Sentimental Journey

Blog  sappy

We’ve had a few weeks of frigid temperatures and, after a few years of almost no snow – a return to a normal Vermont winter. This morning greeted me with perfect pink skies that can only come from the promise of a perfect sunny day. Even though I should know better, I couldn’t help thinking it’s almost spring, and as I navigated the mud pit that is our road, I starting humming something from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Pretty sappy, right?

It gets sappier. I’d gotten up early, escaping to our favorite diner for uninterrupted writing before the Big Guy and Thing1 and Thing2 woke up. The guys met me for breakfast a few hours later. Thing1 and Thing2 argued over who’s turn it was to sit with Mom, and, still euphoric from hours of typing, I basked in the glow of being with my guys. But it was going to get even sappier.

The Big Guy took the little guys to find a part for vacuum, and I headed back towards our neck of the woods in my car. On my way back, I noticed a few pickup trucks parked up on a hill. There was a group of men – some young, some old – congregated around a blue cistern next to a tree. Still feeling sappy, I thought didn’t notice the blue tube connecting the tank to the tree and thought, instead, how nice it was to see teenagers not too embarrassed to spend time with their fathers.

It wasn’t until I turned onto the last paved road on the way to our house that I had the sappiest moment of the day. Then, there he was. An older man standing in the bed of his pickup sorting a pile of tin buckets with tent shaped lids on them. I drove on and noticed he had already driven in the taps for at least a dozen trees.

I turned onto our road feeling extremely sappy and sentimental (and suddenly craving something maple). Even the mud didn’t bother me on my way back up our hill because even though there’s still a good eight inches of snow in our yard today and single digits forecast for a few nights next week, I know spring is here. I saw it on the way home from the Diner, clear as day.


When in Vermont

Ski jump

Last Sunday we took a much-needed family stay-cation to Brattleboro for a ski jump competition. We chose the destination because it’s been a stopping point for many Olympians, and, in the forties, for the Big Guy’s dad.

The temperature was brisk, and the sun was out. Food vendors and tailgaiters created delicious grilled odors that bouyed the four of us on our climb up the 150+ snowy steps that lined the jump hill.

Twenty feet of snow-covered hillside and path separated the top of the stairs from the wall that bordered the jump area. We staked out a spot just below the jump-off just as the first round of jumpers whooshed past us.

Seven-year-old Thing2 watched a few jumpers and then, his awe subsiding, focused on the consistency of the snow and it’s suitability for sliding and ammunition.

The first round ended, and he began begging for permission to slide down the massive hill next to the steps. Noting the abundant opportunities the hill afforded for an impromptu ambulance ride, I naturally said, ‘No’. Thing2 pouted, but kept his silence.

The loudspeaker announced a break in the action, and we decided to move to a lower part of the hill for a different view of the action. The Big Guy and I began navigating down the hill towards the stairs. Half-way down, I turned around to offer a hand to Thing2. Still standing at the wall, he grinned at me.

“Mom, I want to slide down here!”

I hesitated for a minute and scanned his intended course for any objet d’injury.  Noting the incline leveled enough near the bottom for him to stop himself, gave my permission. Thing2 sat on his snowpant-covered butt and slid.

“You are a true Vermonter,” I told him as he coasted to a stop at my feet.  He is.

Despite the Big Guy’s deep roots in Vermont (from his father back to a time before “Vermont” existed) and Thing1’s maple syrup-steeped childhood, Thing2 is the only “real” Vermonter among us (I’m a recovering nomad). Local tradition confers the label only on those born in-state. The smile on his face as he sat in the snow, however, proved his status better than any birth certificate.

The path had been packed down, and Thing2 decided it was another slower sliding opportunity. I inched along behind him, keenly aware of the aging tread on my boot.  

Finally, the eternal adventurer in me decided that since we were in Vermont, I should do as my native-Vermonter had just done. The slippery path was much more easily negotiated on my butt. The path from nomad to settled Vermonter is one Thing2 will be showing me how to navigate for some time.


Are We There Yet?



One of the ironies of our life is that our resident social butterfly, six-year-old Thing2, needs an enormous amount prodding to get in the car for any weekend outing.  And so it began on Sunday morning.  

Freshly exercised and showered, and ready for our weekly breakfast at Bob’s diner in Manchester, the Big Guy, thirteen-year-old Jack, and I had one more hurdle to leap before we began our Sunday adventure – convincing – rather, ordering – Thing2 to get in the car.  Pouting and mumbling about his desire to stay put and eat the sugar cereal du jour, Thing2 finally shuffled to his booster seat and got his seat belt on.  Anyone watching would have thought we were taking him to look at military schools (the idea did cross our minds).    Instead, he was pulled out of his cocoon.  

Something about the smell of bacon and coffee temporarily banished Thing2’s grumpiness.  But when breakfast was behind us and we hit the road again, the ride took on a different character for all of us. 

The Worlds Fair in Tunbridge – our destination – is  about 90 minutes from Manchester, and Thing2 kicked off the first half hour mumbling a litany of things he’d rather be doing.  We had mentioned the word ‘fair’ a number of times before, but I had made the mistake of telling the kids it was historical, and the only part of the day Thing2 could focus on was the driving.  Finally, the Big Guy and I caught Thing2’s eye and ears to make it clear that the rest of the ride did not need a serenade of complaints.  He adjusted his tone.  The last sixty minutes were mostly quiet, punctuated only by the occasional refrain of  ‘Are we there yet?’

When we reached the muddy parking lot at the fair ground, Thing2 had zoned out, but the bump between road and muck got his attention.  The smell of manure permeated the air.  Well-groomed, uniformed students from the nearby military college cheerfully directed us to a parking space.  There were no formal ticket booths – just a few more college kids (who didn’t look old enough to shave, let alone wear uniforms) taking admission and shepherding patrons through twine-lined ‘gates’.  

