Northern Currency

text by Jonathan Ives
photo by Lazy Acres Farm

“I can’t believe I’m taking layers off,” I said out loud as I pulled my sweatshirt overhead, throwing it to the grass underneath the staging.

“Yeah, it gets pretty hot with the sun on our backs,” Mark said smiling. “It’s hard to believe it’s already the middle of December.”

“I heard it’s supposed to get up to 47 degrees today. I kinda wish I didn’t put so many layers of long underwear on.” I peeled the neck of my shirt away from my chest, letting the cold air circulate around the layers already wet with sweat.

“Let’s take a break after this course and get some coffee,” Mark suggested. “I have a couple of sausage patties from the pig we killed this fall.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ve never met a sausage I didn’t eat”

I pulled out my tape measure and put a small pencil mark on the cedar shingle five inches from its bottom edge. I passed Mark the end of a chalk line. Pulling it taught, I used my other hand to snap a crisp blue line across the wooden shingles. I grabbed the caulking gun and ran a thin bead along the corner board. I placed a cedar shingle against it until the soft sealant squeezed out. Using my hand as a guide I pounded in two nails six inches from its bottom. In this way the next course would cover up the nail heads, keeping the side of Mark’s barn waterproof for many years to come. Because of cedar’s natural resistance to rot and insects, this shingle job could last for one hundred years or more.

I turned my head when I heard the sound of a motor whining. A green John Deere gator slowly emerged from a trail in the woods and began driving across the field towards the barn. A young man was at the wheel with his wife and two children in the back; they were all laughing and smiling as the work utility vehicle rocked side to side over the large, grassy bumps.

Mark smiled and slid his hammer back into the loop of his tool belt. “This is my neighbor Jimmy coming to pick out a Christmas tree.”

Jimmy turned off the engine and a large black lab jumped out of the back and immediately started sniffing the ground around the edges of the barn. The mother helped her two daughters climb over the side while their driver silently looked over our handiwork with an approving smile.

“Nice weather for some siding,” Jimmy said. “Looks like you got a helper.”

“This is my childhood best friend,” Mark announced as I held my hand up to wave.

“Must not be too good a friend if he’s got you out here working on a Sunday.”

“Keeps me off the streets,” I replied, smiling. “Seems like a good trade: I shingle his barn and he feeds me organic meats.”

“Don’t forget about the liquid lunch break,” Jimmy said climbing out of the gator.

“We’re having a deer heart for lunch,” Mark said climbing down the ladder. “You know Franklin, who lives a couple houses down? He called me up last night because he shot a deer just before dark and needed help following the blood trail.”

“Was he out in the old swamp? Out by little pond?”

“Yeah, that’s where he shot it, but we ended up walking for over a mile through that marshy wetland until we found it. It was almost midnight by the time we had it field dressed and carried back to the road. He gave me the heart.”

“Good deal.” Jimmy walked to the side of the barn. “So, where should we go to find a Christmas tree?”

“If you guys go to the far right side of the field the trees start off small and get bigger from there. You can have any tree you want.”

“Perfect. Now I just have to find my family.”

“I think I saw everyone go into the house.” Mark pointed. “It might be hard to get them back outside once the kids start playing.”

“That’s fine with me. I’ll just let them know that I’m headed out.” Jimmy started walking toward the white farmhouse. “It’s always quicker picking out a tree by yourself. Less arguing.”

“You might have it back to the house and decorated by the time they notice you left them.” Mark slowly climbed the ladder back up to the staging.

“He seems like a nice guy,” I said, handing Mark the end of the chalk line.

“Jimmy’s great.” Mark held the line taut. We snapped it, watching a shower of blue chalk slowly fall onto the wooden staging planks. “His children are best friends with our kids and his wife is Sarah’s hairdresser. In the summer Sarah gives her flowers and she cuts the whole family’s hair. My son Henry loves dump trucks so when we had his third birthday party here a couple of weeks ago Jimmy brought his dump truck over and parked it in the yard. We couldn’t even get Henry in the house for cake until Jimmy brought his truck back home. He even let Henry ride over with him. As a thank you we offered him a Christmas tree from out back.”

“It seems like trade is the real currency up here in northern Maine.” I grabbed another handful of nails.

“You’re right about that. You give what you have and ask your neighbors for what you need.”

“Speaking of which, do you have any large shingles left?” I asked, looking at a nine inch gap. “I will trade you a joke for a nine inch cedar shingle.”

Mark looked through the pile at his feet and came up with the perfect piece. He began to hand it over but quickly pulled back. “Let me hear it first.”

“Alright. What do you call a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa? A rebel without a Claus!”