Saturday, January 29, 2011

Serendipity strikes Fern Forest


“Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. Uh-uh. But rather, it’s a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan,” says Dean in the film Serendipity. It’s Tara and Caine’s favorite movie because the plot imitates real life for them.


For ten years, neither knew the other existed, even though they’d met briefly several times through mutual friends.


“She was my friend’s wife’s sister’s friend,” Caine says—or something like that.


“Someone says we met at a bowling alley party, but I don’t remember him,” Tara adds.


What does it take for a girl to notice a good-looking, fit, blue-eyed, eligible guy?


Nearly a decade later, their best friends got engaged to each other. They were each invited to the destination wedding held on an island off Key West. Caine was best man, and oh wasn’t he dashing all spiffed up?


Serendipity finally struck. Why hadn’t they noticed each other before?


Caine is a can-do sort of guy. He’s a driver for Fed Ex and cruised over the Appalachian Gap to get to Fern Forest and then made it easily up our steep, snow-covered driveway in his 4WD truck. And talk about high energy. Give him the most precipitous slope for skiing or sledding and he’ll be happy. And Tara will match him in courage and vigor.


Tara brought Pearl, her Boston terrier, and we doggie sat while they went out to dinner the first night. Tara was worried that Pearl would be nervous when they left, but she curled up on the sofa and took a nap while they wolfed down dinner at the Bobcat. Pearl seemed pretty content at Fern Forest—but, then, it’s a laid-back kind of place.


While Tara got ready to go out the second night, Caine helped me in the kitchen. I’ve broken my wrist, and he opened jars and cranked the pepper mill. He’s a handy guy all around. From the way they looked at each other at breakfast, I’d say Tara thinks so, too.


In the movie Serendipity, Dean says, “If we are to live life in harmony with the universe, we must all possess a powerful faith in what the ancients used to call ‘fatum,’ what we currently refer to as destiny.” In Tara and Caine’s case, destiny takes its own sweet time, but I’m glad it finally smiled on them. They sure were smiling when they loaded Pearl back into the truck and waved goodbye.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bringing mindfulness to Fern Forest


Fern Forest Treehouse guest Jeff and I have at least one thing in common—we both have messed up hands. I broke my right wrist and shoulder in a fall down a flight of stairs. Why didn’t we have a nightlight in the bathroom like everyone else? It’s dark in Vermont in the middle of the night! Anyway, I’m healing. A week after the break I had surgery to put a titanium plate (with eight screws) into the wrist—the shoulder is on its own.

Jeff, on the other hand (pun intended), wasn’t so lucky. He was doing a semester of study in India, living with a family who spoke very little English. At a restaurant, a glass fell off a tray and with his quick reflexes, he grabbed for it. He grabbed so hard that the glass broke in his hand and severed a tendon. Medical care in the southern village where he lived was sketchy at best, and a doctor bandaged the hand and sent him home. He had little use of the hand for the next two months, and when he got back to the states his doctor dad took a look at the hand and sent him to a surgeon. He underwent surgery and physical therapy to get function back, and now the hand looks pretty good—except he’ll never be able to straighten his little finger again.

But a bum hand didn’t affect his mental acuity. He graduated college with a focus on neuroscience and has been working at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, where he met girlfriend Meghan, who joined him for a couple nights in the treehouse loft. Although she slept forty feet above the snow, Meghan is down to earth. She was captain of the Brown women’s soccer team and still likes to spring up and down the field. This vivacious blonde is completely unpretentious and good company. At McLean’s, which specializes in OCD patients, she runs a mindfulness workshop.

“How do you do that?” I asked.

“I might, for example, give each person a raisin. Then I’ll tell them to look at the raisin closely, to feel its texture, to smell it. Finally, they eat the raisin and describe its flavor, the way it feels in the mouth. I do the same thing with a penny—but they don’t eat it, of course.”