Thing2 clung to my hand, then the Big Guy’s, then mine.  He had already spotted the typical fair midway.  We headed up a muddy hill away from the typical and toward the heart of the fair.  

The heart of the fair is a permanent collection of old buildings – long log cabins, a metal foundry, a carriage barn.  The first log cabin contained artifacts of Vermont home life from over the last two centuries.  Period-costumed demonstrators brought the display – and Thing2 – to life as they showed us how quilts were (and are) made or how country stores used to operate.  The second building displayed a collection of tools, and the carriage barn contain, naturally, carefully preserved carriages and wagons once used by local farmers.  But, while the quilting demonstration and old-fashioned donuts had sparked the beginning of a sincere attitude adjustment in Thing2, what was outside perked up his wings, long before we got to the midway.

Alongside the carriage barn stood pop-up tents that, instead of the usual fair t-shirts and novelty souvenirs, sheltered antique engines.  All of the engines were running, producing little pops when air bubbles went through them.  A few of the displays encouraged visitors to try their hand at grinding corn, or winding thread or pumping water the old-fashioned way.  The whirring motors and spinning gears made their own music, and Thing2 began his dance.  

The rest of the afternoon we shuttled between rides and exhibits.  We stopped for maple-flavored cotton candy (it is Vermont after all) and ‘pour-your-own’ freshly-pressed cider, and Thing2 continued dancing until long after the Big Guy and I had exhausted our reserves.  The dancing and accompanying chatter continued until we were back in the car, rolling through the muddy field again.  

“We have to do this again,” said Jack before he nodded off.  The fair was still causing Thing2’s wings to flutter, however, and it was a long time before he slept.  The excitement of seeing something different would keep them moving even when he did close his eyes, and when I heard him singing softly to himself in his sleep, I knew we were there yet.



I planted the other morning. It was stiflingly humid out, but I knew storms were coming to water my garden in the afternoon, and there was still one big bed to dig sow.

An hour later I sat down at my computer, soaked in sweat and spring steam. The earth that shelters two-thirds of our house was serving its purpose by keeping the room cool, but I wanted something more. There wasn’t time to shower, and I had more garden time planned after work, but little dots of dirt sliding down a sweaty arm can feel more like the creepy crawlies. When the rain arrived, I was strongly tempted to hit BRB (be right back) in the work chat room and head out for an au natural shower.

The Big Guy set the precedent for this last summer when he attempted to save water with a risqué hose down during a down pour. For a while, the only way to get my two boys clean (at the same time) was to wait for a swimming party, a rainy day or, preferably, both at the same time. Pond jumping is especially purifying in the rain, and only the din of thunder and misdirected parents ordering everyone inside can muddy the sensation.

Outside, the wind intensified, whipping the spindly white birches until their highest branches seemed as if they would sweep the forest floor. I abandoned any ideas about dancing the dirt away in the rain. I knew I’d need to venture out later to mulch anyway, spurring the need for another, if more conventional, conventional shower.

But getting the dust off wasn’t really the point. I knew what I really wanted. It was a cleansing I craved; it was a communion with the elements. But summer is young and I’ve just begun to tend my garden.

The Helpers

the helpers

I was on the way to the gas station driving down our hill when I saw the smoke rising over the trees.  There was too much smoke to be coming from a barbecue, and I felt my stomach sink.  We’d just been talking about this subject at Saturday morning T-ball practice.  There was too little snow over the winter, even less rain this spring, and the trees were still mostly naked.  It’s the perfect recipe for wild fires.

As I drove along the Battenkill River toward the gas station in the center of Arlington, I discovered the source of the smoke, and my fear was confirmed.  Across the road from the river and up a very dry hill a brush fire had already consumed over an acre of fuel. A makeshift fire crew composed of the family and employees of a nearby farm stand owner was trying to control the blaze while waiting for the bulk of the town’s fire department to arrive.  A members of the department were already scaling the rocky hill and establishing traffic control.

I waited for the person controlling traffic to waive me through, trying not to dwell on my worst fears or on any anger with the faceless firestarter.  I was anxious, but it was not from impatience.  It was worry for the people living near by the fire, but it was also concern for the people – all acquaintances and some friends – who were now arriving en masse to put out the fire that was still growing.

Our local fire department, like many in rural areas, is made up entirely of volunteers who execute their responsibilities with as much gravity and professionalism as any paid firefighters.  As I inched along the two-lane road, using as much caution as I could, the bottom of the hill next to the road was smoldering, and larger flames could be seen higher up.  Firefighters had already reached the worst of the blaze, dragging fire hoses and shovels with them and working with rapid calm to contain it.  They were still there working when I returned home later using the road on the other side of the river.  Long after the flames appeared to be extinguished, members of the crew remained, keeping vigil for any sparks that might have escaped their notice in the camouflaging day light.

Later in the day I had learned that some careless individuals had caused the fire while setting off fireworks from a boat on the river.  That kind of selfishness always annoys me, but lately, when confronted with news of disasters or near-disasters in our own neighborhood, I’ve been following the advice of the late Fred Rogers.  I’ve been looking for the helpers, and it’s helped me see yet another layer of our town.

Neighbors and friends from every walk of life had flocked to the fire this afternoon, and because of their love for their community, I went to bed that night, I secure in the knowledge that if an errant spark rekindled that fire, those same people would be there again.  It’s not the first time I’ve felt lucky to live where we do, and it won’t be the last.  But Saturday night was a solid reminder that something bigger than a few spectacular mountain vistas inspires that feeling.