Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lauren Squared

Contrary to the title, there’s nothing square about the two Laurens who recently visited Fern Forest for two nights in the Treehouse. The singer-songwriter (we’ll call her US Lauren) and her English gal pal drove up from Brooklyn for a respite from the holiday bustle of the city. Their rental car nearly made it up the snowy driveway, but US Lauren thought it better to park at the bottom of the hill and tromp up in her Chuck Taylors. US Lauren always wears Chuck Taylors and has them in a variety of colors, and I enjoyed seeing a pair parked in the mudroom while she was here.

US Lauren is an indy girl, and you can categorize that as an independent woman or a musician who plays indy music. By indy I mean she’s willing to play a small venue with ten people, including the bartender and the sound man (but of course she’d rather play for a bigger crowd). She’s also from Indianapolis, which makes her capital “I” Indy.

Although she was born in London, English Lauren’s parents are American, which gives her dual citizenship. “My mom’s from Vienna, Virginia,” she said. I’m from Falls Church, just a few miles from Vienna, and it turns out her mom and I went to the same high school. How weird is that? Her mom was a year behind me but we missed each other because I spent only my freshman year at James Madison High and then transferred to a new school in Falls Church. But I think I’d have liked Lauren’s mom, if her daughter is anything like her—bright and bubbly.

While we were nibbling carrot sticks Sunday night, and then tortilla chips, and then popcorn (these gals are young enough to feast on whatever they fancy), Brit Lauren called her mom in London. I’d suggested that US Lauren is a vegetarian because she has Type A blood and Brit Lauren wanted to ask her mom what blood type she had. Her mom didn’t have a clue but got a kick out of the fact that her daughter was three thousand miles away staying with a woman who’d wandered the hallways of the same high school she herself had attended. I have to admire a mother-daughter relationship that allows a quick call across the ocean from a weekend retreat in a Vermont wilderness.

Brit Lauren was about to take off to spend the holidays with her family in London, and we hope the Heathrow runways were cleared of snow to allow her a safe landing. US Lauren planned to journey home to Indiana, and I imagine she packed her acoustic guitar to practice for her gig at Rockwood Music Hall in New York at the end of January. We were glad to give them a couple days of peace and tranquility before the flurry of their lives catches up with them again.

US Lauren took a great leap when she quit her job to pursue a career in music. As she writes on her website, “I believe that everything falls into place if you are following your heart.” That’s good advice as we advance into 2011, and I have a feeling things are falling into place nicely for both these exceptional young women. You can catch more of Lauren Z’s songs, sung with sweet fragility, on YouTube or her website,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New York City Time Out

When Nikki and Elliott arrived at Fern Forest on Saturday night, they both looked the worse for wear. Friday was Nikki’s birthday, and she had celebrated hard at a club in Manhattan, so hard that she didn’t realize until the next morning that her wallet had been stolen. She lost cash, her driver’s license and her debit card. By the time she reported the theft, her debit card had been charged hundreds of dollars. So far, turning 22 had not been auspicious for her.

Elliott wanted to treat his flatmate to a birthday weekend, so he rented a car—a spiffy red Mustang convertible. It was 20 degrees at Fern Forest and snowing, and the Mustang was not equipped with snow tires. So Elliott parked the vehicle, top securely up, at the foot of the steepest part of the driveway, and he and Nikki hiked up to the house.

They arrived in late afternoon, and we gave Elliott a glass of cider. All Nikki wanted was a nap, but she managed, sleepy-eyed, to let us know she’s from Glasgow, although we could tell from her melodic, wind-chime accent that she was Scottish. Elliott is from Brighton, on the south coast of England.

They didn’t know each other before they came to New York City to work as interns for a British organization on a one-year contract. Elliott landed a position with the British Consulate, and Nikki was assigned to work for British Airways. They were thrown into a three-bedroom apartment in New Jersey with three other twenty-something interns, which proved to be cramped and bustling with energy and noise. When you’re in your early twenties, you can endure anything for a year.

Already they've had about enough of New York City. When I asked Nikki if she'd seen Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, she said yes but didn't elaborate on the details. Elliott said he passed by it on his way somewhere. Thanksgiving is a holiday for us rebellious colonials, but they were glad for a day off from work.

H and I sent them to the treehouse for a rest, and a few hours later they came back to the house hungry. We suggested dinner in Bristol, five miles away, but they wanted no part of restaurants and villages. They preferred carry-out to eat in the treehouse. We directed them to a sub shop, and they made a quick trip to town and returned with a container of hot spaghetti. I packed a bag with plates and forks, and they disappeared into the snowy night.

