The February sweep-out

THE radio just told me it is 26 degrees below zero in Burlington, Vt., which is an excellent thing to know here at Friendship, where we are 10 above - just about the usual difference that comes off the salt water and warms Maine so we sometimes walk out to get the mail without our mittens on. I mention this to bolster my contention that February - along there somewhere - is a dandy time to clean off the desk, to sort the orts from the clutch, to winnow the debris from the residue. A good time to have something to do that keeps you inside and warm. Once a year, in the doldrums of the Hunger Moon, is about right, as I don't like to abuse a good thing, and I find at that interval the desk is beginning to get a shaggy appearance. I usually pick up one thing at a time and make two piles. One pile is to go to the dump.

The other pile will be given to the librarian, who will scrutinize it to see what might inform posterity and edify future ages, and then she throws it on the dump.

Accordingly, I have just found my H&W ax. I had meant to give it to the Lumberman's Museum, but I couldn't remember where it was. In the old river-driving days, each timberland operator had his own stamping axes, bearing his registered mark, and H&W was the mark of the Hollingsworth & Whitney people. If you saw a log floating down the stream with H&W stamped on the butt end, that was a Hollingsworth & Whitney stick and nobody else should touch it. I found this one on a canoe trip, and it should be in a museum. Another thing I've found is that letter from the lady in Minnesota who wanted Lizzie Dyer's recipe for vinegar pie.

It was folded inside the circular that told me what kinds of trees the Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District was offering. I bought my trees an April ago, and that's kind of comical, but I never did send the recipe to the lady in Minnesota. Well, I bought six sugar maple trees and when they came, I set them out down by the shore. They were just little shoots then, so I stuck up six poles so I could find them after the grass grew. Next, I got a letter from the Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District that told me the nursery had made a mistake, and instead of six sugar maples I had received six mountain ash trees. If I would get in touch, the letter said, the Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District would be pleased to refund my money.

I wondered, first, how I - an old hand at botanical affairs - could have planted six maple trees without noticing they were ash, so I walked down to pull the grass away from my stakes and have a look. Lo! My alleged mountain ash trees all had maple leaves on them! So now I was tempted. But instead of ``getting in touch'' and taking my money, I merely dropped a postal card suggesting that next time the Knox-Lincoln Soil and Conservation District find another nursery. That's about when the letter from the lady in Minnesota disappeared.

Not everybody's finds will be like mine. When I swamp out my desk, I find a good many of the little notes I write to myself with wonderful ideas for inspiring pieces here - little reminders of subjects to be considered in tranquillity. So things I prudently noted long ago will turn up in the February sweep-out, and it isn't often that I have any idea what they're about. Here is a good example written on the margin of an empty pkt. of Marketmore cucumber seeds - signifying I wrote the note to myself back last June when I was planting my cucumbers. It says, ``If go, no-no - twice.'' That, for sure, was meant to send me off on a rhapsody that would hold the masses spellbound and make me famous, but in February it means nothing. Here's another that says, ``Randy found it.'' And this one, ``Hope eternal, Ruel found it.'' I've spent a good hour looking out the window at my February snowbank, and I haven't the foggiest about what either Randy or Ruel, or both, found. How better to get through February?

I do find a few postage stamps that I laid aside from incoming letters, to be given to Elbert, who collects stamps, and now and then a good stamp, which I keep and sooner or later write to my mother. And the four or five things I find and don't know which pile to lay them on will go back in the basket and be nest eggs for next year's February cleanup. Come to meditate on the matter, I think that letter about vinegar pie from the good lady in Minnesota has gone through three or four Februaries already.

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