Saturday, July 24, 2010


And then I was back into a rhythm from the summer, and again the driving felt like gentle skating, up and down hills and along these enticing and now familiar shallow rivers that rush over smooth rocks, beneath soft mountains that still have green from pines and high altitude farm fields but are now mostly in yellows and warm russets and deep lavenders and bright scarlets. Skating again, but now as in pairs skating.

On the first morning it was cool enough for me to wear the patterned, muted blue and red Woolrich sweater I had purchased on 8th Street.

“What a neat sweater, Fred.”

We see in a local paper that people who come to Vermont in foliage time are called “leaf peepers.” They (we) are chided gently in the article. We drive half an hour to Burlington to get a book that identifies trees. I know Burlington has a Socialist mayor and I have seen its spacious pedestrian mall that has plaques celebrating great leftist figures from Marx to Mao. And of course I think of New Hampshire, whose one statewide newspaper is an infamous one called The Manchester Union-Leader, which attacks
anything liberal and decent that somehow pokes it head into New Hampshire, promotes bigoted religiosity, celebrates capital punishment, sees Reds under every bed, warns that all decent government programs are communistic, supports fringe or triumphant right wingers in presidential contests. Like the 1950s never ended. But here in Vermont there is a sign that says “the People’s Republic of Burlington.” I tell Gillian get angry every four years after midnight on presidential election nights when a little town in the far north of the White Mountains becomes the first in the nation to report its votes and invariably goes for the most pretentious and reactionary of the candidates.

Back at the lake house we start identifying trees, and we hug when we find what we are looking for – an ash, a gray birch. We transform the downstairs of the Wasp camp with balloons we buy in Vergennes. We dance, just us, to the only music in the house, a cassette tape some out-of-context person has left here, the only music in the lake house. It is an overproduced tape that sounds like a loopy version of Musak. The cassette is named Wyndom Hill, billed as New Age, New Age being something else that had happened in the year I was abroad. I had very recently heard of it as the name of a magazine in which there was an article about Alice Miller, whom everyone I was dealing with these days was reading because Alice Miller really had the goods on destructive, narcissistic, borderline killer families. And her work did not seem to tie in with anything else I heard about the vague spiritual activities – Buddhist chanting and the lighting of magic white candles – that were under the New Age umbrella.

Coming and going from the lake house we always stop in Charlotte to be greeted by our cows. In the house she keeps looking at the Bruce Bacon sky and clouds painting, and repeats that this is the one truly human touch in this house whose downstairs is decorated with the sort of prints corporate lawyers would put in their offices – and the upstairs with the cheap doodads the old Foreign Service officer had placed in his little theme rooms. I tell her that I have known Foreign Service people who for their foreign postings have never had to figure out and buy their own plane tickets or rent their own gated houses, or hire their servants, much less do their own housework, they are so out of touch with where they live.

In Vergennes we get garbage bags and cleaning things. Gillian hangs a new washcloth on a jutting kitchen faucet, telling me earnestly that this is what one does in a kitchen – just as if her background were filled with normal places. We travel up to a beach place on another lake near the Canadian border. At several points along the border go in and out of Canada, sometimes at border stations so small and remote and lackadaisical that checking in with them is voluntary.

We drive up through an area called the northeast Kingdom, a self-contained far north part of Vermont. From the road we see strange dark rock formations that turn out to be bordering a body of eerie black water called Lake Willoughby, that looks like something from a parallel universe, We stop the car to look at the lake, then stop again after the car has been climbing. On a high hill we make ourselves dizzy turning and turning, 360 degrees, to take in the hills and fields and forests we view on all sides below – as if we are at the highest point in the world.

And that night I add a line to the guest book: “IT’S THE TOP OF THE WORLD.”

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