Sometimes we spend a lot of time with treehouse guests, sometimes they take off to hike and explore, and sometimes they just want to enjoy the solitude of the woods. Nikki and Elliott were happy to hang out, have a soak in the spa, and enjoy the quiet. By Sunday, Nikki looked alive again, and at breakfast she and Elliott gobbled H’s cheese omelets and an entire pound of bacon. Then they headed back to the treehouse. Elliott had brought his laptop, and they watched movies and rested.

When H was 22, he headed for Australia for six months to work on a farm commune with friends in Far North Queensland. I don’t remember much about turning 22 myself. I was still in college, between spring and summer classes, and was probably working full-time at the law firm in Washington, DC, where I typed and filed. I wish I’d thought about doing an internship in the UK, but my sights were set on finishing college. After that, I had no more idea what was in store for me than do Elliott or Nikki.

Elliott graduated from University of Leeds and is thinking about graduate school when he returns to England next spring. But first he’s looking forward to April, when he’ll fly to Miami with some other interns, rent a car, and drive across America. All Nikki’s thinking about is going home to Glasgow for Christmas. She likes New York, but she misses her family. I’m sure she’s looking forward to hearing that familiar brogue again, too.

On Sunday it was still snowy, but Elliott and Nikki wanted to go to Bristol and get some supplies. H and I were going out that night and offered them the kitchen to make supper for themselves.

"Why don't you put the top down on the convertible?" I said.

Elliott thought that was a great idea. So they did, a Scot and a Brit on holiday from New York City cruising along the River Road, top down, snow landing on their caps and their laps, laughing at the cold.

By the time they left on Monday, we’d had a foot of snow, and the Mustang was covered in white. H went down to help them load up and dig out.

“Will you take our picture?” Elliott asked, and he handed H his camera. H took a couple shots with the snowy woods behind them.

Afterward, Nikki stood a few seconds.

“It’s so quiet,” she said.

I hope she tucked that silence somewhere where she can get to it when she returns to the busy flat in New Jersey. If not, there’s always a hush here at Fern Forest, and they’re welcome to a bit of it anytime they’d like to return.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Celebration of Young Love

The Treehouse has had guests who’ve brought us gifts—homemade granola, pickles, jellies, English teas. But Elliot and Phyllis are the first guests who brought us ourselves.

We thought they were kidding when they emailed from their house half a mile down Quaker Street and asked if they could book a night in the Treehouse. How silly, I thought. They have a beautiful barn that they could use for a campout. But it was their anniversary and almost Elliot’s birthday, and they didn’t want to make their own breakfast and their own bed. They wanted to be treated.

Sure, I said. But you’d better come check out the ladder to the sleeping loft first. They’re septuagenarians in pretty good shape, but Elliot has tricky knees, and the weather looked to be sloppy—and a bit icy. But Phyllis said, no, they’d brave it. I like that attitude.

Even though they’ve known each other for fifty years, it was their tenth anniversary. They met at a party, but it was crowded and no place to talk. “Meet me in the kitchen at 11:11,” Elliot said. It was November 11. At 11:10 Phyllis wandered into the kitchen, not expecting to find Elliot, but there he was. They chatted. They connected.

One problem: Elliot was engaged to someone else. And Elliot is a man of integrity. He keeps his word.

Elliot married his fiancĂ©. Phyllis got engaged and called off the ceremony two weeks before the wedding date. It didn’t feel right. For a while Elliot kept track of her, calling from time to time but always remaining true to his marriage. Eventually Phyllis married, even though it still didn’t seem right. Then, after twenty years, she ran away from home.

One day she was playing on her computer. Her daughter had taught her to use the internet. Suddenly a box popped up with an instant message: “Is this Phyllis from West Hartford?”

She was living in Cambridge and that morning had taken a jog along the Charles. Oddly, her thoughts had drifted to decades earlier, to Elliot. When the message appeared on the screen, she knew immediately—he had found her.

They were married on November 11, 2000.

There are some people you just know are meant for each other. When you’re with Phyllis and Elliot, you have no doubt. They address each other as “thee.” “Did thee remember thy sweater?” “Would thee like a cup of tea?” They hold hands. They giggle. They are, without doubt, in love.

Elliot, a retired teacher, is a wizard on the computer and a genealogy nut. This year he and Phyllis traveled to Finland to look up some of his relatives and check out his ancestry. Phyllis’s people go all the way back to William Brewster and the Mayflower. H has genealogy charts of both his father’s and mother’s ancestry, his father from Paul Revere and his mother from Robert the Bruce. Like Elliot, my own ancestors are harder to find. But Elliot found a hoard of them.

On both sides of my family, ancestors have been in Virginia since the 1700s. One of my relatives put a book together about my maternal grandmother’s family going back to the 13th century in Germany. My father’s family is more enigmatic, but it’s their names that are noteworthy. Moody Pack Bryant, Bathsheba, Patience, Nimrod (not the guy who led the building of the Tower of Babel), and my namesake, Grandma Louella.

