The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Busking and Back September 7, 2015

Never let it be said that we don’t live a rich life. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself on account of our meager monetary situation, I have to step back and pause for a moment to remind myself of the bigger picture. True, we may not have a lot of money, but Elihu and I are rich in life experiences. For one, my son gets the advantage of two homes. In one situation he gets to enjoy a bit of road life with his musician father as well as a bustling household with two younger siblings and a crazy little dog . And when he’s here, he enjoys a nice mix of town and country living. We’ve come to know so many disparate sub-cultures in our life here, and better still – we’ve come to feel at home in all of them. From the down and dirty local animal auction house to the tony happenings in town, we’ve been lucky to get an inside look at it all.

Recently Elihu busked on the crowded streets of Saratoga. He sounded great (as usual) but better still got the chance to play with some other musicians. Many times I looked up to see him laughing in pure bliss. He was in the midst of some real action; he’d chosen a couple of very good nights to be out and playing. There were street musicians and performers taking up every niche and corner, and the sidewalks were absolutely filled with every manner of human being. The well-appointed racing crowd and the tattooed bikers, the young, leggy college girls and ancient, shuffling men, even young parents pushing strollers with sleeping young children draped over their shoulders. Bentleys and Maseratis trolled the streets, dogs and pet pigs walked the strip and the air was filled with sounds bouncing in from all directions. (When walking past a hot rod Elihu remarked ‘nice car’ to which its owner replied ‘nice mom’. I explained that while a few years ago I might have taken offense at the fellow’s remark, these days it was something of a treat to know I wasn’t completely invisible as I often feel these days.)

After several hours of playing, Elihu and I decided to head home sometime around midnight. We walked back to our car, which was parked behind a friend’s home just two blocks from Broadway, an incredibly valuable parking spot in the bursting tourist town. A full moon illuminated our walk through the alley. The scent of lingering phlox blossoms hung in the air, while the first sunflowers of late summer had already begun to bloom. Now the only sound we could hear was a chorus of invisible crickets. Only moments earlier we’d heard the acoustic assault of the street; the constant chatter of people milling about, street performers, loud, drunken people calling to each other over the crowds, and cover bands from almost every venue competing for airspace, their music ricocheting back and forth between the buildings on narrow Caroline Street. We’d seen a man throwing up in the middle of the road, we’d seen more than a few drunken woman come crashing down from their five inch heels onto the pavement, and we’d seen every manner of human – from homeless souls hunkering down in the shadows to handsomely dressed couples, women topped with the finest in modern millenery creations. The alley we walked down seemed almost like a dream in the wake of it all. “It’s so hard to believe that all that noise is completely gone now. Just a minute ago we were in it, and now, look, listen… Can you believe it?” Elihu said. He was thinking just like me. Yeah, I agreed, it was pretty mind-blowing. “Here we are almost in the country! We went from the city to the suburbs in only minutes!” he continued. “Yeah” I agreed, “and just wait ten more minutes, and we’ll really be in the country.”

As we turned onto our road, the full moon shone over the big field, and once again we were both floored by the almost immediate contrast between environments. Coming home is all the more precious on the heels of such chaos. Oh, and his take? Elihu made a cool $106. American Pharoah, the celebrity horse that everyone had staked their hopes on might not have made the big bucks as expected, but my little horse rode home a winner.

IMG_0068The county fair was also a highlight of the past couple weeks…. The Dekalb corn sign reminds me of my previous life in that small town of the same name (and yes, the variety of corn is also from that same Midwestern town).

IMG_0071Seriously? Sigh. And the next car sported a sticker that read “Drop Warheads of Foreheads”. Ich.

IMG_0072Kindred of that scary, ‘warheads on foreheads’ group, no doubt. How long will this close-minded, hateful thinking continue?

IMG_0075One kind of horse in action…

IMG_0078…and another.

Always a loud affair.

IMG_0111In this culture, folks know the cars and riders well. This guy’s a small celebrity…

IMG_0114…and he’s got the merch to prove it.

IMG_0148Elihu rushes past the cows…

IMG_0158…and into our friend Paul Van Arnum’s stand of planters and miscellaneous curios.

IMG_0175I’ve known Paul since I was four (his daughter Sherry and I are the same age and she was also matron of honor at my wedding). He and his wife Betsy are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. He runs a greenhouse and must keep the wood fires burning night and day all through the endless cold months. They have had their stand at the local farmer’s markets and fairs for decades; every last item must be unloaded, set up, and then packed away afterwards. Loads of physical work. He’s getting older now, and understandably he’s slowing down a bit. Not sure he’ll be at the fair next year, I hear they didn’t renew their contract for the booth space. Every era must end sometime, but I’m still a little sentimental. Glad we stopped by.

IMG_0189Paul’s thing is lava rock creations. None are to scale, all are absolutely charming; made with sincerity and love.

Watch as these little plants react to being touched.

IMG_0185Of course Elihu delights in the duck fountain. In the end, it’s always about the birds. (Btw – this year there were NO BIRDS of any kind at the fair due to a local bacterial infection in the area’s poultry. Huge bummer – and what’s more, we learned that the emu hen we’d been visiting and smooching for years had died in June. It took the wind out of our sails for sure, but on goes life. We’re thankful we had the opportunity to know a friendly emu.)

IMG_0129A beautiful sunset over the Washington County Fairgrounds.

IMG_0117A mysterious midway with the moon behind.

IMG_0144And a magical, serendipitous meeting with Phoenix and Jonah, two former Waldorf classmates whom Elihu has dearly missed. My son seldom smiles like this!

IMG_0198Phoenix is on the Scrambler too – he’s in the middle, waving.

IMG_0201The first ride of the year is a little scary as it starts…

IMG_0204But oh how we loved it. Went twice. Soothing and repetitious, it had a hypnotic effect.

IMG_0219This one is my all-time favorite. Being on a budget, I only went once, otherwise I would have gone on it again and again. There was some speculation as to the back story here: last year the ride was absent due to ‘technical difficulties’, and this year it returned as 1oo1 Nachts, rather than Nights. Technical or legal glitch – or perhaps both?

IMG_0196My legally blind son takes his chances on slim odds… He needs to get the ping pong ball into a narrow-mouthed glass jar in order to win a goldfish. I prepare him to be disappointed – even those with good vision don’t stand to win.

IMG_0234But wouldn’t ya know – for the second year in a row my kid actually won a fish! The man at the stand even remembered him, which made us both happy. (The fish now resides in our pond with six goldfish cousins.)

IMG_0334On to another kind of nightlife on the busy streets of Saratoga Springs, New York. Racing season is nearing its end, and the streets are jam-packed with revelers.

IMG_0331Elihu enjoyed sitting in with a group….

A little snapshot of Broadway buskers.

IMG_0315… and then he teamed up with Chris. We’ve seen Chris on Broadway over the years, but this is the first time they’ve played together. They were equally matched in skill and enjoyment. (He goes by ChrisUnited – no space – if you want to do a search for him.)

IMG_0317They made some money, but that wasn’t the reason these guys were playing.

Wish the audio were better – I promise you they sounded so much better in person.

IMG_0324They had an absolute blast.

