Time and Place
As usual, the day had gotten away from her, and as usual, my mother had no idea how. She had risen at the crack of ten, as always, and followed her morning routine, which consisted largely of winding the dozen or so clocks she kept scattered around the house. There were cuckoo clocks and elaborate mechanical clocks that chirped or warbled or chimed, and all needed to be wound and set by hand. She kept the key to the first clock atop her alarm clock, and she set the first cuckoo clock to the time flashing digitally on the alarm clock, which generally was more or less the correct time. She would then palm the key to the next clock--she kept the second key atop the first clock--and make her way to set that second clock. But along the way she would invariably get distracted.
Eventually, she'd remember that she was clutching a clock key in her hand. She'd make it to the second clock and set that to precisely the same time she had set the first, and then she would do exactly the same thing at the next clock after some more aimless wandering. The result was that it took her virtually all day to set all the clocks in the house, and no two were set to the same time. The house was a constant cacophony of seemingly random bells and birdcalls and tunes from old movies played on the perforated tin drums of music boxes. Most visitors found it maddening, but my mother would always cheerily dismiss them. "It's a big house," she'd say. "Different time zones."
It was autumn. The first frost hadn't yet hit, and so the dirt--or what passes for dirt in that rocky corner of northeastern Pennsylvania--was still pliable enough for my mother to get next spring's bulbs in. And she had even set her floppy straw hat and paisley gardening gloves on the old blue rocker on the back porch the night before so she could be ready to go bright and early. But by the time she had donned them and made it out of the house, the sun was already slipping behind the old hemlocks that ringed the west side of the house.
She didn't really mind. On late falls days like this, her rambling old house with its green gables and ivory-colored clapboard siding, its weathered wood granary and the brooding barn, all looked like a photograph in one of the albums she keeps in her cedar chest, along with her wedding dress. That garden and this house were the only things that had kept her in this remote corner of northeastern Pennsylvania after my father died. It had been nine years. The pancreatic cancer had been a hell of a shock for a guy who had never smoked a cigarette or taken a drink in his life, and he blamed the oil for his disease.
From the moment my parents bought the place in 1970, my father had been at war with the woodchucks. He hated the little critters, not just because they looked like obese rats, but also because their unsightly burrows pockmarked his fields, offending my father's sense of order. Moreover, he had convinced himself that the insidious beasts were laying traps, that it was only a matter of time before a cow or horse stepped into one of those holes and snapped its leg. But my father, a crack shot with his .22 when it came to plinking soda cans off fenceposts, didn't have the heart to dispatch the chucks the old-fashioned way. He preferred a more asymmetrical warfare. When he changed the oil in his cars or tractor, he would carry the used oil to the nearest chuck hole and dump it in. Thing was, the woodchucks didn't seem to mind it. The periodic oil baths did nothing to reduce their population. But as my father, who had never been a particularly superstitious man, drew closer to death, he...
Author: Seamus McGraw
Seamus McGraw is a full-time writer who has seen his work published in Playboy, Reader's Digest, Penthouse, Radar, Spin, and The Forward. He has received the Freedom of Information Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors, as well as honors from the Casey Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalists. McGraw is currently working on a documentary trailer about his family's experiences with the Marcellus shale. He grew up pitching hay and spreading manure on the same fields the gas companies are now prospecting. He still lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and four children.
Praise for The End of Country
"[An] impressively detailed, highly engaging look at issues of energy policy, economics, and sociology that arose when a bucolic town was suddenly faced with the 'traveling circus' of energy exploration. McGraw presents a rich history of the economics and geopolitics of energy as well as a fascinating cast of characters . . . A completely engaging look at how energy policy affected a quiet, rural town." - Booklist (starred review)
"Deeply personal, sometimes moving, sometimes funny, The End of Country lays out the promises and the perils faced not just by the people of one small Pennsylvania town but by our whole nation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
"This is an environmental tale on the surface, yet something more powerful lurks beneath the soil of this wonderful book. Seamus McGraw is really writing about the enduring complexities and contradictions of the United States. He goes beyond the easy stereotypes of greedy promoters preying on farmers and gives us the unvarnished truth about a twenty-first-century energy rush in a place we never expected it. This is tale told with heart, gusto, close observation, and sly humor--truly a remarkable memoir."--Tom Zoellner, author of The Heartless Stone and Uranium
"This story is remarkably lively and full of heart. McGraw's calm and coherent prose sails over hundreds of years of hopes and dreams in the Pennsylvania countryside, charting a uniquely American story in cinematic fashion, conjuring up images of country folk making a stand and looking out for their lineage." - Progressive Reader