Wednesday, July 1, 2015
one impulse from a vernal wood...
There is a difference between a nuclear family and a nuclear-powered one. We have a brood of globe-trotters, and quite honestly we frequently have a better idea of the current whereabouts of Carmen Santiago than of our three offspring. But this year we were able to corral sixty-six-point-six percent of them for a contemporary version of the family vacation of yesteryear—one that involved packing antsy infants and far too much of their gear into station wagons to drive long distances into the rain forest. That is how six adults and three infants have come to find themselves is a contemporary rustic mansion deep in the backwoods of suburban Warren, Vermont. So far we have mainly been watching it rain, but that is bound to change soon.
We know this part of Vermont quite well. For many summers in the Eighties and Nineties I taught in the summer session of the Bread Loaf School of English—a very fine master’s program offered by Middlebury College. Middlebury, Vermont is itself hardly a metropolis, but the college’s Bread Loaf campus, which a hundred years ago was an upscale camp for New England “rusticators” in the heart of the Green Mountain Forest, is really out in the sticks. I reckon that here in Warren we are about twelve miles, as the crow flies, from our old Bread Loaf haunts; should the crow be travelling by Subaru, however, he’d better recalculate to about twenty-five. The ancestral engineers who laid out the roads in this part of the world were not great believers in the hypotenuse.
All members of the family have happy memories from those old Bread Loaf summers, and we had them in mind when we were investigating possibilities on AirBnB. The gorgeous house we found is on an appealing man-made pond, called Blueberry Lake, probably within a hundred feet of its shoreline. It’s a little hard to tell because of the heavy woods. But from the main kitchen-dining area one gets a fine sliver of a glimpse of water in the gap along the short, steep path used to transport the canoe. Our first two days were for the most part spent indoors trying to convince three squirmy kids that standing at a window watching it rain is actually a highly entertaining activity. But on day three the sun burst forth early, and so did we. This turned out to have been a wise move on our parts, as the rain returned early in the afternoon.
Several hours of glorious sunshine allowed us all some opportunities for delightful athleticism. Richard and Katie took their daughter Ruby, along with her cousin, bosom buddy, and unindicted co-conspirator John Henry, out in the red canoe. Joan and I were not on hand to critique the regatta, but lots of photographic evidence confirms that it was exciting. I was not on hand because Joan and I elected to go on a semi-serious trail hike in the adjoining National Forest. We had noticed signs marking a trail-head less than a mile up the road.
Vermont is all about the outdoors, and especially its intensely green woods. There is a distinctive quality to the Vermont woods, a kind of wild freshness, that I have encountered nowhere else. It’s one of those comforting places where Nature seems very much to be holding her own. The nineteenth-century farmers cleared large acreages on the hillsides, pulled stumps, hauled tons of field stone to make fences and field boundaries. The labor is almost unimaginable, and I can only suspect that the agricultural rewards were pretty exiguous. The forest has now returned to many of these acres in a by now substantial second growth. Not infrequently you now encounter old stone walls in dense woods.
The trails in the National Forest are both wild and tame. In addition to hikers, they entertain cross-country skiers in the winter and mountain bikes in the summer. The steepness of the trail was as much as I could deal with on foot. I have no idea how the bikers—of whom we encountered a few—manage. After a good rain the whole mountain seemed as fresh as on the day after the world was made, full of the play of flashing sun and shadow, the gurgling of rivulets, and everywhere wonderful birdsong.
We hope for more glorious days, but I have to say that if one must perforce be cabined, cribbed, confined, there is no better company than one’s three youngest grandchildren, each of them emerging from the chrysalis of infancy into distinct, determined, and delightful individual personality. The pageant of the generations is a fascinating one, and moving from the center of the maelstrom to a slightly removed observation point is an opportunity for fruitful contemplation. The comparative advantage enjoyed by grandparenting over parenting is its substantially optional character. You can rock the kid in your arms as much as you like; then when it poops, pass it back to Mom.