IMG_0327Lots of personality here! This was a night we’ll always remember. Only a few more summer nights to go…


Post Script: The Studio’s open house and ‘friend-raiser’ will be on the last Sunday of September, from 1 – 5. There’s so much to do I almost think my head will explode. Elihu’s also going to be playing tuba in the orchestra this year, so we’re faced with a whole new adventure on that front. Because of all that’s been going on, I’ve found it challenging to create posts – and there will likely be far fewer in the coming months. Thanks as always for coming along on our adventures, and we’ll see you again as soon as possible…

 

Waking Time August 15, 2015

The sound was so shrill that it pierced the layers of fog surrounding me and reached deep into my subconscious, playing itself as a new feature of my dream. It sounded as it always did; like a warning or a cry for help. Was it a child’s cry? It didn’t quite sound like that, but it evoked a similar tightening of my gut. Was it a predator? Was it a happy sound or one of anguish? It was hard to tell, and as always, even after searching my surroundings as best I could, I wasn’t able to find the creature responsible for it. Gradually, as the cry continued, it pulled my waking self loose from the blissful abandon of my dreamscape, until I floated up and out and eons away from that place and instead came to the daily, and many times disappointing realization, that I was here. In my bed. And the goddam rooster was crowing.

Today’s re-entrance into waking reality was a little bit less of a blow than in mornings past. Elihu’s been gone for a couple of weeks and I’ve gotten a lot accomplished. Some mornings I wake with dread. Some with urgency; last night’s to-do list sits encouragingly on my bedside table and I’m ready to rock. Some days I awake in a pleasant neutrality, with caution and gratitude striking a momentary balance before the day begins to favor one over the other. Either way, it’s very seldom that I wake up entirely happy to be here. But this morning it definitely was different. Maybe not exactly a thrill, but at least waking up today didn’t pull my spirits down. That was progress.

A week before, each day had started differently; I’d had house guests stay here and so for that window in time things slowed down. So as not to lose forward momentum, immediately upon waking I turned my attentions to minor domestic repairs and garden chores to assure the mundane stuff got done, even when larger projects had to wait a bit. It all worked out very well, and in fact the visit was filled with serendipitous little meetings and outings – plus it gave me the opportunity to be with my friend’s daughter, a young girl who’m I’ve known for much of her life. We enjoyed some true girl time together (Elihu’s a great kid, but he could give a hoot whether I dress up or wear farm boots to town) and a chance to wear ‘super-sparkly’ stuff and mascara. (Just so ya know, Lilas and I also caught plenty of frogs.) Plus mom Mary left me with a pretty tasty recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip pancakes. It was a nice break in the routine, and after they left I could feel a refreshed surge of excitement for all that lay before me.

It’s beginning to look like the Studio might really blossom in the coming year – construction’s coming along, both indoors and out, and the place looks gorgeous. I’ve been trying to move about in the world in spite of ongoing panic issues, and have been making an effort to meet new people and see how other folks run their businesses. I’ve been practicing piano and have spent hours honing my book, moving songs into my preferred keys, merging lyrics and chords, making peace with formerly unknown bridges and verses. I’ve even gone out and met musicians. I’ve learned the contents of my wardrobe and cobbled together a few new outfits that will suit a new, public and active life. And more than all of this – I’ve finally gotten rid of the falling-apart and mismatched table and chairs that took up most of the precious screen porch. Since my food bill had been considerably less over much of the child-free summer, I was able to put that money towards an ensemble of low-end patio furniture I’d had my eye on since June. My patience paid off; the stuff had been marked down by almost half. I borrowed Zac and Stephanie’s vintage diesel truck and bounced down the road to pick em up. Planted the old wooden chairs at the top of the hill in the woods (what fun that always is to come upon some useful chairs when on a walk! And in the winter, it’s a great view) and last night, as the grass was still wet from a recent rain, I launched the old table to the heavens in an immense fire.

The first thing I did this morning was check the porch to see if it I hadn’t maybe dreamed it all… and to make sure the heavy table had indeed burned. No, that had not been a dream. It was now a pile of white ash. And yes, the porch looked lovely. It was whispering to me to come, sit, take my coffee there. Ok, maybe on paper it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but this has added a whole new room to the house, and plus it’s outside. Surrounded by flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies, its ceiling dancing with the reflected sunlight from my pond and my pool. My kiddie pool. But still.

I also got a lawnmower this past week. Got five open acres that the woods is quickly reclaiming and have felt a growing urgency that I equip myself to take some action. I have a friend who mows the place a couple times a year just to keep on top of it, but the place really needs a bit more maintenance than that. A rider is far beyond my budget, but I was able to find a self-propelled and fairly new Troy Bilt from a fellow down the road – and what’s more – I can actually pull start it myself without throwing my back out. Yes. Finally, I have the power to cut my own grass. Again, on paper, not much. But in reality, it truly makes me queen of my castle at last.

The kid’s having a great time with his father and their family. He’s on Washington Island in the far northern region of Wisconsin, kayaking and enjoying nature walks. He sounds rested and happy. Makes me happy too. Glad he’s able to share in all of that typically summer stuff. I don’t always have the resources to give him those experiences. So that’s good. We’ve both enjoyed our time away. I have two nights left, and in that time I hope to sit in at the local piano bar. All this practicing has my voice a little fuzzy and my knuckles are puffed and sore with arthritis, but hey, it all still works. Things could always be worse. !

Shortly after Bald Mountain called me back into this waking world, I checked my nightstand to see if there might be a note of encouragement left by my last night’s self to help propel me into a new day…. And indeed, there was. It read “August 15th, 2015. Been here seven years.” Earlier this week I’d passed my three year mark for having quit smoking (I was a part-time smoker then, but still, it counts). And wouldn’t ya know, here it was. Today was the day Elihu and I had arrived, seven years ago, at this great unknown new life. A sketchy ranch house with green shag carpeting and what I like to call “high Angie Dickinson” decor – wrought iron pulls on the mahogany-toned cabinets, red velvet-covered doorbell speaker… I had looked about me from a place of deepest desolation. My head was spinning, my heart broken, my future absolutely unknown. The faint smell of wet dog didn’t help, and to be honest, neither did the fine view from my living room window. I was petrified of the situation, and my ex was so full of rage at me for having left. It was an absolutely horrible place to be. But see, now – it’s not. Things aren’t exactly what I’d thought they’d be when I set out to create a family and build a new life, but still. This place is my home, and this is my life. Not so bad. Really.

If you’d have told me seven years ago today that down the line I’d be raising chickens, shooting at foxes and stuffing a string bass into the back of my CRV, I’d have thought you were dreaming. But look how it’s all turned out. Wow. Me, a single mom in the country raising chickens and a polka-loving, tuba-playing boy? Yup. It’s all true. And I’m pretty sure I’m wide awake.

 IMG_0237Super sparkly and ready to rock.

 

Stone Cold Busy March 1, 2015

From what I understand, the frost now reaches five feet down into the ground here in the Northeast. And as if things weren’t already taxing enough what with foot upon foot of snow covering every last rooftop and sub-zero temps occurring daily, now water mains are freezing, adding inconvenience to insult and injury. Thank goodness we ourselves haven’t experienced a loss of power or water on top of it all. I suppose we should count ourselves as lucky. And even though I might be the busiest poor person I know, once again, I suppose I should count myself a lucky gal to have a life filled with unending industry. After all, we still have food and heat and more than a few instruments around to play. So things aren’t truly dire. But some days, I swear it just feels like too fucking much. Some days all I want to do is to succumb, to whine, to moan and pound my fists on the responsible person’s chest, to get some answers, to get an apology for all this unending winter, my relentless to-do list and the continued lack of income… Just when I’m at my wit’s end, it does help to know I’m not the only one about to lose it…

Last night Elihu and I snuggled onto the couch, my legs on the table, his on mine, as we settled in for our weekly dose of Prairie Home Companion. The sound effects always make him giggle, and the anecdotes remind us of our life back in the midwest. Stories of fishing shacks on the ice, wide expanses of fields stretching out to the horizon, and people who speak using pinched, nasal-y vowel sounds (interestingly, the local rural accent is similar in many ways to the rural folks ‘out there’.) This week the program was centered around the host’s very same lament: an unrelenting season of cold that had gone on long enough. It made us laugh to hear his take on the ceaseless winter, and in some small way helped to make our own burdens a little easier to bear.

