It’s spring and a young man’s thoughts turn to visions of popcorn -at least around here. Thing2 has become a dedicated foodie, as interested in making it as he is in eating it.
For me, spring is the beginning of the craft fair season. They’re moderately profitable, and there are worse ways to spend a sunny day in Vermont than sitting in a meadow surrounded by other artists. Thing2 loves to come and help me set up. He loves arranging things. He usually brings his own sketchbook to keep busy, and there are always other kids at the other booths to play with.
This year he’s more serious, wanting to start his own booth. In addition to selling Icelandic style hotdogs that we discovered on our trip, he’s decided to start selling flavored popcorn. he’s been testing recipes for the last couple weeks, and we been finding stray popcorn everywhere. It’s a small price to pay for doing our part to help small business in America.
It feels like March outside, but on the first sunny day in weeks, May seems to be rallying.
I’ve been trying to warm to the water pens in anticipation of a trip to Iceland this summer which will require traveling light, but so far I’m not enamored. I’m determined, though. I’m doing a mini-painting a day in my moleskin journal to get revved up for summer shows and trips and hoping the weather will give us something inspirational soon.
There are two ways to get to the top of Mount Equinox in Manchester Vermont. You can pay your money to take the Skyline drive to the summit, or you can find your way to the no-traffic light town of Sandgate and go up the back.
You can’t drive the whole way (Sandgate’s dirt road eventually turns into a wide leaf-covered path). Once on foot, you’ll eventually get to the gate of a monastery run by the Carthusian monks (who also, incidentally, govern access to the skyline Drive). There’s a sign warning away trespassers, so we’ve never actually made it to the top of the Equinox without paying our money down, but along with that once-beaten path on the backside of the mountain, we’ve discovered something equally interesting.
When we first hiked that road, we wondered about its origins. There were easier ways to get to the monks and the top of the Equinox, but it was clear the road had once been in use frequently enough to leave its mark on the mountain. Shortly after the ‘real’ dirt road ended, we found our answer.
Thing1 was our distractor-in-chief at the time, occasionally luring us away from the path, and about a mile and a half past the end of the town road, he discovered an abandoned barn we HAD to see.
The barn roof was disintegrating, and we saw no other evidence (save for a few headstones that we almost tripped over) that a farm or homestead had ever existed. The carving on the headstones was so worn down we couldn’t read the names on them. As I was wondering what catastrophe that had driven surviving family members away from the farm, I realized this almost abandoned road had been made by and for hooves and feet, not rubber and steel.
At first I had thought these languishing headstones in this isolated part of the mountain were a sad statement about precarious nature of rural life (then and now). However, as we walked to and from the monastery gate with its no trespassing sign, passing the old homestead again, the late afternoon sun dipped low enough to bathe the woods in gold. I remember the branches were naked on that hike, but the forest, guarding its little cemetery, was warm and absolutely peaceful in the sun.
Modern rural life can be very hard, and I don’t cling to any romantic notions that life on the back of a mountain in Vermont was any easier a 100 years ago, but this quiet resting place was a testament to more than just hardship. It reminded me that people still come to these hard-to-live-in places because a life away from the madding crowd brings with it freedom and (in spite of the long winters and minimal economic opportunities) peace.
i’d like to tell you I have a veggie garden because I’m really into organic everything, but the truth is there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching my kids fight over fresh greens. In my defense, I have stopped telling them the peas were candy.
You can buy prints and cards of this painting here
Last week after work the Big Guy came home from work and soberly announced that the son of a neighbor had taken his own life. It took me a moment to start breathing again, and, out loud, I wondered what the rest of the town was wondering that day. “What was he thinking?”
Privately, I had a pretty good idea of what he’d been thinking. Only earlier that day had I been wrestling with those urges as I hugged my mother goodbye and had the irrational thought that I would never be happy again once she was gone. A vision of achieving perfect permanent peace flashed through my mind as I smiled at her and my father as they left. It was so strong and so clear that if I had not been having these urges and images since I was 10, I might not have chased it away.
My guess was that this kid, who, for as long as I had known of him, had exhibited self-destructive behavior, had been living with those urges for a long time.
My morning vision and the afternoon news brought me back to a high school assembly on suicide. After a movie and lecture, the hosts separated us into groups. I remember them asking us if any of us had ever contemplated taking our own lives. I was the only one in my group raised my hand.
One of the adults took me aside and asked me how often I thought about it. I answered, “I don’t know, every day. Doesn’t everybody?” The counselor shook his head no and gave me a pamphlet for nearby church.
Back then I don’t think I had even heard the word bipolar disorder. Manic Depression was just the title of the Jimi Hendrix song. I did know that just getting out of the house – even out of bed – was often an enormous task when depression hit. When mania was pushing me to outer limits, I was the life of the party. People thought (and still do) I was a drama queen. I was told to snap out of “it” but wondered why I couldn’t. I did know I couldn’t tell anyone about the places and pictures in my head. I could barely explain them to myself, and trying to describe them to other kids – or any of our teachers – would have added just one more oddity to my already odd personality.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that I might not just have the blues.
I was lucky. When my own bipolar disorder was diagnosed, my family was overwhelmingly supportive, and our home, at least, was a safe place to talk about mental illness. The rest of the world is not so safe, and not everyone is so lucky.
I don’t know if this boy had a safe place to talk about the suicidal tendencies he had been exhibiting for as long as I had known of him. I do know that we still live in a world that makes opening up about mental illness – or even its symptomatic emotions – is like baring your throat to the wolves. There is still stigma where there needs to be safe spaces.
Our very small town of 300+ people has talked of it regularly since it happened. I hope we all continue talking about it. Mostly I hope we start talking about giving other kids like him a safe place to talk about their visions before they become reality.