The northwest days are getting shorter now, the nights longer, the northwest tomato growers’ huddle around their plants praying for enough sunshine to redden just a few more early girls. Early girls sometimes are ready by Thanksgiving in Seattle. It is time to embrace fall. But since we have a few more mild days, I see no reason to rush. Especially since Cousin Lewie just arrived from Windy Gap.
Cousin Lewie hadn’t gotten his suitcase off the front porch or settled ‘lil cuz Kelly when he was out inspecting my old cedar house. Believe me, my house is in a constant state of need and I am more than happy to have help. Especially Lewie kind of help because Lewie was a fireman and I have this forty foot roof built on a drop dead angle that needs attention. No one really likes to go up it to repair shingles or dust the inside rafters.
Lewie sees the pulleys left by the former owners and asks “you think they’d hold?” Lil Cuz Kelly cradles her head and prays , “Oh Lord, keep him off the high wire.”
Lewie and I have always teased danger trying to go just a little further up or out. But we’re aging now, though we don’t discuss that. Cousin Lewie tells me he can ladder part way up my loft, then repel to the top and tie off the shop vac. I worry.
“Let’s go outside,” I encourage him to enjoy the view, study the overgrown blackberries, the trees that need ivy removed, all the chores that really really need to be done for safety’s sake. Instead, he spies my fire pit and grill.
It’s an old grill, a very old grill with a side compartment that surrounds any cut of meat with slow, tenderizing smoke.
Lewie opened the grill and grins from ear to ear. “Let’s smoke a butt,” he said.
There are no sweeter words to southern ears than smoking pork and for a minute, I think this is a much less dangerous occupation than repelling on my ceiling.
However, faster than lighting strikes, we are out in the yard inspecting trees. “Can I take some of those cherry branches down?” he wants to know. The birds get whatever cherries the deer leave them and the tree could stand pruning so of course he can.
I tell him there are fir trees cut in rounds and drying for an occasion just such as this. He’s from Franklin County, Virginia. He is not interested in fir trees. He wants hardwood, hickory or cherry or apple. The fir we will cut for the fire pit. Regretfully, I tell him we’ll need a lot of fire wood knowing the nights are getting cold abut four in the afternoon now.
He asks how many people are coming over on the week end. On this point Lewie and I are cut from the same cloth. “I have no idea,” I confess and he just laughs. “Better make two butts,” he says and I agree.
Lil cuz Kelly happily curls up on the porch and listens to the plan. She may be a long way from Windy Gap but this conversation is familiar. Lewie and I have been planning some kind of party most of our lives. We weigh the pros and cons of North Carolina brine and Texas brine. Brine is that salt infested mixture you pour on cheap cuts of meat. Lewie laments that he didn’t bring his North Carolina recipe. We go on line. And when we Google brine I am amazed, overwhelmed and confused by the 100s of entries detailing how to barbecue.
The one entitled “good barbecuing begins with smoke” really got me. Our family has smoked meats since they buried wild boar underground and it doesn’t begin with the smoke. It begins with an ax.
Lewie climbs up and starts cutting cherry wood for the fire. Through the trees I hear a sound I do not want to hear. Honk Honk Honk. We turn to see a flock of geese in perfect fall formation, trumpeting the passage of a season.
Lewie tosses a few branches down and I stack them by the fire pit as I have done a hundred times with this cousin who has traveled across the country to help me cherish the last days of sunlight and hold back time just as long as we can.