Metamorphosis

As my son stands in the doorway of our cluttered mudroom, his clothes soaked to the skin from an afternoon of tubing down the Battenkill and jumping in ponds, it occurs to me that we have become hillbillies.

To be sure, we have created the right atmosphere. There’s the perennial appearance of our thirty-year-old mercedes on blocks; the woodshed built for strength but impermanence for the benefit of the tax assessors; the garden that sometimes looks like a weed sanctuary and an ever-evolving parade of animals streaming through a mudroom littered with shoes and skates and garden implements.

And, in spite of our diminishing efforts to stay connected to trends and the city, life and location have conspired to turn us and our kids into hicks .We have learned the difference between hay and straw. Our kids picky about when their peas are picked. They have developed an affinity for dirt and allergies to soap (so they claim). They have never slept a day on a set of matching sheets or worn a color-coordinated outfit to school.

Living on a mountain far from many friends has taught us to find enjoyment close to home and our kids to find fun in the forest. Bills and a sparse employment landscape have taught us all the value of financial security but also that people without it still have value. We have learned to make do and to be happy doing without. Watching neighbors share food,money, and labor has taught us all to do for others and when to lean .

As Thing 1 and I debate whether he should leave the wet clothes (made filthy by a day of cheap, low-tech fun) outside or in the mudroom, I come to the conclusion that being a hillbilly is a pretty good thing.

 

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Saturdays With Art

We are not religious, we don’t go to church or temple, but we do have our own acts of faith and sacred rituals.

My garden is my act of faith. Saturdays we have art, and the seemingly mundane little ritual has become a sacred thing for our family. It started a few years ago when a five-figure health care bill performed a total cashectomy on our budget, temporarily but severely curtailing our other favorite ritual – breakfast at Bob’s.

While brunch at our favorite diner became unaffordable, we were fortunate to still be living in an area rife with art.  Vermont is a haven for artists in every media, and there is always an opening (complete with snacks) or a free library gallery. Combined with a smattering of music groups and museums offering free admission on Saturdays throughout the year, it was possible to spend most of the day feeding our souls for the cost of a gallon (or two) of gas.

 

We’ve retreated from the abyss of financial meltdown, and breakfast at Bob’s is once again part of our Saturdays. But Saturday is still a day of rest. It is still a day of finding beauty and discovering the divine in our neighbors and our little world.

Thing 2 loves it; Thing 1 is not such a fan of museums without gadgets (we keep telling him he’ll thank us someday). And, while the adventure of shepherding two boys on a weekly journey of discovery can be frazzling, accepting the chore of keeping them in line each Saturday afternoon has resulted in an unexpected contribution to the nurture of our family’s soul that is now as sacred to us as any Sunday.

 

Honest Work

One of the things I have enjoyed about the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project is not just having the permission but the encouragement to get in touch with my inner smart ass.  And, while reviving a love of drawing and sketching in a writing group may seem like a supreme act of contrariness – an absolute requirement for anyone who takes being a smart ass seriously – it has helped me be truer to the project and also truer to myself than I have been in many years.

I drew constantly in high school.  I drew in art class, out of art class.  I drew to drown out the reality of being unpopular.  I drew to kill time until graduation would liberate me from a sort of geeky existence at a school where being geeky was a one-way ticket to popularity poverty.  But mostly, I drew to tell stories.

Highly political, all thumbs with a makeup kit and blow-dryer, I successfully skewered any hope of attaining the social skills needed to enter the higher echelons of high school society when I dove into the world of Dungeons and Dragons.  Like most questionable decisions in high school, this one was motivated by an interest in a specific boy, and I worked hard to feign interest in the dice and the byzantine layers of rules.

But I loved designing characters.  I loved creating people, and I loved drawing them.  I drew them for myself and occasionally for other people, and as I drew, I conceived whole histories for these people on paper.

 

I dropped art for a number of reasons, and even though I wrote, I alway felt I was missing something.  Now, as our workshop explores all the new avenues for story telling, it seems the visual and the verbal increasingly buttress each other, and I have come back to it, slowly reclaiming my craft.  With each cartoon or animation,  I am filling a void and finding the confidence to follow not only my own creative urges, but encourage them in others.  And building little temples of creativity and encouragement is ultimately what this Writer’s Project has come to mean.

Things I Carry

We live in the palm of a mountain range, with the surrounding hills stretching like fur-covered fingers toward the sky, and the forest surrounding us has a voice. It is not a Loraxy voice full of reproach, but a layered, textured chorus; a swishing siren call to worship on sunny summer days, and a hypnotic drumbeat when the rain comes.

Beyond my bedroom window a strip of lawn separates the house from the front lines of the forest.   Some nights I can hear the neighborhood bear  ravaging our composter, but after the dog (and my car clicker) frighten her off, rushing water and swishing trees are the only sounds.  And, even though I know the only open eyes belong to the trees and the wildlife, when dark divides my room from the world, I still close the curtains to dress for bed – just as I when I lived in the city.

A few nights ago the bear visited another house down the mountain, a fact confirmed by gunfire echoing through the hills.  I’ve gotten used to that sound now, but the first time let to an unpleasant revival of a self I thought I had killed but was only hibernating.

 

It was a swishing summer evening when a coyote stopped to sample a nearby neighbor’s garbage cans. Like many Vermonters, this neighbor was armed, and one too many morning garbage can clean-ups had prompted an evening vigil. Had I known this before the shots rang out that soft summer night, my old self – an urban self, reckless and given to frequent fits of terrified catatonia – might have been allowed to expire.

The first crack-crack of rifle fire rang out just as I was starting to doze. A third crack echoed back and forth against the mountains, and I was one with the old me, cowering face-down on a filthy gold and mustard shag rug, praying that I would not be able later to identify the boy standing over me with a gun whose size and color were the only features I’d noticed.  Crack! and I was cursing this hell of  being own making, a torment I invited by knowingly being in a place that was always wrong at any time.  Crack! I raced to the window, wondering if I should call 911. Where were the sirens? In the city, I’d hear them by now. Would the constable be faster? The cracks stopped, and I berated myself for panicking.  Chilling sweat soaked my nightgown.

Watching my slumbering hound dog on the rug next to me, I waited for another crack. Surely she would have warned us of an apporaching serial killer.  I giggled, and she acknowledged me. Once assured that I wouldn’t disturb her again, she yawned, and I feel my clenched muscles relax.

Then I saw it. A white blur darted across the yard. I knew it had to be a coyote, and the pup’s ferocious and vocal reaction attested to it.  My old self refused to be dismissed, however. And even as my perverse pondering subsided, lingering fear nurtured her, reminding me how easily she could control – and possibly derail – the life I don’t curse.