Earlier in the day we’d tried our hand (or feet, as it were) at snow shoeing. I’d only just tried it for the first time a couple of weeks back, and had enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it with the kid. He was excited – which is very rare for Elihu because he really does NOT like winter (Think bright, bright, bright. Headachey, hospital white all around. Exhausting for an achromat) – and so I jumped at the chance to get out in the woods with him. Out the trail we trekked, til we found a spot to don our shoes so we could go off trail. But that, dear readers, became a good twenty-minute process fraught with bindings that broke and straps that would not loosen, nor when finally loosened would tighten up satisfactorily. The whole thing was a comedy of errors, and I felt the clock ticking on Elihu’s patience. In the end, we bagged on the shoes and walked the trail to its end. Elihu asked where the wetlands were, and I told him they were at the end of a different trail. He was very disappointed. His expectation was that we had been headed there all along, and I apologized if I’d lead him to believe that. We took from this a lesson learned: identify your expectations up front. Not a total wash though, the woods were beautiful. The forest does look pretty in snow, I gotta say.

We’d had another miscommunication the day prior too. A friend had needed help driving to some errands, as he was without a car. He kindly offered lunch in return, but since my jam-packed day couldn’t allow for that, I suggested we do errands after school, and he made lunch into dinner. So when Elihu and I arrived at his place to find no one home, I panicked. Our friend’s not in great health, so I began to freak out. I imagined him on the floor, unable to respond. I began to wonder – just how do I dial 911 on my phone? It’s in a different area code – so what exactly do I dial? I made a mental note to figure this out just as soon as I got home. Without a smart phone sometimes things become tricky; over the next hour we made a couple of trips to the local library to use the computer so I could check Facebook. Again, nothing. Cold adrenaline followed us back to his house again. Poor kid was tired, and hungry too. He lamented not being able to go out for dinner. I knew it wasn’t a prudent move, but did it anyway. I took us out. Used the lesson money I’d just made – earmarked for the gas tank – and splurged. We had a good time, but the consensus was we didn’t need to go there again. Another lesson learned I suppose. When I got home I found out that my friend was fine, and he was upset with me for not getting his call. Double checked the log, no call was received. I was upset that he’d invited me, that I’d fit him into my schedule, I’d worried about him for hours, ended up spending money I didn’t have to spend, and then got scolded after the whole fiasco. My call log still shows no missed calls, and I don’t know who’s right, or what happened. Just another frustration on the list. I pray that soon clarity and peace come to my life. Because I am exhausted. (And broke, too.)

The things I’m doing these past few weeks – and the weeks coming up – are all important, necessary things. Costume and prop help for my son’s play (Six foot potted palm, check. Burlap sacks from the coffee store, check. Eleven tunics and sashes, check. Headscarves, check. Oversized gold coin for comic moment, check.). Mammograms and colonoscopies and appointments with arthritis docs, dentists too, for both me and the kid. Piano students to teach, rehearsals to attend. Trips to the feed store, the grocery store, the music store, the hardware store. Check-ins with the loggers, with the carpenters at the Studio, with the lawyer, the town clerk, the accountant, the county department of public works. I bought a computer in December which has yet to recognize the printer, let alone the piano keyboard. So it’s trip number three to the computer repair guy, this time with tower, printer, piano and cords all in tow (Windows 8.1 seems to be rife with problems). And then there’s this tuba in my living room which needs a case and a teacher to go along with it.

I’ve begun to fantasize about taking a vacation. I’m fifty-one and I have never once in my life had a real, stay-at-a-hotel-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing vacation. I begin to wonder if I am even able to sit on a beach for a week with nothing to do. Could I? I’m beginning to think I could. It’s not close to being an option, but I can’t shake the idea. I’ll bet it would feel great to step off a plane somewhere warm… My son sticks his face in the humidifier’s cool output, telling me that it feels like the air in Florida, only better, and says it almost makes him want to cry. I so get it.

This week is our hump. He’s got a lead part in his play, and I’m playing piano for the Missoula Children’s Theatre production at the local elementary school. Both of these things don’t usually happen at the same time, so it will be a tricky week for us. Lots of logistics. Me, I don’t like lots of stuff to do. I don’t like stress, I don’t like fast-paced schedules. Just gotta get through this week.

Yesterday Elihu asked the logger how much longer they’d be there, in his answer lay a great gem of hope for all of us in snow territory: Not much longer. “Why?” Elihu had asked. The logger explained that soon the ground wouldn’t be cold enough to support all that heavy machinery. In a few week’s time they’d be sinking into the mud. My kid looked at me. I couldn’t see past his big, dark glasses, but I kinda knew what was registering in his eyes. The fishing shacks on Lake Desolation will get pulled in sometime soon too. Here was evidence that things were not going to remain like this forever. And hard as it might be to envision now, all of our planning and building and fixing will one day come to an end too. We’re all just waiting it out, preparing for the big changes that are headed our way. Like the tiny seeds that sleep all around us in a bed of frost, we too contain the promise of a changing future.

It’s cold for now, but we all know that ‘now’ never lasts… And in this case, knowing that makes me stone cold relieved.

IMG_2997Elihu, tooting his own horn. Sounds pretty good for just a couple weeks.

He was kinda fatiguing here, but you get the general gist. Oom pah.

IMG_2757Off to see the cutting job in the woods. This is the main (and widest) of all five trails.

IMG_2769We run into John on the skidder, who offers Elihu a ride into the woods. Cool!

IMG_2772It’s a long way up!

IMG_2782There they go…

IMG_2785…pulling entire trees behind em.

IMG_2791Most of the remaining woods looks like this. Not bad for post-harvest. Also, they’ve cut in such a way that it will encourage new growth. Elihu or I may do this process again in another twenty years.

IMG_2794Some parts have remained more densely wooded.

IMG_2802But the main ‘road’ out looks a little open. The forester assures me it’ll ‘green back in nicely’.

IMG_2809Show shoes under his arm, Elihu makes his way over the waiting tree tops to the landing.

IMG_2848It’s impossible to fully comprehend how much power this takes. I mean, those are entire trees. !!

I get a little nervous seeing how banged up my ‘keeper’ tree has become through this huge loading process.

IMG_2874Onto the truck they go. This is all hard wood, and it’s going to Finch Prime, a paper mill in nearby Glens Falls. Folks, use your paper with respect and gratitude. I wish my trees to have been cut for good use. Sigh.

IMG_2899Small heart = Good wood.

IMG_2898Big heart = Not so much.

IMG_2916I like this pattern – I see two birds flying away at right…. However because of the heart it’s probably not worth as much.

IMG_2901This is what thirty-six tons of hard wood looks like. Hard wood is heavier, resulting in a smaller-looking load. Pine would have been stacked to the very top. (Either way, it’s safe to say it’s a lot of elephants.) Not a penny’s come in yet from the harvest due to the many tiers it must go through, and even when it does get here – it goes to mom first (it’s her property after all). She’ll be financing the rehabbing of the Studio from the lumber sales, and in turn the Studio (as a 501(c) 3 in the state of New York) can give her the tax deduction for her gift. I’m hoping a slight trickle down might aid us a little, but the Studio may turn out to be a bigger money sponge than I think, so if any cash makes it to us it’ll be a nice surprise.