Being able to use only my left hand, I’m attempting to practice mindfulness myself, moving slowly and deliberately, thinking about every task in detail. You try it: tuck your dominant hand behind your back and spend a day--or even an hour--using only your nondominant hand. I guarantee you'll be mindful of every action. The raisin/penny trick's a good one, too.

Jeff and Meghan were with us for two nights. They took a long snowshoe in the woods, soaked in the spa, gazed at Mt. Abe, and wandered down to the Bobcat for a meal. I’m grateful for the work they’re doing with mental illness. They’ve each applied to twenty PhD programs. Megan is interested in clinical psychology, and Jeff wants to research how the body and mind respond to prescription drugs. They seem well suited for each other, and, since their four arms work just fine, I hope they land in schools where they can keep within arms’ reach.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

White Rabbit


When my friend Dora told me her son Palo was coming to visit and she had no place to put him up in her small apartment, I offered him the treehouse. Palo is in his thirties with movie star good looks. It would be a delight to have him around Fern Forest.

He wrote me from his home in L.A. to say how much he appreciated the offer and would it be all right if his friend Mike stayed, too? I said sure. Then he t
old me that Mike is tall—six-feet-six, to be exact. Well, I said, I suppose he’ll fit in the loft—it’s queen size. Palo could sleep on the single bunk under the loft.

Palo is a vegetarian and doesn’t eat sugar—so H’s pancakes with maple syrup wouldn’t do. Mike is vegan and doesn’t eat grains. So, what to feed them for breakfast? Dora offered to come over in the mornings and take charge of the kitchen. I thought that was a fine idea.


Food and sleeping arrangements under control, we welcomed the young men into our house. Immediately they were like family—even better than family because my own sons expect me to wait on them. But Palo and Mike are comfortable in the kitchen. They made their own tea and brought their own snacks—fruit and baba ganoush and quinoa and mysterious powders to make nutrition shakes. They offered to bring in wood and do fix-it tasks around the house. They made hardly a wrinkle in our lives while they lived with us for four days. And I got to see lots of Dora.



Palo has been looking for a hefty chunk of land in our area to start a community of people who want to live a sustainable life and share in farming, child rearing and spirituality. Dora found 300 acres just over the Lincoln Gap that she thought would be perfect. There’s a capacious log cabin, a couple of small dwellings, a stream, forest, and breathtaking views. Palo approved. Mike is interested in participating. Now to find the financing.


In the meantime, Christmas was coming, and we were all feeling festive. On their last night with us, I made a special dinner—acorn squash stuffed with organic vegetables and a salad, fruit for dessert—and invited my old friends Alan and Harriet. The young men don’t drink, but the rest of us paid homage to some good red wine. Dora was in a particularly festive mood. Harriet had been reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, her memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Harriet said the Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit” is mentioned in the book, and Dora said it’s one of her favorites.


While she tried to remember the words, H sneaked out to his car and found a cassette tape with the song, brought it in and turned the speakers toward the dining room. Dora launched into a sing along: “One pill makes you larger And one pill makes you small, And the ones that mother gives you Don't do anything at all. Go ask Alice When she's ten feet tall.”


Palo was nonplussed. I nearly fell off my chair laughing.


Dora shops for organic foods and drinks raw milk. She knows what buckwheat groats are and gets her eggs from farmers with free range chickens. She’ll have a glass of wine but exercises moderation. She’s of the “small footprint” persuasion. But I have a feeling that somewhere along the line she ran just a little wild. At least I’d like to think so. That’s what makes her such an interesting friend.


If Palo swings the deal to buy the land, he’ll be making frequent trips from L.A. to set up the community. Dora will vacate her apartment down the road from Fern Forest and move into one of the cabins on the other side of Mt. Abe. I’ll miss our invigorating walks up and down the hills of Lincoln and our talks about, oh, everything. But it’s a new year and the Tiger is giving way to the Rabbit, which means good fortune. I’m sure for Dora it’ll be a white rabbit year, and whatever move she makes, it will be an auspicious one for her. No matter what, we’ll still be friends—on either side of the mountain.