When Cindy said she'd like to replace the Harvard poster in the treehouse with a Yale poster, I'm sure she was kidding. When it comes to the treehouse, we don’t have anything against Yalies, even though, by association with H, I’m all Harvard. Anyway, Fern Forest is neutral territory. Cindy is an art conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery, tediously repairing ancient and priceless works from paintings to mosaics. Rich is a photographer for the gallery. Both are artists in their own rights, but they brought a technical aesthetic to Fern Forest.
They drove straight up from New Haven, taking our advice to go over the Appalachian Gap to get to Lincoln, dropped their bags, and rode another hour to Burlington for shopping and dinner. Rich had never been to Burlington and thought it was something he ought to do, but he seemed happy to get back to the bucolic isolation of Fern Forest. It was fairly late when H and I heard them giggling in the spa, the jets massaging their road-weary muscles. They picked the most beautiful weekend of the season to come for a visit. The black sky was studded with diamonds, a half moon low in the east when they climbed into the treehouse loft. There was no wind, and the night was cold enough for a cuddly sleep under the down comforter.
These two are early risers, hungry for breakfast at 8:00 a.m. before I’d wiped the sleep from my eyes. But H was ready with hot coffee and we whirled into action with fresh blueberries, cantaloupe, granola, warm muffins and soft boiled eggs. Snow was giving way to earth around the treehouse, but Mount Abe looked to be frosted with white, and Cindy and Rich slipped into their hiking clothes, loaded their snowshoes into Rich’s van and headed for the Battel Trail. The mountain was theirs, all the way to the top, where Rich captured Cindy whooping in victory.
They had time for a glass of wine with us before dinner at the Bobcat. Cindy talked about her work and how the motto at the Yale Gallery is “Better is the enemy of good.” I can see that’s relevant to art, where she doesn’t want to improve on the work of the artist but to restore it to a look of authenticity, considering the age of the piece. But the motto applies to literature as well. Walt Whitman ruined Leaves of Grass by revising again and again as he got older. Good writing has voice, and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a perfect example of how Holden Caulfield wouldn’t be as interesting if he spoke “better.” It’s his idioms, his ragged misanthropy that give him such color. As a flawed person myself, I like to read about flawed characters.
When I told a minister friend about the Yale Gallery motto, she said that when God created heaven and earth, He declared that it was good. He didn’t say I could’ve done better or I hope humans will improve on my imperfect creation. Good was good enough. I’d rather have goodness than betterness. Better implies competition—better than whom? I may want to better myself, but maybe I just need to recognize that I’m good enough as I am—wouldn’t that make me better? Oh, dear—Cindy has me going around in circles.
On Sunday morning, another early rising, Rich and Cindy feasted on fresh citrus salad, apricots, granola and hot apple-cranberry-pecan bread. Afterward, Rich grabbed his tripod and started snapping photos of the mountain, the treehouse, and, with his shutter delay, his good friend Cindy and himself. You can see that they’re a handsome couple, but they also brought a sweetness to Fern Forest that we know will linger for a long while, even if they are Yalies.