of paper, and then disappeared.  He glanced at it briefly, and continued on, not missing a beat in the lecture, and my hands did not tremble, did not pause in their note taking.

A half hour later, at lecture’s end, the professor dismissed the 160 of us 1Ls, and then remembered the pink scrap.  Is Charles Stone here?  Message for him. I sat there surprised at the mention of my dad’s name – how funny to have a law school classmate with the same name!  But no one responded to the professor’s announcement, and after a moment, I said to him, “That’s my dad.  Is the message for me?”  With a shrug of his shoulders, he handed me the pink scrap.  I clutched it in my hand as I slung my laptop over my shoulder and left the auditorium, scanning its brief contents as I went.  FAMILY EMERGENCY.  CALL HOME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

We do not have emergencies in my family, not the kind that interrupt lectures.  We are Presbyterians, after all.  The metallic taste of fear flooded my mouth, closing my throat, liquefying my knees.  I pushed my way through the double glass doors to the courtyard, and shakily found a seat under a cheery green umbrella, frantically digging for my cell phone, turned off for the property lecture.

Dialing the one phone number I still knew by heart after two years of a cell phone existence, my mind raced through endless macabre possibilities.  My dad’s voice, generally measured and confident, broke through the lines, weak and questioning and so quiet.  I closed my eyes as I felt the eyes of my classmates upon me, trying not to stare at my distress as they enjoyed their cigarettes and gossip and just-met-you-repartee in the courtyard, between classes.  At the end of the phone call, I felt a strong grip on my elbow, and I opened my eyes to see the kind girl from Alaska, who had befriended me under a taxidermied moose at the local watering hole earlier in the week.  The only two in our class with up close and personal moose experience, she and I had laughed about the city kids who were simultaneously impressed by far-western-Virginia’s blue mountains and yet judgmental of its lack of infrastructure, its hour drive to Wal-Mart and its dearth of nail salons and take out Chinese.  She asked me nothing about the contents of the phone call, but simply scooped up my books and my laptop and my pens in her strong arms, and led me out of the courtyard, across the street, and up the hill to my little apartment.  On the way there I told her, in a voice that came from deep inside me but that I did not recognize, that my baby brother, a sophomore at Ole Miss, was missing.  His fraternity house had burnt down, and he was missing.  I had just spoken to him on the phone a night or two before, but he was missing.

My Alaska friend said little as she took the keys from my shaking hands and unlocked the door to my apartment.  I wandered around, looking out the windows, opening and closing my cell phone, babbling to her about how I had to go home, right away, but seemingly unable to do so.  She opened my closet and lifted my suitcase, that I had just finished unpacking from my move across the country the night before, from the top shelf of my closet.  She selected two sleeveless sundresses, added a pair of brown flipflops and a bikini.

It’s supposed to be so hot this weekend, she said.

She went into my tiny bathroom and collected my contact lenses, my glasses, my face wash.  She placed them in the suitcase. The story about the fraternity house fire at Ole Miss hit CNN and my cell phone began ringing off the hook.

Is it your family calling?  I shook my head.  Don’t answer.

She went into my bedroom and lifted my good black suit off the closet rod and folded it gently into the suitcase.  She wrapped my black pumps in a plastic grocery bag and tucked them next to the flipflops.  She opened my jewelry box and put my pearl earrings and necklace into a ziploc, cushioning them in my makeup bag.

Just in case.

She loaded the suitcase into my truck and offered to drive me home, four hours out of the coal canyon, down the swells of I-77, around the hairpin turns of Lover’s Leap and U.S. Hwy 58.  I refused her offer and climbed into the driver’s seat,where she fastened my seat belt around me.  I said to her, haltingly, “He probably walked some beautiful girl home last night, and he’s just asleep on her couch.  It’s an hour earlier in Mississippi.  It will be fine.  I’m just going to go home and be with my family.  I’ll be back Monday.”

And I was back on Monday.  But with a wrinkled, tear sodden suit, and without my baby brother.

Howard Hillhouse Stone // September 19, 1984 – August 27, 2004

On Napi Point, Glacier National Park, Montana, just weeks before his 20th birthday.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Men building warehouses must be fed, often and early.