Here’s the driver telling us this is a lot of paper here…

IMG_2942Checking in at the Studio. Took a previous day’s digging (not by me!) to access it.

IMG_2924Doesn’t look like much, but insulation’s in and drywall’s going in now.

IMG_2927There’s been some major settling – the carpenter thinks a heavy roof load of snow might be making things worse…

IMG_2928Yikes. Will have roof shoveled this week.

IMG_2922Storage will be a challenge. Live music and visual arts both require stuff. Not sure what we’ll do.

IMG_2951 A quick visit with grandma (and cat Annie).

IMG_2976Mom goes through a photo album from the ’30s. Amazing the number of anecdotes I’m hearing for the first time.

IMG_2953Mom and dad found Annie on their anniversary, hence her name. Annie is the most kitten-like cat you’ll ever meet. It is, however, beginning to creep into all of our minds that she is now very old, in spite of her kittenish demeanor. She’s got some health problems, and is as light as a feather. I can see concern in my mother’s face when the subject comes up. It will be an enormous loss when Annie leaves us. (Her toungue is almost always sticking out. So cute, and so Annie. !)

IMG_2993At the end of a long, cold week, Elihu gives up just a few feet short of the back door and falls on his back into the snow. Hard to believe by the time he turns twelve it’ll all be gone. At least one hopes. !

 

Summer Flies August 31, 2014

If a picture says a thousand words, then this might just be my longest post ever. So much has happened in the past few weeks, I can hardly recount it all but to look back over my photos. These are our final days of summer, and we’re savoring them to be sure. This photo barrage may try the patience of some, and if that happens to be you, please skip on ahead and we’ll see you next time…

IMG_2394We’ve reached a first here at the Hillhouse… Not enough eggs for breakfast (all but three of our older gals have all died, and the new pullets aren’t laying yet). This is our first store-bought egg in a long, long time. Confirms for me the benefits of happy, free-range hens. Our gal’s egg is on the right. Could ya tell?

IMG_2128That crazy guinea fowl of ours, Austin, has just learned a new trick. I know it’s ‘bird’ seed, but we meant it for another kind of bird here…

IMG_2153Thumbs Up and me.

IMG_2175The ALS bucket challenge comes to Greenfield… Ken, right, videos his old pal Walter. Now retired, as state troopers they were once partners and shared some amazing stories together on the job.

IMG_2178Mid-ice bucket dump. The Greenfield Mamas are next, whenever our schedules will finally permit (my donation’s been made, so the challenge is additional, I realize, but still important.) We’re having a backhoe dump its massive bucket of ice water on us. No doubt we’ll need to plan it carefully for safety’s sake. The goal is to amplify our challenge by reaching a broader audience. Stay tuned.

IMG_2195Elihu enjoys a little RC heli time. What’s significant here is that it is the last photo ever to mark the driveway sans house at the end. Sigh.

IMG_2204Friend Ken’s also a pilot, and here he’s showing Elihu what the controls look like on a plane preparing to land.

IMG_1137 Hopefully, after we log the property this winter, we’ll restore a panoramic view closer to this than the one we currently enjoy (this spot is another hilltop property in Greenfield). When our house was built in 1970 it looked like this, now we see the horizon mostly in between the trees.)

IMG_1082This is our old family friend Ruth Lakeway’s house. She was a soprano who sang regularly in dad’s Baroque music festival, and she died some seven years ago now, but no one’s lived in the place since. As a child, I had many happy memories in that home. (I even had visions of living here when or if I returned to Greenfield one day.) As of this writing, only the barn and garage remain. We Conants speculate that the house may have been built atop a spring; it suffered from constant water in the cellar, a problem no professional could rectify. This spot will always be special to us, house or no house.

IMG_1984On to happier things…  Ah, the county fair. Pure America.

IMG_2081Ready, aim…

IMG_2085…and for the second year in a row, Elihu wins a goldfish!

IMG_1991Elihu and friend Roger have the swings all to themselves.

IMG_2078A word of caution…

IMG_2076…which neither one of us heeded. !

IMG_2074We know this Emu hen – she is twelve years old and in the pen with her mate of many years. See that white membrane over her eye? It’s her nictitating eyelid, and her closing it like that is an expression of trust and pure enjoyment. I’m smooching her neck and she’s actually leaning in to me. We love her so. For me, this is one of the highlights of my entire summer. Elihu’s too.

IMG_20140823_172017 Okay. It’s official. I am the crazy bird lady.

IMG_2019Elihu gets to hold a blue ribbon-winning hen. He’s kinda crazy for birds, too.

IMG_2064Talk about a sub-culture. So much to know. A bird can easily be disqualified for a poor comb. !

IMG_2007This guy looks well-qualified to me. IMHO.

IMG_2026I miss having homing pigeons. It’s on my list for future adventures.

IMG_1968Yes, Ken’s an equine artist, but ironically he’s very allergic to horses. This brief up-close visit resulted in tearing eyes all afternoon.

horsesHere’s a sample of Ken’s work. And yes, his art is for sale – plus he does commissions. If you want to immortalize your pet, Ken’s your man!

IMG_1136Here we’re passing the farm on which our old goose, Maximus lives. He’s one of the white dots just to the right of the two yaks and horse. Really. See for yourself.

IMG_1891We received a little emergency septic attention. When you live on your own – with no city sewer system – it’s your job to get rid of your waste. As the old saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’… It’s easy to forget to keep on top of such mundane business. (The guy who pumped the tank was thrilled to have me as an audience as 7:30 am and he gave me all his best material. He assured me that when it came to his job, he knew “his shit”.)

IMG_1959Look – that’s my foot! I’m actually making this thing move!

IMG_1962Al, our friendly local excavator (pilot, nature-lover and bicyclist), gave me a little lesson at the controls.

IMG_1912The Studio’s last summer program. (Mom’s house is on the right – she’s just up the driveway.)

IMG_1919They’re wrapping things up…

IMG_1936…and taking home their work.

IMG_1927So beautiful.

IMG_1926This one too.

IMG_2242After Al did some work on our septic system (I accidentally deleted the cute shot of Al and Elihu standing over the open septic tank and holding their noses – but I think you get the picture without, well, getting the actual picture) he let Elihu ride on the tractor down the long driveway and back to the road.

IMG_2276Look what awaits us at the driveway’s end. Ich.

IMG_2230The guy building the spec house has kindly agreed to give us some leftover cement for our front step. Getting the huge cement truck back here without hurting our great maple tree was a feat. The driver was good about taking care not to break any tree limbs.

IMG_2231Nick helps skooch the cement into the frame. Afterwards, we two screed it (yes, ‘scree’ is a verb; a ‘scree’ is a tool one uses to settle the cement into place), and then I put a broom’s brush finish on it. Always more stuff to learn how to do. Nothing is as simple as it seems. !

IMG_2287Now we visit the sight and take a look at the plans. I’m relieved to know the house will be finished in dark, natural tones.

IMG_2289A view down the old farmer’s road on our property…

IMG_2295..and a gorgeous study in light and dark. So much beauty in our little corner.

IMG_2357We visited grandma’s house (the Studio’s on the same property), just a driveway down the road to the west. See the house taking shape down the road? My heart positively sinks.

IMG_2387Ich. It’s getting taller.

IMG_2334But at least we have a nice new front step.

IMG_2417Elihu has a friend over. They’re happy to sit, side-by-side in a virtual culture. (Don’t worry, I got em outside too.)

IMG_2306We’ve brought out the country in our city friend!

IMG_0852Elihu loves those amphibians. This is a particularly robust specimen. Cute, too.

IMG_1000Neighbor Chad gives Elihu a spin on the zero turn. All that RC piloting has given him a usable skill!

