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Michael Perry: Nothing clears the air like a round of storytelling round the fire with friends
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Michael Perry: Nothing clears the air like a round of storytelling round the fire with friends

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We lit a fire and sat around it, taking our turns in the smoke and taking our turns at the stories.

It doesn’t get much more old-fashioned than that. Clear back to the caves.

We were four friends, largely separated over the past year. Nothing dramatic had come between us, nothing amounting to a speck of sacrifice in the big picture, just current events, occupations and geography. And a wee pandemic. Now we had a chance to be in the same place at the same time.

One of us arrived by Tesla, one by rental car, one by beat-up pickup truck and one by foot, as he owns the place. Earlier I did spot him tooling around in a UTV, which he admits he deploys more in the name of regional credibility than utility.

He is an artist living amongst hunters and farmers. His credibility is not all artifice; last year he got a dandy big buck deer.

Also, let’s not get carried away: We are surrounded by working farms but there are also a pharmacist, a chiropractor, at least two government employees, some llamas, and possibly a millionaire in the neighborhood, so it’s not like camo and barn boots are required to check the mail.

An aside: Does anyone still say “tooling around?” I learned that one from my dad, and think it deserves a comeback.

The view before us was a horse pasture, property of the neighbors, one of those cleanly kept, neatly fenced expanses circumscribed by electrified white tape. The horses looked civilized and grand, grazing shoulder to shoulder. (I wanted to write “pastern to pastern” but had to look up “pastern” in the dictionary, a sure sign I was out of my league and overreaching for a “pasture/pastern” echo.) The grass and surrounding wooded hillsides were spring green, which is to say one color in multitudinous versions, broken across the valley by a single blot of maroon.

“That’s a maple, right?” asked the musician, pointing out the blot.

“Yep,” I said. “I once wrote of their color as a ‘rubrous blush.’”

“Yah, well my dad calls it ‘matchstick red.’”

“I’d say go with your dad on that one.”

And so it went, a meandering conversation punctuated by friendly jabs, the sort you earn over time and serve with a smile. The artist lately fancies himself a birder. When a hawk flew over and he nonchalantly remarked “red-tail,” I facetiously congratulated him on identifying one of the tough ones. Next up, a robin.

The day was cool and gray with a light bluster of wind, the sort you get when intermittent rains are due. We didn’t want to get wet, but on behalf of our real farmer neighbors with their parched, unsprouted rows (my own oats had poked out an inch and then stalled), we wanted the rain.

It misted just enough that we moved inside the garage, but it wasn’t until we were all gone our separate ways that the real rain came. It fell steadily overnight. Come morning, the oats had jumped a half inch and the air smelled of renewal.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at


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