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As the sleet hit my bald head I figured I better start a fire.

Around here a scatter of sleet balls doesn’t scare us —last winter we carved our way to the chicken coop through snow canyons — but it does deliver a specific meteorological message regarding impending trends. I pulled a watch cap over my dome and trekked to the woodshed.

The woodshed is well-stocked as we approach winter. I’m tempted to brag on it except that this inventory is the product of a woodcutting bee organized by my wife and staffed by my relatives and neighbors. Also, because I resisted accepting their assistance the wood got rained on a couple times and isn’t as dry as it should be. It’ll burn, but it’ll sizzle. Every bit of this paragraph except the opening line is a recurring pattern. If you squint back over time you can see life lessons and personal insights bouncing off my thick skull like so many sleet balls.

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Earlier when I rode out the driveway to fetch my daughter from school the surrounding forest was a scrim of yellow cut with a vertical striping of dark tree trunks. The ambience was supplemented by a matching carpet smothering the asphalt. There is a sweet spot of days when the ratio of leaves fallen to leaves remaining is in balance. It’s a storybook look and if you switch the car radio off the very sound of the suspension is dampened.

We’ve pulled most of the squash and pumpkins from the weeds that swarmed the patch midsummer. Production was remarkably good despite overt neglect. In fact, other than getting foxtail seeds in my socks during the harvest, I can’t say I have any regrets about spending my time writing rather than weeding. I think it’s important to share gardening tips of this sort so as to take the pressure off some of you fellow under-achievers. Sometimes halfway up to snuff is enough. We also lost control of our tomatoes and they tipped their cages over and you know what? You’ll neither suspect nor detect it when you blow the steam off your soup come January.

I started the fire, upping the kindling ratio so the damp wood would catch. Sure enough, there was some sizzle, but soon it was snapping right along. I halved some squash and began them to baking. Later that evening when we prepped the rest of supper, the old farmhouse was wood-fire warm and the squash had softened and filled the kitchen with a nutty scent. Outside it was getting dark, but the maple beyond the kitchen window— the one that doesn’t just turn colors, it turns incandescent — was, in its own way, hanging in there, extending daylight as long as possible. There are moments when you understand the moment is all you have. You maybe checked in today on the toilet-bowl swirl of politics and public discourse and you look at that glowing tree and hope the trunk isn’t hollow and the center is holding and it will put forth green leaves again next spring.

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

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