IMG_0515We brought mom to the animal auction. This is where our avian adventures all start.

IMG_0547 A donkey was up for bidding when we arrived. Sold for $25. No kidding.

IMG_0521Next up, a Llama.

IMG_0538One of the regulars.

IMG_0582“Backstage”, mom talks with another regular at the auction house. He’s a nice guy, always helpful, and very knowledgeable about the animals.

IMG_0585At these bargain-basement prices, it’s easy to talk yourself into taking home a new friend. It’s the morning after when the real adventure ensues.

IMG_1068A little inside fun…

IMG_2438…a little American Gothic humor…

IMG_0813…and finally, a new view on things. This is the first photo ever of Elihu outside with his eyes wide open, no sunglasses. He’s wearing his new, tinted contacts here. But the story’s not over… He got home, put them in for the first time, and they RIPPED! He was so good about it, and even though I wanted to cry, I didn’t. If he can be strong, then so can I. The new contacts will be in soon…

To finish, here’s a little video of Elihu’s first moments in our home with his new contacts…

There will be more to come, no doubt, on Elihu’s new life with contacts as our adventures continue…


 

Returned Home August 7, 2014

To begin with, the train was four hours late. It wasn’t too terribly bad for me; I enjoyed a relaxed walk around downtown Schenectady, stopped by a local shop and had a nice long visit with the owners (whom I knew from years of such train travel), I explored a more hardcore city neighborhood and dropped in on a West Indies grocery (in search of some mango pickle) where I passed almost another hour chatting with new friends and learning the similarities and differences between Indian and West Indies cuisine, among other things. I watched the C130s flying in and out of the nearby airfield, their immense bodies and thundering engines shocking me at each pass…  All in all I took it well in stride, but admittedly as I waited on the platform in those final minutes, the wait was becoming too much. It must have been much worse to have suffered it on the train, so I waited in sympathy for my weary traveler.

They were the very last two passengers to disembark, and as they approached I hardly recognized the pair; Fareed at this point has a head of nearly all-white hair, and our son hardly looks a tiny boy anymore. Of course I knew this intellectually, but somehow his height shocked me – in fact his whole appearance shocked me. Handsome with a fresh haircut and oxford shirt, he seemed so much older. We didn’t kiss, we didn’t even fully hug (I’d harbored a tiny fear he might be newly reserved in our reunion and so had also readied myself for this too), but nonetheless he laughed at my mouth, agape, my speechless reception. And there we were. The three of us, together, again. I reminded myself to keep the recent unpleasant exchanges with my ex altogether apart from this experience. I’d done this many times before – but this time, on the heels of an emotionally charged round of FB messages, it felt different to me. Several recent ‘pep’ talks from friends cautioning me to keep my ex at an emotional distance helped me to stay aware. I’d been such a sucker for so many years, this time might I keep my dignity and not allow him to hurt me or push my buttons? I would give it my very best. Having the distraction of my beloved son helped, and as we got into the car and drove home in the dark, there was no lack of things to catch up on, and conversation was easy and stress-free.

I made us the nicest dinner I could in as little time as possible, and before too long we had dug into some fresh sweet corn and home-made tandoori chicken, plus a little wine, thanks to my recent houseguest Ken (whom I’d dropped off on my way to pick up the guys). After supper Fareed put a string on my garage-sale-find-of-a-guitar, and then the three of us settled on the couch to watch a little something together. Things felt easy and good, and our son was truly happy, happy, happy to be seated in between his mother and father, no matter what it was we happened to be doing. Fareed explained that he’d recently been on a Bill Hicks kick, and that he really wanted to share the comedian’s stuff with me. He explained it was a bit racy, but that the cat was deep, that he had a message. Our child is no stranger to profanity, and he himself knows full well it’s not appropriate for him to use in everyday life, so it’s not a huge deal. Good thing too; this bit was loaded. In many ways. We all enjoyed it, but before the video was done Elihu told us he’d had enough and was very tired. So we went off to get ready for bed.

Again, all was well, all was peaceful and relaxed. I hadn’t realized it, but Fareed was planning on reading a bit to Elihu, and so he joined us on the big bed to read a short story. I don’t even remember what it was I’d said – granted, in the wake of the vulgarity and off-color routine we’d spent the last half hour watching, my mind may have been off in the wrong direction – but I made some passing attempt at a joke; I’m sure it was stupid (I don’t remember what it was that I said) and suddenly Elihu started to cry. Fareed got angry at me – very angry.  His tone shifted in an instant, and he virtually spat at me, telling me that I’d been inappropriate and to shut up. I was floored. Now imagine, I think we’re all kinda still horsing around, that stuff is light and going nicely – so both the eruption of tears and my ex’s venom were a complete surprise. Boom! And there it was. All of a sudden I was the bad guy – the one who’d gone too far. ?? I tried to stay myself, and I did. If it were anyone else they probably would have told Fareed to go and get the fuck out of the room – that that sort of reaction was far beyond what the situation required, it being in of itself  inappropriate and inflammatory. But then there was lil man, between us, crying. I had to suck it up. “I think I’m just really tired”, my self-aware boy offered. Fareed shot me a look of such hate and rage that I knew Elihu’s comment meant nothing. Christ, this surely sucked. I rolled over and took half an Ambien as Elihu’s father continued reading. I needed to get the hell out of this situation, and my adrenaline was pumping. I prayed the drug would do its thing quickly. I believe it did, because I don’t remember the end of the story, but I remember seeing Fareed get up and leave. I asked him to turn out the light, which he did before closing the door.

Elihu roused when his father left and began talking. By this time I was very drowsy, so it took some effort to stay with him, but clearly, he needed to talk. When I’d thought our conversation over, he’d pick it up again. On it went like this for another fifteen minutes or so as my son emptied his heart to me as he hadn’t in a long time. “Mommy, it wasn’t what you said. I was just really tired. That’s all.” “Okay, sweetie. You don’t have to say that, but thanks.” We lay there for a minute in the dark. I knew there was more coming, so I said nothing and waited.

“I think I’m beginning to get it” he said. “I think it’s because I’m older. Because I understand it in a different way now.” I didn’t have to ask him what he meant. I just let him talk. “Do you know how many times I cried in the back of the Sprinter?” he asked. He tried to explain that even though he was part of that other family, he couldn’t shake the knowledge that he really wasn’t – and that it wasn’t his own mother sitting there with his father. “I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if that was my real family in that car” he added. “Oh but sweetie, they are your real family too.” He paused. I knew what he had meant. “You mean if it had been me and daddy, and maybe another child of ours?” I asked. “Yeah.” He paused again, then asked me “How come you and daddy don’t get along like other divorced parents? Like other people who aren’t married anymore?” He’s asked me this before, and I always point out that we do get along – I cite our enjoyable dinners, our light conversation. “But you’re not together in your heart” he answered. I knew what he meant, and I could be polite and agreeable all day long but this would never change. Again, I apologized, told him how badly I felt about all of this – how I’d have chosen otherwise if I could have. Maybe this wasn’t the time, but again I reminded him that we would never have known about chickens, about birds, about life in the country had none of this happened. Yeah, this time that argument didn’t matter much to him. Eilhu was stuck in a great meditation on the ‘what might have beens’, and I could do nothing to prevent it. I explained that the reason his mother and father weren’t perhaps as comfortable together as other ‘ex couples’ might be related to the order in which things happened. I said that most people conclude a relationship, take some time to heal and regroup, and then start a new one. And then they start their new family. Not always, but mostly. “I think I just got that this summer” he said quietly. “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. But I just got that in a way I hadn’t gotten it before.” Man. I’d always had a hunch – doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion either – that one day, perhaps in his mid teens maybe, he’d look back on things with a fresh perspective. One day he would get it. I had no idea that day would come so soon.