Or at least, that’s our excuse this summer … though truth be told, every summer, our meals tend to be a little over the top, as we nightly try to sample all of summer’s bounty on our plates.  But anyway you look at it, keeping the chuck wagon running, as Mom calls it, is a full time job.  This summer, Mom’s been gone a lot, setting up her new home in Whitefish, and so I’ve been left to deal with the chuck wagon mostly on my own.  Pseudo Sister, Brother Dear, Honeydew, and even Darling Summer Help have all taken their turn at Celebrity Guest Chef, and they’ve all cooked up fabulous meals, but for the most part, the chuck wagon has been mine this summer.  My general style is to cook up a big meal with lots of sides on Night 1, and serve leftovers for lunch and dinner at least the next day, sometimes the next couple of days.  That style can lead to some fairly hilarious pairings.

Last night, Mom came over from Whitefish bearing sushi and spring rolls, which we promptly added to the buffet of leftover sliced peaches, steamed green beans, meatloaf, caesar salad, smoked salmon, creamed corn, mashed cauliflower, and grapes.  I added my sushi to my salad plate.  Honeydew, on the other hand, came up with this delectable combination:

Spring rolls, sushi, caesar salad, marinated shrimp, creamed corn, and meatloaf.  I suppose this is what happens when Whitefish and Babb collide.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Greg and Jeff pulled the first load of 2010 vintage Glacier County Honey today!  Don’t go ordering it yet as it will be a few weeks till everything is ready to ship out, but this is very exciting all the same.  Even these mummified dragonflies are fighting to be the first to get a-holt of this delicious pure honey.

I (Brother Dear) personally tried several finger fulls from various frames this evening, and remain extremely sated and impressed.  Plus, the warehouse is really coming along and will be operational…before the snow flies….promise!  Wish the kids luck!

We live near Babb.  Most days, we make the eight mile trip to actual Babb at least once, post office keys jangling in our pockets.  In the summertime, we’ll have a list of sundries to procure at Thronson’s General Store (“if we ain’t got it, you don’t need it”) taped to the steering wheel: half and half, lemons, vanilla ice cream.

We live across the street from Duck Lake, renowned for its trout fishing, on the ice and off.  It would take me less than five minutes to walk out my front door, up the driveway, past the tack barn and the pump house and the cabin, across the street, and into Duck Lake.  But we rarely go there, especially not in the summertime, when Glacier’s peaks whisper in the ever present winds, and our topo map is never properly folded and put away.

We really should, though.

After dinner tonight, I walked down the road, camera in hand, en route to supervise Honeydew hanging doors in Warehouse No. 2.

And Duck Lake surprised me with her quiet, east facing beauty.

And then I noticed the moonrise.  It really is the simple things, the moments money can’t buy.  Clear skies, warm breezes, and moonrise near Babb.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

We are almost done stitching the warehouse’s innards together: its skeletal (framing), epidermal (walls and roof), neural (electrical), and digestive (plumbing) systems are nearly complete.  If the warehouse were actually a person, she’d be fairly Rubenesque – enough insulation went into warehouse no. 2 that I have no fear of bone chilling December evenings spent bottling honey – layers and layers of scratchy yellow and pink insulation were unrolled on her walls.

I’ve found it interesting and educational to watch Brother Dear, Honeydew, Dad, Darling Summer Help, and the construction crew create all these systems, particularly the electrical system.  One quiet Sunday morning, Brother Dear taught me to wire an outlet and I felt as though I’d reinvented sliced bread.

But my general impatience and my specific fear of being unable to extract our honey crop, and therefore likely making a do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 trip straight to Bankruptcy court, has clouded much of my enjoyment of watching the warehouse rise from dirt to insulated steel.

Until today.  The warehouse’s necessary extras arrived today,  her washing machine and dryer and double basin sink, her tub and shower and refrigerator.

Her range.

Her dishwasher.

And her No. 1 Supervisor, Mr. Cain, approved mightily.

As did I.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Summer came back to near Babb last week.  We went tubing, and we didn’t get cold.  We walked up to our warehouse construction site after dinner, in our shirt sleeves, and we didn’t get cold.  We had coffee in the adirondack chairs under a morning, peacock blue sky, and we didn’t get cold.

But when I woke up on Friday, the sky was tilted at just the right angle to turn the peacock to cornflower, and the air carried the faintest whiff of pigskin and moose hide and freshly sharpened pencils.  Fall is just around the corner, and though I love the depths of its autumnal tones, the haunting cry of elk bugling at dusk, and the way the stars begin to turn backwards on themselves, I am not ready to let go of summer, not yet.  Summer, with its endless visitors bringing news of the outside world, their new engagement rings and babies, their gifts of stone ground grits and conversation; summer, with its saucepans overflowing with squash and onions, glistening green peas, and peaches cooked down to sublimity with Frangelico, cinnamon, and nutmeg; summer, with its windows open, banging gently in the warm breeze.

Stay with us just a little longer.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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