Of Mountains and Mud

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There is little snow on Minister Hill this winter, and part of me has been mourning the absence of sledding and snowshoeing.  The road down our hill is mostly mud now.  

Navigating the deep oozing ruts adds another five minutes to every little venture.  Today, though, even the sight of the nearly naked mountains rising up over the muck as I drove down the hill was enough to slow our trip to the ice rink even further.  If the road had been better, I would have worked harder to pilot and gawk at the same time, but the mud nearly forced me to a stop several times.  I snapped off a couple photos, figuring I would do a sketch while I watched the kids during school skate.  

We returned a few hours later to a road even more scarred from a wintry mix and other vehicles.  I was a few sketches richer.  Thing1, my twelve-year-old, increasingly pensive as he approaches adolescence, was cheerful after racing around a rink for two hours.  Thing2, my six-year-old whose normal state is chatter and dance, was nearly asleep from his exertions.  

The mud up our mountain, earlier the guardian of my mindfulness of the mountains, was now just another obstacle between us and home.  Thing1 began pointing out the least treacherous parts, and the car’s rumble seat imitation began to rouse my younger passenger in the back seat.  As we passed the horse farm that lies just below our driveway, the ruts in the muck became deep slick channels, and my only option was to keep accelerating and let the edges of the chasms help me find the least resistance.  

Ten feet later, as the swells in the silt became more navigable, I was glad I hadn’t had much for lunch.  I glanced at Thing1 who was now grinning and looking very twelve.  In the rear view mirror, I could see Thing2 continuing to bounce, even though the car had stopped.

“Can we go again?” he asked, knowing full well that we will be ‘going again’ tomorrow.  But tomorrow morning, when we head out on our slimy roller coaster ride, I’ll remember that, while the coasting has it’s appeal, the climb can be pretty fun too.

On the Street Where I Live


It’s been four or five days now since a fertilizer bomb was detonated somewhere on the mountain across from ours.  While the local paper (two towns away) hasn’t picked up the story yet, it was a hot topic for many people at our local country store on Sunday.  Curiosity and concern were still high on Monday, but by Tuesday it was clear that fear was already losing its grip on many of us .

I’m still worried, of course.  Vermont isn’t at war as far as any of us know, so a bomb is not what we’re expecting to hear at eight o’ clock at night.  I am still waiting for some scrap of comforting information.  Even in the absence of information, however, I’m managing to find signs that this town (whose motto is ‘Whatever happens here stays here… But nothing ever happens here’) has managed to put a serious dent in my once Olympic-caliber capacity for agonizing over every potential problem.  There were two of those signs yesterday.

The first one had me trying to remember to breathe.  Mother Nature had been in her paintbox the night before.  After wiping her canvas clean with an inch of rain, she cooled things down.  Then, under cover of night, she brought out her fattest paint brush and daubed just enough white powdery paint over the mountains to cover but not completely obscure the trees and rocks.   I only noticed her work after I’d finished scraping the car and getting six-year-old Thing2 on the road to winter camp.  We scaled the long icy slope of our driveway, and then turned onto the road heading towards the horse farm at the bottom of our road.

The road makes a beautiful S-curve as we get closer.  A few isolated trees frame the rolling hills and the buildings of the farm perfectly, and a day doesn’t go by when I think what a perfect painting it would make.   Yesterday we hit the S-curve just as low purple and white clouds were skimming the powered mountains that rise up behind the farm.  It was breathtaking.  I forgot, for a moment, that we were late, that my foot was still on the gas, and even that a bomb had ever gone off on the mountain across from ours.

When I recovered my breath and remembered to slow down before we hit the more adventurous part of the mud pit we call a road, I drew Thing2’s attention to the scene ahead of us.  We slowly descended the hill, and the painting seemed to envelope us.  Thing2 spoke first after we had passed the farm.

“Can you believe we get to live here all the time?”  He asked.  I couldn’t, and all my recent mutterings that we should move somewhere safer to the middle of nowhere (redundant really) shattered like dust falling with the snow.

The second sign was more subtle, but when I finally saw it, was just as powerful.

The Big Guy went in the afternoon to Hubbard Hall, our local community theatre and art center in Cambridge, NY to pick up Thing2 at his winter break workshop.  Caught up in the excitement of viewing Thing2’s art projects, the nearly empty gas tank in the car slipped his mind, and they headed home. They were almost home when the gas ran out.  Fortunately, a neighbor spotted them quickly and brought them the rest of the way home.  The Big Guy borrowed my car to go get a can of gas for the vehicle still on the side of the road.

He was gone not five minutes when we heard a truck in the driveway.  Positive he couldn’t have filled up the car that quickly, we wondered who it could be.  Before I could get up from the kitchen table (my home office – very glamorous), Thing2 had gone into the mudroom to answer the door.  I had forgotten to lock the outside door again, however, and I suddenly heard a deep voice talking to my son.  It was another neighbor who had seen the car by the road and popped down to see if we needed help.  I told him we were all set and thanked him for checking on us.  Thing2 threatened to entrap him with endless cheerful banter, but the neighbor just smiled at him good-naturedly and waved goodbye to all of us.

I was not yet at the end of my work day and, forgetting to lock the door again, sat back down at the table to finish my shift.  Then the phone rang.  It was another neighbor from across the valley checking to see if we needed any help with the car.  I gave him the same answer, thanked him and hung up.   Before the phone touched the table, however, it rang again.  This time it was our neighbor at the top of our driveway who had seen the car.  I hung up a few minutes later, smiling and thinking that however loud one misguided kook might be, he doesn’t outnumber the ‘good guys’ in this tiny little town.

