Monday, April 25, 2011

Word Girls

For a writer
(which is what I sometimes call myself), there can be no better guest than another writer. Nicola came solo from Cape Cod for a retreat to work on her novel-in-progress. When she arrived in Lincoln, H and I were in Kentucky, where I had a week-long gig as guest author in the Spalding University BFA program. I taught two four-hour classes to advanced writing students, gave a morning presentation to fifty high school girls from local Catholic institutions, and had an hour-long radio interview. It was a full teaching schedule, but H and I managed to sneak in an afternoon trip to the Maker’s Mark distillery, thanks to my friend and former student Sylvia. If you haven’t tried bourbon flavored coffee, I suggest you order a bag pronto.

Anyway, because we were gone, Nicola stayed at Firefly B&B just up the road and owned by our good friend and neighbor, Issy Link. Nicola is English and Issy is from Germany, and they got along famously, talking about “the old country,” as Issy says. Nickey spent three nights in the rustic Firefly cabin, getting through the first revision of her novel (over forty chapters of it). Then she came to Fern Forest for her last night of solitude.

When she emerged from the treehouse, we had some good conversations. We found lots of common ground. We both teach creative writing; we're both working on books; we each enjoy a balance of company and solitude; and we each have two sons with whom we're madly in love. And we both exercised restraint about pinning each other down with a detailed summary of our writing projects.

Most of the time, though, she holed up in the trees to work on her writing. There’s something about seeing a runner running that makes me want to run, too, even though I’m slow as a slug and graceful as a hyena. And there’s something about knowing a writer is at work that makes me want to work, too. I had been contemplating a new project, a book about making moonshine, including a few vignettes about my enterprising Virginia ancestors, but I hadn’t gotten around to setting the wheels in motion. Nickey was just the thrust I needed. In the short time she stayed with us, I drafted a satisfying intro and an outline of chapters. Working title: Hooch. So far so good.

It’s always a delight when writers inspire each other. I’m grateful to my Facebook writer friends, one of whom rises at 3:00 a.m. and posts that she’s beginning her writing day. I love hearing that someone is giving a reading or has just had a poem accepted or is courting an agent for a young adult novel. They get me going.

I have miles of mountain road ahead of me to make my moonshine story unfold. If Nickey comes back with her novel manuscript and hangs around a while, I just might be motivated to get the job done.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lesson of the Red Sox

After college Mike traveled the world with his sister. He’s a Boston boy but lived in Maine for a while. Then he made a smart move to Montreal. There he met Liane and fell hard. But he needed a job. He was trained as an accountant, and Liane found him a position with the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, close enough for them to meet on weekends either in Stowe or Montreal, where she works as an administrator in a child advocacy firm. When they came to Fern Forest for a night in the treehouse, they held hands while we got to know them, declining cheese and crackers and wine because “We don’t want to spoil our dinner,” Mike said.

Lianne asked about the spa, what time it’s open. She didn’t want to disturb us. It’s open all night, I told her. Help yourselves.

They had no requests or restrictions for breakfast. "We’ll eat anything," Lianne said. "Except mushrooms," Mike added, looking at Liane. Apparently she’s not keen on mushrooms. But I imagine she’d eat them if we served them—just to be nice. She’s Canadian, after all.

Mike is a Red Sox fan, of course, and was at the 1978 game with his father when Bucky Dent hit the homer for the Yankees that crushed the hopes of the Red Sox. With the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox tied for first in the American League East at the end of the 1978 season, the stage was set for a one-game playoff between the two rivals on October 2.

Shortly after Dent hit the game-winning homer, rumors circulated that Dent had used a corked bat. The bat disappeared, and Dent denied the accusation, but the win held. Mike doesn’t remember the game, but he remembers being in the stadium. He was seven years old.

I remember a game at Fenway a few years ago. H had bought four tickets in the grandstand along the third base line. His brother came with a cousin. The cousin and I chatted, and brother Jim kept a running monologue about work, baseball, the Philosophy of Life. We’d gotten there in time to see Johnny Damon lead off with a single to right—back in the days before Damon jumped ship and he was still a Red Sox darling. The Sox were playing the Mariners, and it was midseason, but every game counts. Many beers were consumed along with bags of peanuts, shells littering our feet

In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox were down by two. The bases were loaded with two outs. The thing about Fenway is that no one leaves before the final out. Every game is a party. But by the final pitches, people were distracted, chatting with neighbors, chalking the game up to experience. Then David Ortiz came up to bat. When Papi’s at the plate, people pay attention. Five pitches—three balls and two strikes. The crowd rose to its feet for the disappointing end.

With the next pitch, Papi made contact and the ball popped up high. An infield fly, it looked like.

Then it happened.

Whether it was the wind or the will of the crowd or the hand of God, the ball hung in the air for just a second. And then it began to move. The crowd grew quiet. Every eye was on the white orb as it traveled toward the outfield. The right fielder punched his hungry glove, but the still the ball floated, over the first baseman, over the grass mowed in wide strips, over the outfielder’s head. And, finally, over the fence, where it dropped into the front row of the bleachers.

Papi was still standing at home plate. It wasn’t until the silence broke and the crowd roared that he started his slow lope around the bases. Suddenly I was part of a huge family, strangers hugging strangers, all of us witnesses to something unexplainable. Something miraculous.

Mike and Liane took a soak under the stars that night before they went out to sleep in the treehouse. I suspect they practice what I learned from that game—that nothing is more important than living in the moment, and every moment is astonishing. Every moment is a blessing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Brit has a crush on Miss Piggy

“I’m Florence,” she told my husband. To me she said “Florencia. Like the city of Florence.”

