Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Un Grand Sensible

While I was in Louisville teaching in Spading University’s MFA in Writing program, H was holding down the fort at Fern Forest. He has trouble saying no, one reason I try to intercept telemarketer calls to prevent him from giving away our life’s savings with his big, soft heart. Jenny requested a night at the treehouse because she and her partner Jess were coming up to housesit and caretake a dog in Norwich, Vermont, an hour away on the east side of the Green Mountains, and they were arriving from New York City a day early to acclimate. H couldn't say no, even though he was hosting solo.

There’s an ongoing joke that Vermonters east of the Green Mountains are more socio-economically privileged than those of us on the west side of the ridge, evidenced by the preponderance of Subarus east of the Greens and Audis west of the Greens. Because of the hills and the deep snows of winter, most everyone in Vermont has all-wheel drive vehicles. I don’t know if this east-west AWD preference holds water, but, personally, I like being closer to Lake Champlain, and my Subie has never let me down. I have a Subaru repairman, Mark, who works out of his garage a quarter mile away—convenient for dropping off my car for service and walking home. When I was in the market for a new car, I told Mark I was entertaining purchasing an Audi, and he said if I bought an Audi not even to think about bringing it to him because he’d feel just awful about what he’d have to charge me to keep it running. I ended up with an Easter egg blue Legacy and have not regretted it.

Jenny and Jess were neutral in the AWD debate because they arrived in a Honda on Wednesday from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where Jenny is a PhD candidate in English at Columbia, having earned a master’s degree at Dartmouth. Her dissertation is on women writers of the 1960s, but I have a feeling it’s historical research for her rather than firsthand experience. I'd like to talk to her sometime about women authors I read in the late sixties and early seventies when I was a student at George Washington University and living in the heat of the war protests in the nation’s capital. Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex was my bible, and I nearly wore out Our Bodies Ourselves, published by the Boston Women’s Health Collective. I remember being petrified by the 1972 release of Women and Madness by Phyllis Chesler and also by everything written by Gloria Steinem. Doris Lessing’s 1962 autobiographical novel The Golden Notebook was more to my taste and encouraged me to become a writer myself.

Jenny is looking to publish and hopes to land a tenure track position at a university. We could’ve talked about that, too, if we’d had time. Jenny’s partner Jess is a massage therapist and a musician and until recently had long dreadlocks. They complement each other well. Their ETA was before dinnertime, but they’re both from Michigan and got distracted by New England’s beauty. At 10 p.m., patient H was still looking for their headlights to come up the driveway. By the time they arrived, a horrendous storm had moved in, flashing lightning across the sky east to west with an angry wind and hard rain that turned to hail. Storms here are often fierce, gathering steam as they careen across New York state and batter themselves against the Green Mountain ridge. There have been nights when, even without guests, I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to see if the treehouse was still clinging to the maples supporting it. Amazing enough, the little dwelling has never lost a splinter.

Jess has a condition that leaves her weak, and she wasn’t able to climb the vertical ladder to the sleeping loft 40 feet above the ground. Because it was late and they were tired and the treehouse was a-creaking and a-rocking, they accepted H’s invitation to sleep in the main house’s guest room. The guest room is always offered as an alternative to the treehouse, but few have taken advantage of it. Even on the coldest and stormiest nights most souls want the bragging rights of staying in a Vermont treehouse at least one full night. Occasionally when we don’t have guests I retreat to the treehouse for a nap, disappearing just long enough for H to wonder where I am and start to worry about me. The first time I ventured out alone, I found mouse turds and piss between the sheets where apparently the burrowing rodents had set up house. I stripped the bed and washed the sheets with soap and bleach. Now we don’t make the bed until just before guests arrive.

One night before we started renting out the treehouse, we padded out in our jammies with the intention to sleep there. No problem climbing up into the loft. We opened the windows by the bed and let the breeze flow in, turned on the lamp by the pillows and I read some sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay to H. Then we turned out the light and snuggled under the comforter. The tree growing up through the middle of the treehouse swayed just enough to make me dizzy, the feeling I get on a boat rocking gently. Leaves rustled. An owl hooted. I fell asleep quickly.

A scritching woke me around 3 a.m., according to my Indiglo watch. Something was on the metal roof or maybe in the rafters. I don’t mind mice, but I’m not fond of sleeping with them. Squirrels, either, if it was indeed squirrels making the racket hours before daylight. I needed to use the bathroom and climbed down the ladder and came into the house. When I’d done what I needed to do, I figured it made more sense to go upstairs and roll into my own quiet bed, where I’d be close to coffee in the morning, close to running water, safe from four-legged critters. H came in a bit later, lonely for me. We never tried sleeping in the treehouse again.

Since then, I’ve been amazed when guests make it through the night and come in refreshed from a good sleep. More power to them and I’ll do everything I can to make the accommodations comfy for them, but I certainly understand when, in the midst of a Vermont nor’easter, guests opt for the more traditional accommo of a house pinned to a solid foundation.

Jenny and Jess slept in the next morning, and H had scones, granola, yogurt and fruit ready when they got up. He spent some time getting to know them and discovered that Jenny is a Pisces Goat and Jess is a Pisces Dog, two of the most sensitive signs in the combined Chinese and western zodiac, what the French call un grand sensible. They make good poets. And massage therapists. H is a Cancer Rabbit, which is also a sensitive sign, and it’s probably just as well that this explosive Gemini Pig was out of town when they visited.

After they finish their housesitting stint in Vermont, Jenny has a road trip planned for the two of them across the U.S. to San Diego. Their apartment on West 105th Street in upper Manhattan is available for the summer if you’re interested in a rental in the Big Apple. As for their journey, I wish the road to rise up to greet them, and I hope for calm winds when they venture back to Fern Forest.

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