Tag Archives: Vermont

I no longer hav a hart

One night, many years ago, when I was young and living in an apartment in Waltham, I heard a scrabbling sound. I searched the apartment and had just about run out of places to look when I thought to open the broiler drawer at the bottom of the oven. And there it was, a field mouse. As I remember it, the mouse and I both squeaked and recoiled, but maybe it was only me, it was a long time ago.

I do remember that it was too late to buy a trap that night, so my boyfriend drew a little picture of a skull and crossbones, scrawled keep out on it, and tacked it to the bottom of my bedroom door. The next day I purchased a Havahart trap and caught my mouse, alive and well. On my way to work I relocated him to Billerica and that was the last time I had to deal with a mouse in my own home.

The other weekend, I hosted a writer’s retreat at my in-laws house in southern Vermont. It’s an ideal spot for creating, with cozy nooks for writing and beautiful views for inspiration. It’s perfect in every way, except for the mice. If they stayed out of my way I would share the space with them, albeit a tad grudgingly. After all, this is a country house, in the middle of the woods, and it spends a fair amount of time uninhabited. Someone should make use of it. And there is ample evidence that the mice do. Fortunately, they are quite small so the – evidence – is proportionately small. When, however, a mouse has the audacity to run across the floor in full view of my guests, I have to put my foot down.

Normally, I happily bow to gender stereotyping and leave the mouse trapping to the men. On this particular weekend, though, I was the hostess and the job fell to me. I read the instructions and set a couple of traps. We had no peanut butter, which is what the trap manufacturer recommend using, so I baited the traps with a lovely quiche that my critique partner, Vicki, had made. In the morning, I came downstairs and Pamela said, “Congratulations. You caught a mouse. I left it for you.”

I threw a paper towel over the trap and mouse, and then picked it up by a plastic tab designed for just that purpose. I opened the trash can in the mud hall and held the trap over it. I had no idea how to get the mouse out of the trap. With my free hand, I picked up the instructions and tried to make out the small print. I may have been going into shock because I have no idea how I finally figured it out, but there was a quiet plop as the mouse fell into the can, and the trap lightened. I then gave in to a small post traumatic response. I pulled my chin in and down, shivered and shook my shoulders (you’d recognize the behavior if you saw it). Then I pulled myself together and returned to my colleagues.

Once the horror of what I had done subsided, I felt rather proud of myself. I had done what needed to be done, and lived to tell the tale. When I was young, killing a mouse would have been unthinkable. Now that I’m older it seems quite reasonable. The house really isn’t big enough for all of us.

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Book clubs are for more than books

When was the last time your book club discussed a book? If it’s anything like mine, discussing the book takes a backseat to socializing. My book club comprises my oldest friends. It is older than my marriage. The original, core group of members were girlfriends who worked for the same company and knew everything there was to know about one another. When we convened for book club we didn’t need to spend any time catching up; we could focus on the book. And in the beginning we read serious literature like Of Human Bondage and Sons and Lovers. We were still relatively new when we decided to include our significant others, inviting them to join us for a discussion of Our Man in Havana, a book deemed light enough for them to enjoy. The men never left, and the book choices were wide and varied.

Over time we created an algorithm for who would choose the next book. The variables included who hosted last, who chose the last book, and whose house we were going to next. It ends up being rather complicated (I blame the math majors among us) and we spend a few minutes at each meeting reviewing how it works. We also created a mnemonic to help us remember whose house we would meet at next. It would work, too, if we could remember what the mnemonic meant.

We’ve read a lot of wonderful books. I’ve bought each one, filling several bookshelves. There were also some memorable disappointments. No one made it through Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, and we still laugh about how painful The Master of Ballantrae was. We used to work hard to find books that none of us had read. A few years ago we decided it might not be a bad idea if someone had read the book that was being suggested. That way we could assert some form of quality control.

If life had stayed the way it was in those early days, we’d probably still be diligently discussing books, but that’s not the way life works. The group has had marriages and children, a divorce and illnesses. The company we once worked for doesn’t exist anymore and none of us has worked with another of us for many years. We try to meet every two months, but it probably averages out to more like three or four. We use the time to catch up; a lot can happen in three months. We spend a weekend in the fall at my family’s house in Vermont. A lot of visiting gets done around the fireplace with a few bottles of wine, when no one has to drive anywhere. And there’s an annual pilgrimage to another family’s home on the beach in Gloucester. We talk about having book club in Tuscany, but haven’t yet. No one is ruling it out though. Maybe when all the kids are out of college.

When I suggest that my husband read the book for the next meeting, he scoffs that it’s not a book club; it’s a social club. But he’s wrong. There are always a few people who have actually read the book, and however anemic, there is time spent discussing it. A good book club is about more than books. It’s about the great stories we all have to tell.