My ex had recently accused me of bad parenting, and his eruption at me seemed his way of confirming this idea for himself. As if he needed to stay his ground. See here? You’re doing it right now! appeared to be the subtext. (A larger population might find both of us guilty of bad parenting for the Bill Hicks thing alone!) Earlier, I’d heard him scold Elihu for biting his spoon when he ate. I had hated the intensity with which he’d done so, but again, he’s Elihu’s father, he has a right to express things he feels are important. “So what’s going on with the spoon?” I asked as we backed off the heavy stuff. “I kind of have a tick” he began. I’d suspected something like this (he and I both have anxiety issues – he mitigates anxiety by releasing it in some repetitive sort of behavior, something which migrates as it’s identified). “I kinda want to bite the spoon to get rid of the feeling.” Yeah. I got it. “Ok, so you’re aware. That’s good.” We were quiet again. In my head I replayed the scolding his dad had given him. Me, I didn’t dig that moment of parenting. I shook it off and reminded myself that at least my son was finally home. “But you did have a really good summer, right?” I asked him, wanting to end on something of a positive note. I knew he had – in fact it was one of his best summers ever, but I could hear he was getting tired. He didn’t have much left. “Yeah, I did.” As I turned on my side to get ready to sleep, Elihu put his arm around me. I’d thought he might have wanted some space, so I had left him alone. I smoothed my hand over his head and told him I loved him. “You wanna go sleep with daddy tonight?” I offered, trying to make a demonstration of fairness. “No, I want to stay here with you.” My heart melted, and I was washed over with relief.

Things were changing all around me in my life and nothing seemed predictable anymore, but none of that mattered because my son was back. The epicenter of my life, my heart – my entire world – was right there in my arms. Finally, after one very long summer, my son had returned home.

IMG_0070The evening before, Zac, Stephanie and their three girls came by for an impromptu visit just as Ken and I were finishing up with supper.

IMG_0075Middle girl Bailey piles Elihu’s stuffed birds on her daddy’s lap.

IMG_0106Stanley the frog is always good entertainment.

IMG_0085So is the trampoline.

IMG_0115Zac, always himself building, repairing or figuring something out, looks over Ace’s bird sculpture. (He once identified an old model T wheel on the other sculpture that sits a few feet away and outside of this shot.)

IMG_0118Kind of a crappy picture  – but I had to share… Check out the way the whole family piles in the truck’s front seat. So redneck (in the awesome sense of the word!). Love it.

IMG_0148A quick goodbye selfie of me and my new ‘old’ friend, Ken, just as I dropped him off to go and pick up dad and son.

IMG_0165In Schenectady I found my new Indian food mecca… Closest thing to Devon Street I’ve seen outside of Chicago. Love the crazy assortment of goods, from pots and pans to produce and plenty of Bollywood* videos and CDs.

IMG_0156Saw a few vegetables that were new to me.

IMG_0153My new friend and store owner Ramesh shows me a kind of string bean I’d never seen before.

IMG_0155Now this is what I’m talkin about…

IMG_0158Spent a good half hour chatting with Mattie, the gal in the middle. Her sister in law, on the left, gave me some good pointers on making my own garam masala. It’s a spice mixture that’s a lot like American barbecue in that it involves different spices depending on the region the recipe comes from.

IMG_0152Yeah, we had a good time!

IMG_0167Look at lil man… how short his jeans have become in seven weeks!

IMG_0183Closest thing to a family photo we’re gonna get.

IMG_0190Another bad pic – but the vibe is there. Elihu was laughing and laughing.

IMG_0197The kid mighta slept all day if I hadn’t woken him up. Still on a summer schedule, but we’ll get that turned around in a week or so. For now it’s all about making that emotional shift that always takes a few days after daddy time is done.

Post Script: Much as I try to edit my posts, errors always slip past – usually little nothings, but in this case I’d substituted the phonetic match for “Bollywood” with “Baliwood”… I can just see it; grand song and dance numbers with shadow puppets… or epic scenes with hundreds of beautiful Balinese women from Indonesia adorned with those huge gold headpieces, making eerie side-to-side eye movements and waving their surreal finger extensions in the air… Hmm, maybe I’m onto something here….

A rare second Post Script (the very first, I believe!). I won’t of course publish the initial email I received from my ex in response to this post, but I will post my reply:

————————————————–

I understand your perspective, but can’t agree on much of it. I do take jokes too far, but I truly missed the experience you described. You may well have said it, but know that I did not hear you say anything about a ‘magic moment’, and I merely made a stupid attempt a joke, likely at about the same time I guess… then it went south. I swear it was all a freaking surprise in my face…
What ‘peace and humor’?? (He cited his response to my joke.) Your hate was immediate and off the chain and out of proportion to any event that might have transpired, period. Truly, I was being silly, and meant no harm. Elihu was exhausted, and my timing wasn’t great, but that didn’t warrant such rage from you. 
You say ‘I haven’t learned’ – oh I have learned… I’ve learned that you’re a self-righteous, mean person when someone no longer serves a purpose in your life. You’re as cold as your parents. You can turn it on and off like a switch. Elihu can’t understand why you’re so ‘different’ when you’re here – he promises me that you’re fun, happy, that you smile. I don’t doubt that you’re a happy guy when folks are playing by your rules.
As for my cleaning up his room – he gets it. We’ve talked, and he understands as you don’t seem able. I need to get shit done when he’s gone – cuz when he gets back life starts to roll faster and faster… and whether you see the need or not, his room was a fucking mess and it needed help. I don’t have a partner to share the load, so I gotta get it done when I’m able. Sorry. Think what you please.
And regarding the ‘at least three’ lost friendships ‘because of my blogging’ – hey, if my truthful and heartfelt expression of my experience has turned someone away, then they probably shouldn’t be in my life.
You and I both want the very best for Elihu, and I believe the opposite about the blog; it will serve as a lovely record of his growing up, something he’ll be grateful for one day. I say nothing mean about you – certainly I’ve touted your value in his life many times. I do, however, express my personal feelings on matters that involve you – as you are the father of my child, and we shared nearly half of our lives together. I’m bound to have some residual feelings about the whole thing! That Elihu and I are living in poverty and you might be somehow implicit in that result – I understand that it might stand to embarrass you (I should hope it would!), but it’s our truth, so on the record it goes, just as we experience it. The blog’s content explores our life here and has virtually nothing to do with you; I don’t get why you think it’s so bad for our son.
Thanks for his great summer – and glad you were able to stay, it made all the difference in a good transition for Elihu.
 

Tiny Trip June 22, 2014

I don’t get out much these days, but I did get out yesterday for what I’d thought would be a fairly straightforward overnight visit with an old friend from my elementary school days in Chicago, and who now lives in mid-state Vermont. It was a short trip, but densely packed with new and memorable experiences.

My childhood pal is moving across the country to the Seattle metro area. She’s lived here in the Northeast for three years and I haven’t yet been to see her (she and her family have, however, been to visit me). It’s hard to believe that it was only yesterday morning that I was throwing a toothbrush and a favorite pillow into a bag and hitting the road. It feels like I’ve been gone a week. My head is full of images, my heart is heavy with a final, impromtu stop I made on the way back, and I’m saddened to learn that shortly before I returned home this evening we lost Amity, our last pure white hen from the old flock. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, siting here in my cozy chair in something of a daze; post gin and tonic, post review of new photos, post whirlwind tour of historic Vermont, post the loss of one more hen. And although I may feel uncertain about many things in life, there is one thing I do know for certain: I love being home. And after having just seen a thousand different ways to live, having a head swirling with images, places and possibilities – and even loss – I know one thing for certain, that I need none of it right now, thank you. I’m relieved at the peace of being still and doing nothing at all. I’m more than happy to be back.

