February comes and goes in geologic time, yet it is still winter when, at this magazine, we have to start thinking about spring. This is a monumental test in motivation. It can feel like shopping for new flip-flops during a blizzard.
But story ideas start to trickle in, initiating faint tectonic shifts in my spirit. Becca James pitches “spring milk,” which carries me forward to a place where the sun sits higher on the horizon. Apparently the first milk of the season tastes different. It tastes better.
And after a long winter silence, Rachel Turiel, our managing editor, emerges with an idea. That is what her stories often start as: Ideas. Themes. Notions. This issue, it’s about dinner and eating at home and eating out and what it all means and where it is all going. “Do you like the idea?” she’ll ask. I say something like, ‘It feels ambitious, but I know you will do something good.’ And of course she does.
Then Ole Bye suggests a photo essay on old tractors. “Do it,” I say to the accomplished photographer. “No time,” he says. So I do it because it is a good idea. And it leads me to a lot of tractors buried in snow. So I wait for the melt and it snows again. And then, again. But as it is in Colorado, it turns 60F and just like that, the snow is gone and the mud is here.
If you own an old tractor in Southwest Colorado, you probably have heard of Joe Schmidt. Joe reclaims old tractors and gives them new life. Working tractors, not shiny show tractors. Joe lives with his dad, our cover model, Armond, 88, in Lewis. Armond couldn’t give two wits about tractors.
Hovered over a vintage percolator over a vintage stove under a vintage window, Armond tells me about a buck deer named Buck he once, not long ago, had as a friend. “He would hang out in the living room,” his son added. And then one day the authorities came and relocated Buck. “To Hovenweep,” Armond said. Now, whether you think feeding wild animals in your living room is a good idea or not, you couldn’t help but feel a pang of loss for Armond. He loved that deer. “I know I could go over to that fence and call his name and he would come running. But Hovenweep is too far. Do you know anything about cats?”
Yes, Joe loves tractors, but Armond, soothing my soul with marine-blue eyes untouched by time, clearly loves animals. “A little,” I answered to the cat question, not clarifying that “a little” meant that I know they purr and they meow and I had recently, in a winterized funk, contemplated adopting one. Just outside the window, Armond’s cat absorbed the heat of the early-March sun while resting on an empty wooden cable spool that was floating on ankle-deep mud. He looked tired. “The vet says he has fluid in his lungs,” Armond said. “What can you do about that?” I went outside and crouched down. I felt oddly important and now fully thankful to be working again … even if that meant I was pretending to be a vet. I stuck out my hand seeking approval and received it. The cat was working just to rest. I said, “Joe, I think he might be suffering.” “Don’t tell dad that,” Joe said. “He was just hunting mice yesterday. And now today, he is like this again.”
Yes, you are right, don’t tell your dad. Let the cat rest. Let him doctor himself, and mindfully lick his paws. Let the returning sun replenish him with vitamins. Maybe he will hunt again tomorrow.
Joe then handed me a small album. On every page, a carefully cataloged photograph of a tractor. A real picture. A photograph made on film.
Pet deer and tractors, sick cats and photographs, words and stories. Beautiful people loving what they love.
“Would you like a Pepsi?” Armond asks. Why yes, yes I would.
– Rick Scibelli, Jr.
(The day before we went to press, I learned from Joe that his dad’s cat had peacefully passed away. “But we already got him a new one,”
Joe said. “We went down to the shelter and got him a big ol’ long-
tail furry outfit.”)