Hurricane was a bust, I’m happy to report

Hurricane Irene was on everyone’s mind for days before she arrived. We knew she was coming, we don’t live under a rock, but we had planned to go to Southern Vermont for a long weekend, and the beautiful, sunny weather we were having made it hard to think seriously about changing our plans. We drove north to West Wardsboro where we spent a storybook day and night with our extended family. The kids took full advantage of the pond while the adults took full advantage of the kids taking full advantage of the pond to play tennis, stroll in the woods, or loll on the lawn.

Alas, some of those adults were carrying iPhones, so the specter of Hurricane Irene was always present. When the New York Times reported that a quarter of a million people were being evacuated, and the subway was being shut down, we let anxiety take its natural course. We didn’t want to leave, but we didn’t want to stay. The weather maps indicated that after New York Irene was going to cruise through Boston and after that she was planning her own visit to Vermont. We decided that we should head for home.

The drive home was uneventful, and our favorite pizza joint was still open. After dinner we brought in the deck chairs and took down the hanging plant on the porch. My husband also tried to put new D batteries into our fancy Maglite flashlight. Two pairs of pliers and a lot of elbow grease later, he still couldn’t get it open. It might be useful for clobbering a robber over the head, but its days as a flashlight are over.

As it happens we didn’t need the flashlight. We never lost power; nor did a tree fall on our house; nor did our street flood. Yes, there was some impressive wind now and again, but for the most part, for us, Hurricane Irene was a bust. I was disappointed, and I’ll bet lots of people felt the same way. The build-up is overwhelming; inescapable; constant. If, however, you admit to being disappointed when a much-anticipated disaster passes you by, someone more sensible is bound to say, in a tsk-tsk tone of voice, “You should be grateful that nothing bad happened to you or anyone you love.”

After the hurricane, the same media that had whipped us into a frenzy to match Irene’s started reporting on the results. People were flooded, stranded, lost their homes. Bridges were damaged and washed away. Although the worst damage on our street was relatively benign, huge trees fell elsewhere in town, blocking roads and ripping up sidewalks. Below is a picture of the road we drive to get to the house in West Wardsboro.

Next time a natural disaster passes me by I promise not to whine. Instead I’ll say, “I am so grateful that nothing bad happened to me or my loved ones.”

Fleeting beauty

My husband and I visit with family in southern Vermont frequently throughout the year, and that’s where we were for Memorial Day weekend. The house has an extensive garden and it was blooming like crazy with purple and pink flowers that I’d never seen before. “Those are beautiful,” I said. “Did you plant them this year?” The answer was no, the lupins (which is what they turned out to be) had been blooming at this same time of year, every year, for many years.

How could we have missed them, I thought? We’ve seen the garden in bloom before, many, many times. I realized that we must not have visited in late May or early June which is, apparently, when the lupin are in bloom. Every year this beautiful display happens, and depending on the family’s various schedules, there are some years when no one sees it.

I understand the fleeting beauty of flowers. My own house has a wisteria vine that runs the length of our front porch, trained along a metal rod that was hung for just that purpose. For a couple of weeks in May, when the wisteria is in full bloom, I feel like I live in a chateau in the Loire Valley. The bright yellow forsythia bushes that border our property seem to bloom and disappear within days. They come and go so fast that some years I doubt that I saw them at all. And our apple tree, old and tired and broken down as it is, still manages to produce flowers every other year, presaging the small crop of apples that I’ll have to pick up before mowing in the late summer.

Also in bloom at the house in Vermont, but with some evidence that their days were already numbered, were the lilac bushes. They were alive with so much activity that I was content to watch, inhaling their perfume, for long stretches at a time. The most colorful visitors were the yellow and black monarch butterflies. They would land with their wings spread open and stick a long thin proboscis down the lilac, pull it out covered with yellow pollen, and immediately poke it into the next flower. One of the butterflies was missing half of its left wing, and yet it didn’t seem deterred. It performed just as the others did, and flew off when it was done. Later we saw another butterfly missing half of the opposite wing. It must be a dangerous business, being a butterfly.

Before we left Vermont I stood in the yard where I could smell the lilacs and admire the lupins at the same time. The sun was perfect, just warm enough to warrant the shorts and tank top I was wearing, but not so warm as to risk driving me back inside. For a few moments I was in my idea of heaven. I wondered how I could keep that feeling with me; the sights, the sounds, the smells.

Maybe if I try very hard, I’ll be able to find something fleeting to appreciate every day, and in that way, I’ll be able to keep the spirit of that feeling alive. After all, flowers are not the only things with short seasons; in the grand scheme of things, ours are short as well.