The winter of 1929 was markedly cold, snowy and long. It began unusually early and snowed more than it had in quite a few years. My bedroom window had snow on the sill most days and all winter I had to walk through a minor snowdrift to get to the kitchen.
Seems like I spent the whole winter shivering.
But eventually winter gave way to spring. On a warm Saturday I sat on the front steps and soaked in the sunshine. There were plenty of things to be done but I wanted to sit and just be warm. It was the perfect day for dawdling.
And then my father called to me, ‘Son, go get me the whiffletree.’
In truth I did not know what my father really wanted but I was too embarrassed to ask. Reluctantly I pushed myself up and headed out to a nearby field because that’s where the trees were; I figured there must be a whiffletree among them. I searched for a while and then picked the biggest tree I thought I could handle, cut it down, and dragged it back for my father to use.
I could see him already out in the field. He had tired of waiting for me, found the whiffletree in its usual place in the barn, harnessed our horses Old Bill and Duroc and headed out to get the day’s work done.
The whiffletree, I learned, looks like this. It is a ‘crossbar, pivoted at the middle to which the traces of a harness are fastened for pulling a cart, plow, etc’.
The whiffletree is also a sign of spring. Get the horses out, plow the fields, prepare the ground. There will be planting a garden, weeding and all kinds of work on Walden Farm.
But there will also be time for a young boy, rid of the constraints of school, to throw off his shoes, enjoy the warmth of the sun and fish in Wilson Pond to his heart’s content.
And now bring on the whiffletree. We’ve had enough of winter.