Once again, some time away has given me the experience of seeing my own corner of the world through brand new eyes. And I remember again how much this place means to me. I’d rather look out at the distant mountains of Vermont than live in between them. I like to assess it all from afar, nestled as I am here in my small, hillside niche in the woods. I have just the right amount of sky and trees, and just the right amount of house, both which give me more joy than they had just the day before yesterday. A day trip is a lovely experience in of itself, and it’s also a healthy way to help remind one just how blessed a thing is home.

IMG_6785The road as I start out… Vermont has always seemed idyllic and just out of reach; now I mean to examine these once-distant hills more closely.

IMG_6835This shot is uncharacteristically ‘un-claustraphobic’ of the Vermont byways; the roads almost all run parallel to the many rivers that run in the valleys between impassable mountain ranges. Usually one is in the woods, under cover of endless pines, a stony river bed close to one side. This is what makes travel through the state either extremely tedious or a journey of great beauty and mystery, depending on how urgently you may want to get somewhere. I always start out intrigued, but after a couple of hours of meandering alongside a shallow river in the deep woods I can get a little short of patience.

IMG_6829There’s precious little flat land in between the hills, but farmers find and use what they can.

IMG_6853After driving two and a half hours on two lane roads, at last I’ve arrived at Dina’s house. The small town of Randolph is a mere stone’s throw down the road.

IMG_6892First things first; lunch at ‘Wright at Home’, an even closer stone’s throw from the center of town.

IMG_6891Chatting with the locals…

IMG_6890The kitchen is in full view of the dining room. Cute, sarcastic and vintage signage decorates the place.

IMG_6885Dina’s son Sam figures out how to use my fan (given to me by another classmate from our elementary school who spent the past year in Spain).

IMG_6873This cutie is Thomas, the younger of Dina’s two sons.

IMG_6869Small town action! The local hippie artist has a mild run-in with the town cops.

IMG_6894We walk back up the hill after lunch. Nice place, huh?

IMG_6851Sam stands in the doorway of the carriage house-turned apartment unit.

IMG_6854Earnest, the boy’s dad, made a catapult for them. When I left it was still on the front lawn for anyone to take. It could be yours…

IMG_6917Dina and her friends enjoy one last soccer game before she moves…

IMG_6906While the women play a game I go investigate a nearby river behind the athletic field. Spied several species of birds and enjoyed some time also doing nothing at all but enjoying the perfect breeze and the gentle sound of moving water.

IMG_6926I took a walk around the field and learned the name of the high school mascots.

IMG_6937The gals at game’s end.

IMG_6941The town’s high school class is graduating tonight under this tent in the same field, so we go to pay a visit. Dina and a friend wave to each other under a gloriously-clouded sky.

IMG_6947Ah, the good old U S of A.

IMG_6974The band gets ready. Love that sousaphone.

IMG_6980Dina knows a lot of people here in this small town. Turns out our visit is a perfect opportunity for her to say goodbye to many friends.

IMG_6994The graduating class and their teachers line up for the processional.

IMG_6997Families await the graduates.

IMG_7018Elihu will get a kick out of this kid’s cap.

A little window into the moment.

IMG_7039Dina says good-bye to Tom, a local cop.

IMG_7043Main Street, early evening.

IMG_7055Looking North, towards the ice cream shop, a favorite of locals. I myself don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but highly recommend both the ‘maple creamee’ soft serve and ‘coconut crunch’ hard ice cream.

IMG_7064A taxidermied white panther in the window of the local barber shop. When I was small, I’d heard stories about black panthers still living in areas not far from my current home, but never of white ones. Today, panthers are extremely rare, but thankfully their smaller cousins the bobcats can still be found in the woods around the Northeastern US.

IMG_7062A wonderful and successful addition to Randolph’s downtown, restaurant One Main offers an enticing menu and a casual yet upscale vibe for locals to enjoy. Send an energetic gift of good thoughts to owner Shane, as he faces some health challenges at the moment. Seldom met anyone so radiant and positive, I’m sure he has a successful future ahead of him.

IMG_7063But like in so many small towns, keeping it alive and vital is an ongoing challenge.

IMG_7059Every building in this town is picture-perfect, like something from a set. This is the train depot. You can catch a train here and be in New York City in five hours.

IMG_7067Plus there’s a movie theater – with first run films. Love that awning!

IMG_7070We visit a neighbor’s house for dinner – Earnest, Dina and hostess Phyllis seen here in what I think is probably the most inviting, homey kitchen I’ve ever been in.

IMG_7074At the dinner table in this landmark Victorian house. Hosts Phyllis and Richard are on either end, and we’re joined by Earnest and Dina’s two sons, two neighbor kids and one of the hosts’ twin daughters. I have not sat at a table with so many people in probably twenty years. One of the most enjoyable dinners in just as long, too.

IMG_7100Captain lives in this beautiful house too; she may be the world’s only one-eyed Bernese Mountain dog.

IMG_7083This house is known as “Mari Castle”, and it was built by a speech writer for Abraham Lincoln and named for his wife. And if you might be interested in living in this gorgeous gem of a house, it’s for sale! A beautiful coach house and small chapel-made-office building are also on the property.

IMG_7125Here’s a photo postcard of the place from years ago…

IMG_7128…and here’s a picture that Dina took of the place in winter.

IMG_7103The coach house and neighboring mid-century chapel.

IMG_7069Some readers may know my love of things mid-century. This was the first building to catch my eye as I drove into town. My heart skips a beat when I see such a roof line. I’m not kidding.

IMG_7121The main doorway.

IMG_7110The stunning original wood arches inside. It was difficult for me to see the interior so altered from its original beauty.

IMG_7116The same arches as seen from the second floor. Even though it pained me to see the place so transformed (into a doctor’s office), I gotta say they did a tasteful job of it.

IMG_7085At three in the morning, Dina and family get loaded into the car to drive to Logan airport. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t taken any photo of me and my friend of 45 years, hence my last-minute selfie (and disheveled appearance). I’m amazed I’m old enough to have known someone this long. Wow.

IMG_7142Like me, this fellow stops to gas up on Main Street before heading out (note the barber shop in the background).

IMG_7145Virtually all Vermont towns are situated alongside a river.

IMG_7155Kayakers wave hello as I shout a greeting to them.

IMG_7189Even in the fairly populated city of Rutland the mountains beckon from beyond the utility poles and roofs… What a sky, huh? I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to travel.

IMG_7164This trip, I decide to visit the mountain settlement of Killington. When I was small it was a modest and barely developed ski area. Now it’s a ritzy destination. Kinda reminds me of an American version of Zermatt, Switzerland.

IMG_7181The view up…

IMG_7166…and the means by which one gets there.

IMG_7168It’s just not possible to convey the feeling of being atop such a mountain; this photo doesn’t come even close. Those who ski (a population of which I am regrettably not a member) will know exactly what that is. So will those who hike and climb mountains. It’s the most expansive, exhilarating feeling. Also, in my case, it can inspire sudden bouts of panic. This didn’t happen to me in my younger years; I hope to discover a way to mitigate such altitude-related episodes, as they really suck and I can see them eliminating future adventures.

IMG_7204I continue South, down historic route 7, past Manchester’s famous Equinox hotel.

IMG_7210Had to stop when I saw this place.

IMG_7212Chickens everywhere.

