Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fern Forest Music Fest

Sunday afternoon a long black Lincoln Town Car, sleek and shiny, pulled into Fern Forest. From the passenger seat popped a bubbly blonde wearing tights and a tank top, face scrubbed, white teeth glistening behind a wide smile. The driver was slow to exit the car, slow to approach the house. He was all in black—pants, shirt, belt, shoes, long hair pulled back under black hat.

“There’s a man with a chainsaw,” he said warily, nodding toward slope in front of the house.

“That’s H,” I said. “He’s cutting down trees so you’ll get a better view from the treehouse.”

“Treehouse?” he said.

“Surprise!” the woman said. “And happy birthday.”

Riannan had planned the trip to delight Andy. She’d arranged for the car and mapped the route from New York City. She asked H to get a dozen roses and have them in the treehouse for their arrival. Andy was turning 37, and she was in love.

She’s a singer songwriter playing small clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Andy is a bass player, an accomplished one schooled in New York, L.A., and Vienna. He composes his own jazz pieces and accompanies musicians all over the world, and he’s working on his first album. The Village Voice says he has "impressive style and technique combined with a great stage presence."

But let me back up. These are musicians, used to late hours, and they’d slept only a few the night before. After hellos, H and I offered to make them a dinner reservation at Mary’s Restaurant. They wanted the latest slot possible, which was 8:00. They’d hope to eat at nine or ten or even later, but this is Vermont and we accord our biological clocks by the setting and rising of the sun. Eight o’clock would have to do.

They settled into the treehouse for a nap and rose at 7:00 for some nibbles and a couple glasses of wine. Riannan put on makeup, tied back her long hair, changed into a black tank top and buckled on silver stilettos. She looked like Sheryl Crow, ready to take the stage.

“You’ll make a great entrance at Mary’s,” I said. Andy was still in black, still donned the hat, and I wondered if he’d napped in it. A couple days later when I was at Mary's, the owner told me she thought Johnny Depp had come have dinner, and she gave them a complimentary salad with Mary's own homegrown mesclun. H and I were in bed when they returned from dinner, and vaguely I heard them turn on the hot tub’s jets under a sky full of stars.

Andy had asked if we had an alarm clock so they could be sure to be ready for breakfast at 10:00 a.m. We offered the wind-up travel clock H won in a hockey tournament. They were true to the breakfast deadline, and I made cheese omelets for them. Riannan, who weighs barely a hundred pounds, nibbled hers. Andy ate every bite and chased the omelet with granola, yogurt and fruit. They drank two pots of coffee. We discovered that Riannan hails from Phoenix and recently finished a job as personal assistant to Harry Belefonte, whom she called “Mr. Belefonte.” It seemed everyone wanted him as a speaker, and he kept her busy booking engagements. Andy had taken off the hat and I saw that he was handsome in a Mikhail Baryshnikov way. He wanted to know about the house, about H’s woodwork, about H’s week-long stay at Fallingwater. He doesn’t like to talk about himself.

After breakfast Andy retreated to the treehouse to practice the bass, and Riannan sat on the deck and crooned her tunes to the birds. H and I fiddled around the house, enchanted by the concert.

Monday night Andy, Riannan, and her high-heeled boots went to the Bobcat for dinner. On Tuesday morning, Andy showed me his website, He has played all over the world—Canada, Turkey, Greece Italy, Canary Islands, his home country of Germany, as well as at the best clubs in New York. His music is smooth and rich—he’s a Miles Davis fan—and I felt uplifted listening to the melodies on his website. He’s not at all shy—he loves to perform and says once he nearly broke into tears onstage when he saw a young boy in the audience waving hands over his head to the music. He’s modest and lets the music speak for him, and the music has an eloquent voice.

They were eager to get the Town Car back to the rental agency—neither of them owns a car nor needs one in New York—but we were sorry to see them go. I’d gotten an appetizer of their music, which made me hungry for more. They packed the trunk with instruments and Riannan’s silver stilettos and high-heeled boots, and we took these shots of them before they headed down the mountain and across the lake back into New York. Is it my imagination, or did the birds sing a little sweeter this morning?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sparta comes to Fern Forest

We had a Spartan at the treehouse Saturday night. Patrick and Amanda came from Portland, Maine, so Patrick could compete in the Spartan Race at the Catamount Center on Sunday. The race is an offshoot of “The Death Race” and takes its inspiration from Spartan and Navy Seal training, American Gladiator and adventure races. The day starts with a 5K run, followed by obstacles like a wall climb, tunnel crawl, mud pit, wading through water, and spear throw. Only one percent of those who participate in the Spartan Race, which is meant to be lots of fun, will make the cut for the Death Race and face serious challenges. For the Spartans, the race is followed by feats of strength, archery shoots, mud wrestling, a tug of war, and photo ops with beautiful Spartan models.

Sunday was sunny and beautiful, and Patrick said the officials would probably hose down the course to insure some muddy adventures. He brought a couple changes of clothes, hoping to get nice and dirty.

Once the top Spartan warrior is crowned, the real festivities begin with a post race party with a live band, a spit roast barbecue, plenty of Long Trail ale and lots of revelry.

