In the novel, Black River, a man returns home to settle scores with a former convict. The setting is a small town in Montana:

As a child, Wes thought the slopes of the mountain ranges looked like the hands of giants, each ravine or peak delineating fingers and knuckles…. Today, they resembled clenched fists about to collide. (1)

Rugged terrain provides good backdrops for high adventure. And rugged men make good heroes.

Or do they?

The men I admire and strive to emulate hunt rabbit instead of bear and fish for bluegill instead of salmon. They’re farmers, mechanics, electricians and plumbers. More dedicated than rugged; more determined than reckless.

Let me tell you about one of them.

This past winter, Seth decided to rev up his family. He enlisted his son-in-law to scout local woods for maples to tap. His youngest son built a shack to boil the sap. Another son chopped wood for fuel.

Soon, grandchildren joined the effort, tramping through snow, giddy with excitement, their cheeks flush with fresh air. The wives collected bottles and made hot chocolate.

The joint effort was no small endeavor: one gallon of syrup requires forty gallons of sap. For three weekends, around the clock, the men stoked fires in wood-burning stoves. Wind whistled through gaps in the siding. Sips of brandy helped stave off the cold. Outside the door, snow-covered branches graced the sky like arches inside a church.

Soon, family breakfasts featured flapjacks with smoke-flavored syrup. Maple candy and maple granola replaced barbequed chips for evening snacks. But sweetest of all, according to Seth, was the family cohesion the enterprise yielded.

I witness similar satisfaction in the lives of other men I know: Dave, a retired factory worker, tends twenty beehives. Brian’s three boys gather eggs from a backyard chicken coop. Ted restores stock cars with his youngest son who competes at drag strips across the state. Michael’s girls take turns milking goats. Gary’s family raises show lambs. Ryan’s boys train colts and his girls run barrels at rodeos.

In my view, good men tend to lift kids on their backs as opposed to weights in a gym. They contend with nature instead of fighting each other outside bars.

Such men don’t “save the day” like action heroes, but their grounded lives help stabilize the society in which we live.

[1] From Black River by S.M Hulse, paraphrased

06 / 28 / 2023
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