IMG_7213If only I could afford one of em. Played the ‘hey, I’m an artist too’ card, but no go. Wouldn’t even consider the slightest mark down. I was seriously interested, but he seriously didn’t care. Ah well.

IMG_7208Onward I go, still heading South. I pass another farmer, doing things old school. One just doesn’t see those huge machines the way one does in the Midwest, where fields go uninterrupted for miles. Life here in Vermont has a gentler, more organic feel.

IMG_7195I saw these two fellows dressed in such odd-looking garb that I just had to stop and ask them what they were about. Daniel, left, and spokesman Michele, right, tell me they are cave enthusiasts, here from Montreal for the wonderful underground cavities unique to this region. Lots of white marble comes from this area too. Here, Michele writes down some sites I can visit to learn more. Tonight they are celebrating the birthday of a fellow caver by descending 140 vertical feet into a cave and sharing a glass of champagne at the bottom. !!

IMG_7197Off they go…

IMG_7220My ultimate destination en route home has been in the back of my mind all afternoon. I’m headed for Bennington. It’s the burial-place of poet Robert Frost, and the town in which my father, harpsichordist Robert Conant, was cremated. I need to see the place in order to give myself some closure. This obelisk is a monument to Revolutionary War soldiers which sits at the far end of Main Street, up the hill. The funeral home where dad was cremated is off frame and to the left, at the other end of Main Street.

IMG_7221Within a short time I’m at the base of the monument.

IMG_7223Here’s the church behind which Mr. Frost is buried. He himself did not belong to a church, but said if he were to have, it would have been the Congregational Church. His gravestone is the only one in the cemetery to face East instead of West.

IMG_7224Some ancient headstones just next to the Congregational Church.

IMG_7237The view of mountains to the East.

IMG_7227The signs that show the way are many and the effect is comical.

IMG_7229Here’s the Frost family plot. The center marks the poet, his wife and five children, the far one his grandchildren (one of whom is still living) and the marker in the foreground is completely empty. ! That’s thinking ahead, huh?

IMG_7231Here’s his famous epitaph; “I Had A Lover’s Quarrel With The World”.  I placed the small, white stone in between that line and ‘his wife’ on the line below.  Like hers too: “Together Wing to Wing And Oar To Oar”

IMG_7240Leaving the cemetery, the light is especially magical.

IMG_7246This next step is kind of surreal for me. Might be for you too. Get ready to see a side of life – or death, rather – that none of us ever really thinks much about until the choices are directly in front of us and ours alone to make. Even then we tend to think of it as some far-off, unreal sort of process that somehow doesn’t ever really happen, especially not to our beloveds. Cremation happens, and it has to happen somewhere. In this case, it’s on Main Street behind a cheerful looking house.

IMG_7247I walk around to the back. I’m ready, I guess…

IMG_7267It’s strange to see this for myself. The doors on the right are the last ones my father passed through looking as I knew him. My heart stops for a second when I recognize the facility for what it really is.

IMG_7250How bizarre it seems… That after such a marvelous, accomplished life, a body becomes merely something that must be gotten rid of somehow. And here it is. No pomp or circumstance to it, really. It’s just a super-powerful oven.

IMG_7256How mundane it looks, I think to myself – and in a way, it’s almost funny. The final end of my father in the un-glamorous back-end of a building with a wheel barrow and garden tools stashed behind. It makes me smile even. I wonder if dad too is seeing how hard it is to grasp for the earth-bound soul.

IMG_7251This is where my father’s physical matter met again with the world of its creation… And this is where I begin to cry. Please forgive me the next image; I realize for some it may be too much, but for me it’s the very reason I’ve driven so far today. I need to understand more completely what this process was. I remind myself the whole time that this happens thousands of time every day, in every single corner of the world. Most of us will never care to see it for ourselves, but some of us, whether we dare to express it aloud or not, may find ourselves unsettled until we see it with our own eyes…

IMG_7260The last place where hundreds of people’s loved ones – mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – have entered in bodily form. I look in the window in something of a trance. How can this be? I wonder over and over to myself. What an illusion we create and sustain for ourselves all life long that we shall ever be as we are now. We aren’t even as we were last year, or even yesterday for that matter. We weren’t even around one hundred years ago, and we won’t be here one hundred years hence. We know all this. So why is this idea of burning the bodies of our loved ones – and seeing the very sentence itself in print and the photo of the place in which it happens – so unthinkable? Why? If my father were here, he’d put his arms around me and tell me not to be sad, not to concern myself with the loss of his body. I know it. And I also feel very strongly that he still exists very close by, like a person on the other side of a one-way mirror, and he smiles at me and lovingly wishes I wouldn’t trouble myself so. But then again, I can’t help myself. I’m still on this side of the mirror, and no matter how hard I try to expand my consciousness on the matter, I just can’t. This feels creepy. It feels sad. But somehow, it does help.

IMG_7277I return to my car and see a tattooed dad and his family pass by the funeral home on a summer night’s stroll. Life keeps on goin.

IMG_7278Ok, for some this will undoubtedly be too far… I wanted something local to bring home from my trip, and this mom and pop store was across the street. It was here that I picked up some cheese and smoked meat; it was impossible for me to overlook the Monty Python-esque humor in it. I can promise you dad would have laughed too.

IMG_7304I’m headed home now. I pass the marble-enfused rocks of Vermont on highway 7 as I head North.

IMG_7287I’m a bit emotionally spent by now. Got lost a few times (in a region divided by vertical, North-South mountain ranges it’s not a simple thing to get from East to West) and by now had had it with winding, two lane roads and picturesque New England villages.

IMG_7294One more Vermont vista…

IMG_7301… and then New York again, at last. I love a trip, but truly, there’s no place like home.

 

 

Sono Stanca March 12, 2014

Man, has it been a week. Tonight I am pooped. I’ve kept going and going, and now that I’ve plopped down in my chair to sit for a moment, it’s all just hit me.

And on top of it all, this afternoon it started snowing again. Not just the pretty fluffy white stuff – but rather the dense, wet, instant slush sort of stuff. By late afternoon all after school programs were cancelled (my piano class included, thank God) and we were off the hook for the evening. Pretty sure that tomorrow’d be a snow day, we may have gotten a bit too relaxed with our schedule this evening, as Elihu has only just gotten to bed, and as I write this he is reading still. That’s never easy to wrap up. I’ll spend a minute more here, then go play nighttime police duty.

We did a little stock-up shopping in anticipation of a snowed in couple of days (Friday there’s no school anyway) and by the time we got home we found all sorts of fun little diversions that each involved more time than we realized. Between errands, dinnertime and our play we’d passed hours before we’d noticed how late it was getting… We played our penny whistles, our recorders and kalimbas, home-made drums of mason jars half-filled with water, shakers, hand drums and more… and then there was the block tower building, the melodica playing, the learning of obscure polkas, the knocking down of previously made towers with remotely controlled spideresque robots… I suppose we carried on so because we’re both fairly convinced that tomorrow there’ll be no school, no orthodontist appointment, no piano students, no nothing. And I cannot wait. I can accept the snow once again without complaining, because I know that by Elihu’s eleventh birthday on April 28th there will be none of it left. This I know. So it allows me to accept the current situation with a cooler head. But the busyness of our lives, the non-stop to-do list, the chaos (albeit a joyful sort) of school, the ongoing domestic chores – all of it has me wanting to cry uncle at the moment. So I’m looking forward to an unscheduled morning.

I hear Elihu’s turned off his light on his own. Good boy. I’ll go in and check on him now, tell him I love him so, and wish him sweet dreams. We’ll both be sound asleep before long. It’s been such a long day. Good night friends….