When he’s not keeping fit, Patrick works as a submarine engineer at a Naval station in Portsmouth, NH, where he inspects submarines. “It’s like giving a submarine an oil change,” he says. Although he’s never been underwater in a sub, he knows them inside and out. He seems serious about his job, which is good because I don’t imagine there’s an ejection seat on a sub if something goes wrong. Batten down those hatches, Patrick.

Amanda went to high school with Patrick, but they didn't give each other a second look until after college, when they met up again. She now works for a financial consulting firm in Portland and is on the fence about going with Patrick when he takes off for San Diego at the end of May for a shift at a Naval base there. She’s a realist and doesn’t take risks—except when it comes to sleeping in a treehouse, I guess.

These good folks were with us for just a short stay. We had a jovial Saturday evening visit before they headed to the Bobcat for dinner. Patrick hoped to have a chat with the brew master because he’d like to start his own beer brewing project—maybe he’ll call it mead and brew in Spartan fashion. The race, by the way, benefits St. Jude Children's Hospital in their battle against cancer. Good fun for a good cause. Patrick, we hope you won the coveted spear of victory!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day has been a disappointment since my son and stepson have both flown the nest. But this year was different. Lily requested two nights in the treehouse as a gift to her mother, and they arrived late Friday night after driving up from Martha’s Vineyard. H and I had spiffed up the treehouse and put fresh flowers around. At midnight they were road weary but giggling at the treehouse lit with colored lights and the spa heated and ready for them.

Saturday we gave them the usual breakfast fare of granola, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, scones and juice. Jan, the mom, had tea and Lily, a seraphic 25-year-old, had coffee. Lily works at Morning Glory Farm on the Vineyard. Jan owns Vineyard Stories, a niche publishing company she started a few years ago with her husband, a journalist and one of the founders of USA Today. They met while working at a Baltimore newspaper. Jan was a reporter, and when she called in her story for the night, John answered the phone and took it down. Then he asked her a few questions about the report. No one had ever questioned one of her stories before.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked.

“I’m the managing editor,” he said.

A few years and many questions later, they began dating and eventually married. After their third child, Jan said it was too hard to work in journalism and raise a family, so they retired to Martha’s Vineyard, where John ran the local newspaper. Eventually he left the news business and they launched Vineyard Stories, publishing nonfiction, fiction and children’s books related to Martha’s Vineyard. You can find Jan’s website online.

John developed a painful nerve condition in his face and two years ago agreed to experimental surgery. His last words to Jan as he was being wheeled into the O.R. were, “I love you and I love our family.” Something went wrong during the surgery, and she lost the love of her life. People who knew John say he was brilliant and one of the nicest guys on the planet. His death was an unspeakable tragedy.

Saturday afternoon H and I attended the funeral of his best friend’s father, a doctor who was about to turn 95. Dr. Mac had been H’s pediatrician, and he’d known the doctor and his son Alex most of his life. Dr. Mac was a character, the life of every party, and he practiced medicine until he was 93, when he reluctantly retired. But he kept reading medical journals and asked about my triglycerides whenever he saw me. He died peacefully without losing a synapse. At the service, the minister asked if anyone wanted to speak, and several people told funny stories—my favorite about Dr. Mac dancing on a bar in Austria with light bulbs in his ears. If there was a piano nearby, he’d play boogie-woogie and get everyone dancing. He loved life.

I stood up and told of Dr. Mac treating a spring rash by giving me samples of cortisone (“I won’t have to charge you for these,” he said). When I got home and looked at the package, I saw the pills were twelve years out of date. The rash cured itself without cortisone, as I figured Dr. Mac knew it would. Think for a minute about how many people always show joy at seeing you—I can count them on my fingers. Dr. Mac was one of those people for me, greeting me with open arms and a kiss whenever he came to visit or we went to his house for pizza and a baseball game on his old TV. With his passing, there’s one fewer person to welcome me with such enthusiasm. But I can pay it forward. Now every time I greet an old friend, I open my arms for a hug and a kiss and think of Dr. Mac.

Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, came cold and snowy. Lily had trouble sleeping with the treehouse rocking and creaking in the wind and sometime during the night came in to sleep in the guest room. Jan’s tough and stuck it out. In the morning we heated them up by the wood stove, and I served French toast croissants stuffed with macerated fruit and whipped cream and drizzled with Vermont maple syrup. H and I sat and ate with them, which we rarely do with guests. But we enjoyed them so much that we wanted to savor their company. Jan talked to me about custom publishing, and Lily told H about her farm work—snow whitening the woods outside the dining room windows.

I can only imagine the grief Jan and Lily must feel at the loss of a beloved husband and father, but they’re lucky to have each other. Jan might build an apartment addition to her house for Lily to live in, since she’s just a couple miles from Morning Glory Farm, and they talked about taking a trip to India together. I wish I could go with them. When they left, planning lunch at Simon Pearce Restaurant before catching the ferry back to the Vineyard, we gave them hugs and kisses and waved until their car drifted down the driveway. Next time they come to Fern Forest, or if we find our way to Martha’s Vineyard, I know we’ll throw out our arms with the joy of seeing them. They can count on it.