I was driving around this gentle countryside just after getting the car – and then it was down to the city where I had been simultaneously unraveling and exposing both past and present – then back again for the summer I had planned in Vermont. I drove up with a dramatic couple I had encountered this year – a flamboyant, aging, silver-haired Florentine American, Mario, whom I knew form these meetings and whose only visible means of support was the work of his young Eurasian wife, with whom he and their very large dog lived in one of those buildings that though in the West Village was all old tenement railroad apartments with the toilet a communal one on each floor. The wife was the daughter, he said of a big-time CIA man.
Back to the city to reconnoiter, and for the funeral of Bruce Bacon, who decided to kill himself just at the time he was to join me and his brother and half-brother this summer in Vermont. Then back now to Vermont to toy with crossing over into New Hampshire but mostly just to have a kind of time-out period from what I had been doing this year.
So I took up horseback riding. Nearby in a place called Castleton there was a family of horse people who had a ring where you got instruction from a tough, wiry girl in riding the Western way, and where once a month there would be a rodeo – this strange and out of context and little known rodeo circuit in New England. And I drove, and stopped at lakes, which were everywhere in small state parks, stopped to swim and to lie in grass and listen on my Walkman. The catching up I was doing getting songs I had missed while abroad into my head now not directly but filtered through others – as in Judy Collins doing Joni Mitchell, and someone slightly cornball named Roger Whittaker doing Leonard Cohen – Mitchell and Cohen among those I had missed but might retrieve now, like getting back to horseback riding, including horseback riding I might have done but did not as an adult. And, for that matter, back to swimming in summer lakes.
I had had this idea that since art has been so important to me this year – since I had been getting so much of my information visually in museums and galleries and parks that I was thinking this was more me than the writer version – that I would take up drawing and painting. I would seek instruction. Thinking of it at first just as something to study so as to better appreciate the works of art by real artists that I was seeing. And I went to art galleries around the state, sometimes alone, sometimes with some of these people in Peter and Julie’s circle, like Lucy, who were becoming my friends. There was a big one in Rutland run a family named Chaffee known not for art but because they had produced an Olympic skier. Almost all the paintings in this one were of barns. And I went with Lucy halfway down to Massachusetts to a still bigger gallery people talked about – and it too specialized in barns. I did hear about people who gave private lessons. But I did not do anything about actually finding them. And beyond going every few days to that Western riding place – and of course my time listening to music in the car and beside lakes – I realized I was still doing very little outside my car.
And it still puzzled me. I had thought that like returning to lakes and horses I would also get back to woodland or mountain trials, the way it has been way way back – but I didn’t’ do it. Sometimes I would stop to look around at something near the road, a log house that a sign said was used in another season for boiling maple sap, or a spot by an impressive gorge, and at such places I would see the start of some trail leading into the woods, but I would not go on those trails.
And the gorge did make me think of a bigger gorge, the fabled Flume in Franconia notch, and the maple sugar place led to maple sugar cupcakes in White Pines and maple sugar sold at a place called Hildex between Sugar Hill and Franconia. I was in Vermont, the anti-New Hampshire, and I was in New Hampshire too.
And yet I kept driving, staying in the car – even though the most frightening thing I was aware of encountering was hearing two prissy ladies, who were walking behind me in the very correct town of Middlebury, talking away in high pitched voices in the versions of fake English accents that a certain kind of person adopts thinking it makes them convincingly upper class.