I realize it’s the same every city.  The ones making the bombs – regardless of their form – are the loudest, but they aren’t the majority.  They can cause havoc with your sense of peace if you let them, however.  I’m still hoping for news about our incident, but by the time the Big Guy returned with my keys, I had seen the second sign.  It wasn’t in the calls from caring neighbors.  It was the fact that, thanks to this town, I’m slowly learning to live my life without locked doors.


Lost Weekend

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Across the state, schools had closed on Friday.  Store shelves were being cleared as people prepared for a day of camping in on Saturday.  I stocked the pantry with chips and dip, the fridge with a massive casserole and whipped cream for hot cocoa.  Thing1 and Thing2 made sure their sleds were ready, and the wood bin was overflowing.

But, Saturday morning, the snow had not materialized.  We were expecting a blizzard and barely got a dusting in our little corner of Vermont (4-6 in Vermont is a dusting).  As we gazed out at the trees already stripped of snow by the howling wind, our entire family felt ripped off by the weather industry.

Everything had been canceled for Saturday already – basketball, breakfast out – and with a still-falling mercury, the Big Guy and I quickly decided to proceed with the camp-in as planned.  We fired up the DVD player and began our day-long homage to sloth.

I set out cereal and cinnamon buns at breakfast, and cheese and crackers and other snacks at lunch.  As soon as one of us got the notion to do something productive the rest of the family would intervene, re-issuing the proclamation that today was about doing nothing.  Computers were shuttered, homework was put away, and the phone was ignored.  The conversation never became more serious than debating whether there are more Monty Python or Tolkien references in Futurama.  Our bodies and our brains were only aware of the red hot stove and the person snuggling on the sofa next to us.

It was pointless.  It was unproductive, and it was glorious.


Stopped by Woods


It’s February, and the sledding hill on the west side of town is naked.  The Battenkill River that runs west from the center of Arlington, Vermont to the New York line has been frozen for only a few days this winter.  It’s the second year in a row in which winter hasn’t really felt like winter but more like a long clouding, mud season.  Grey prevails today, lulling us into our individual reveries as we drive about our Saturday routine.

Then as we drive home, turning back onto the road that runs along the Battenkill, the park and adjacent outdoor ice rink come into view.  A shock of white now rises over the river.  As we get closer, we realized the white is ice and snow covering the trees on the river bank.  The ice doesn’t cover everything – it only coated a small clump of trees –  but the covering was so thick and sugary in appearance, that if looked like someone had sculpted it.

The sky is still overcast and grey, but now, roused out of our apathy, the flat light seems to throw everything into stark relief.  A stop by the park has suddenly become an impromptu visit to an art museum, and we continue on home, suddenly aware of the other exhibits around us.

A Moment on the Soapbox

I spend Inauguration Morning 2013 trying to write and thinking about inaugurating another diet for the umpteenth time.  (There have been multiple first diet days since the first of this year.)  It seems an strange day to be dwelling on something so mundane.  It’s MLK-day after all.  Our country’s first African-American president is getting worn in for the second time.   And yet, somehow, letting the mundane absorb the three members of our family who got to stay home for the holiday is oddly appropriate.

I’ve lived on two other continents in two different hemispheres.  Thanks to my parents’ wanderlust, I had the opportunity – at a young age – to see how bad it can be but also how the good we have isn’t necessarily isolated.  We got to plenty of countries where elections happened peacefully and where political debates are lively.

As youngsters, however, my sister and I also had the chance to travel and live in South America at a time when election results were often in dispute and transfer of power wasn’t always peaceful. Widespread poverty (and depending on the year, dangerous conditions) was a common symptom of the political instability, and I have memories of walking with my mother in Lima, Peru and noticing many beggars parked between street vendors.  My parents still maintain the friendships they made there, and I remember hearing occasionally of one friend or another having to leave the country quickly even after a relatively peaceful election.  It was anything but mundane.

I thought of that today as I took the kids to Bob’s Diner in Manchester Vermont for a treat.  Always hopping, it was a mob scene on this holiday morning.  The bulk of the dining population was of the tourist variety, but – as always- there was variety.

There were well-heeled flatlanders in perfectly coordinated ski pants and jackets sitting shoulder to shoulder with burly plow drivers in their customized jackets.  There were Obama stickers on pickup trucks and Ron Paul and Romney stickers on slick new SUV’s from ‘down south’.  There were T-shirts with slogans ranging from the peaceful to the political to the profane, and it was just another Monday at Bob’s.  Even after an election season completely characterized by cynicism and bitterness, even in the face of an increasingly strident debate on gun rights (and privacy and religious rights), this confluence of humanity – with its politics on its sleeve in some cases – was not only civil, but jovial.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that the Tree of Liberty would need to be refreshed with the bloom of patriots.  I don’t question his courage or passion for his country, and I know he and his suffered to sow the seeds of our liberty.  I also don’t think those words were written without an understanding of their potential consequences.  But Jefferson did come of age in an era when duels at twenty paces were still considered a reasonable way to settle a dispute.

Now, when I look at events around the world and see the human consequences of refreshing each country’s soul by pitting citizen against citizen, I know there has to be a better way.  And, listening to one of Bob’s cheeky waitresses cheerfully debate the issues of the day with a hot-headed regular, hearing their banter rise above the clattering of dishes and cries of ‘Order up!’, I realize that we have it, and it starts with hotcakes and coffee and a side of home fries.  It may be mundane, but there’s something to be said for that too.