We spent the evening talking about relatives, looking at pictures, bringing the dead to life. Then we joined them for dinner at the Bobcat and afterward had a nightcap and a little more sleuthing for my rum running relatives and Elliot’s ancestors, who include, according to his source, Robert Frost and Jane Austin. Then they tiptoed out to the treehouse, ready for their midnight adventure.

In the morning H and I rose early, expecting they would come in sleepless and grumpy. H made coffee. I heated up croissants and fried bacon. H made cheese omelets and kept them wrapped in a warm oven. And we waited.

At 8:00 Phyllis bounced in cherry-cheeked with Elliot grinning right behind her. They’d had a wonderful night’s sleep and were delighted to have squirrel visitors skittering over the Treehouse’s tin roof. I had put roses in the Treehouse for them and a gift—a beeswax pinecone candle. “We felt like kids,” Elliot said. “It felt like a celebration,” Phyllis chimed in.

That’s what it’s all about. Staying in a treehouse should make you feel like a kid, a kid with something to celebrate. On the card I left them, I wrote that the gift was in honor of anniversaries and birthdays and friendship. For H and me, that’s plenty of reason for celebration.

A Yard of Tea

There’s nothing like young love. Treehouse guests Kristin and Justin proved that when they came for an overnight two summers ago on their way from Buffalo to Maine. As they plotted their route from Vermont on circuitous two-lane roads, Justin said, “We’ll get there.” Kristin replied, “I believe in us.”

Her belief paid off. Shortly after their second visit to the treehouse, Justin asked Kristin to marry him. She said yes, of course, because she’s a clever girl. And sweet. And creative. And good looking. They married in a barn in Buffalo with a stuffed fox watching over the nuptials and lots of fun and love showered on them by good friends. Stan, who taught them graphic design at Buffalo State University, officiated the ceremony, and Justin and Kristin thanked him by giving Stan and his wife Diane a couple nights at Fern Forest Treehouse. Stan and Diane were thrilled. So were we.

Meeting Stan and Diane was like watching PBS and the travel channel and reading National Geographic all at the same time. Stan was raised in Afghanistan by missionary parents. His dad was an eye doctor and his mom was a tornado of energy. He’ll pour you a yard of tea the Afghanny way, by holding the teapot a yard above the cup and pouring a stream of tea without spilling a drop. And, with few resources growing up, he figured out how to have a good time with the pile of rubble his father bought from an Afghan man—mostly broken bicycle parts. Stan and his brother sorted through the confusion and constructed not one but three bikes, which they rode around the community.

Stan went to high school in Kabul. After graduation, his parents shipped him to Kansas to live with his grandparents and attend college. The grandparents knew an admissions officer, who allowed Stan to go through the admitted applications. He picked out a pretty brunette and said, “She’s going to be my wife.” Or something along those lines.

The first week of classes, Stan tracked Diane down and wouldn’t leave her alone until she agreed to have coffee with him. The rest is history. But very interesting history. After they married, Stan moved his new bride to Pakistan to teach and save souls. From Pakistan they migrated to far north Quebec and then to Nova Scotia. Somewhere along the line they managed to have two children. I was afraid to ask for the details of giving birth in remote areas with none of the comforts of modern ob-gyn care. Suffice it to say, Diane is a tough cookie.

She lets Stan take the lead most of the time, but we managed to discover that Diane was born and raised in Kansas and comes from Mennonite stock. Mennonites, just so you know, are similar to the Quakers in their commitment to peace and nonviolence and to the Amish and Anabaptists in lifestyle. They believe in living simply and in valuing community. They also are accomplished farmers and brought wheat to the U.S. from Russia sewn in the seams of their clothing. Think of the Mennonites when you have your morning toast.

Diane has the self-composure of her ancestors, the tough-it-out grit that makes one believe she can handle just about any situation and she’ll do it quietly and efficiently. We found Stan and Diane to be a pious and humble couple, but they were up for a challenging hike to the top of Mt. Abe. In the snow. With the boulders slippery with ice and the wind whipping at the top. They came back rosy-cheeked and invigorated for a second night high in the trees.

I think Diane and Stan had a good time at Fern Forest. But, then, they’re the kind of folks who have a good time no matter where they are. If all they have is a pile of rubble, even better. Stan would probably find a way to turn the mess into a motorcycle to ride into the sunset with his bride gripping his waist behind him. They haven’t wasted a minute of this life, and I have a feeling there’s a lot more ground for them to cover. I hope their travels bring them back our way before too long. We welcome another dose of their optimism and ebullient spirits.