“Don’t you say Firenze in Italian?” I asked.

She frowned. “No. It’s Florence. But I am Florencia.”

“Aren’t you Italian?” I asked.

“I am from Argentina,” she said, clearly annoyed.

Her hair was dark and she had an exotic look, sort of like the Italian actor Vanessa Ferlito. Actually, more like Salma Hayek, the Spanish actor. Hayek makes more sense because Florencia declared, “I am Latin.”

Coming to Fern Forest was Will’s idea. The trip was a surprise for Florencia’s 28th birthday. She came into the house and looked around, inspecting. Had he done well? The jury was still out. It was chilly, snow on the ground. Not at all like Buenos Aires. And certainly not like Manhattan, where Florencia works as a photographer’s assistant. I thought—wait until she sees the treehouse.

Will had rented a car—at a premium because he’s under 25—and told her what to pack. A warm jacket. Yes, her Converse sneakers would be fine. A bathing suit. Nothing fancy.

H showed them around and afterward they sat in our living room by the wood stove. Florencia devoured a plate of cheese and crackers and sipped a glass of white wine.

“What did you do in Buenos Aires?” I asked.

“Photographer,” she said.

“What was your subject?”

“Fashion. And boats.”


She stretched out on the couch, her head on a cushion.

“Are you tired from the trip?” I asked.

“I am always tired,” she said. “I don’t sleep. Four hours. Five. That is enough.”

cooks breakfast and asked about dietary restrictions. It seemed cheese would not be a problem.

“I don’t do breakfast,” Florencia said. “Just toast.”

H said we would have toast for her. For Will there would be bacon and eggs, banana chocolate chip muffins, granola, fruit and yogurt. He’s finishing up a one-year internship in Manhattan working with an executive search company and heads home to England in a week. “You’re deporting me,” he said. He doesn’t want to leave New York. Love does that to a man.

H offered to make a reservation for dinner at the Bobcat. “What time?” he asked.

“Late,” Florencia said. “In Buenos Aires we don’t eat before nine.” Eight-thirty was the latest slot available, and they had to be satisfied with that.

“This is not New York,” I told them. And H serves breakfast between nine and ten a.m.

While Will was asking about Vermont and things to do, Florencia popped up and announced that she was going to the spa. In a New York minute she was in her bikini and wrapped in one of the terry robes we furnish for guests. She asked Will to join her, but he said, “I don’t want to get wet.” She went alone, and after a few minutes he wandered out and stood by the spa to keep her company.

It was ten-thirty when they came in from the treehouse the next morning. H served them tea. I had placed Florencia’s setting facing east. She wanted to face west. H brought her toast and an omelet. She ate all of the omelet and the toast. She ate half a cantaloupe and strawberries. She ate a muffin. Will ate three muffins. When I went to clear the table, she grabbed the last muffin. “I’ll take this,” she said. It appears she does do breakfast after all.

Over breakfast they bickered about Will’s horrible driving (to be fair, they drive on the left in England), about his not telling her the correct clothes to bring (to be fair, he said, he’d never been here before), about how men should not dance ballet (Will took ballet lessons as a boy), about Will’s squeamishness about spiders and being visited by one in the treehouse (“I killed it,” Florencia said). To distract them, I gave them our zodiac book so they could look up each other’s qualities. Florencia quieted down to read about herself. She’s an Aries Pig. As a Pig myself, I know just how thorny we can be.

“What does this mean—excessive?” she asked.

Will translated. “You want to have more than you need.”

“I do not,” she said.

“Yes you do,” he demurred.

“What does it mean—genial?”

“Friendly,” Will said. “That’s not you.”

“Yes it is. I’m very friendly.”

“No, you’re not,” he said.

In fact, she is very friendly—in an ardent sort of way. You want to hug her. But not too tight.

Will looks like Ethan Hawke with his thin handsomeness. Like H, he’s a Rabbit, a peacemaker. A sweetie-pie who likes to please. Although she might not admit it, Florencia is well pleased.

“Florencia is a little like Miss Piggy,” I said.

“Who is Miss Piggy?” she asked.

Will said, “For most of my childhood I had a huge crush on Miss Piggy.”

“Miss Piggy likes to have her way,” I told Florencia. “And she’s excessive.”

“I’m not like that,” she said.

“Yes you are,” Will said.

Wisely, H stayed out of it.

H and I had to go to town, and we left them alone in Fern Forest. We came back in the early evening and found them still in the treehouse. They had taken a soak in the spa (Will agreed to get wet). They had watched a movie on Will’s laptop. They had napped (Florencia does indeed sleep). They had eaten grapes left over from breakfast. And that last muffin.

That night they drove to Burlington for dinner and ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s. When they came from the treehouse the next morning—at ten-thirty—Will announced that the first thing she said when she awoke was, “I want breakfast.” H had made blueberry pancakes. She ate three. She wanted toast. I had made sourdough bread the day before and suggested it makes wonderful toast.

“She wants white bread toast,” H said. She got white bread toast. I don’t mean to say that Florencia was difficult. You can’t help but be attracted to her. Her complaints were good natured, even funny. She’s a woman who enjoys being a little challenging. Will was up for the challenge. And so were we.

Before they checked out, Florencia clicked through photos she’d taken with her fancy camera. The driveway with the sun setting through the trees. The treehouse in daylight. The treehouse lit up with colored lights at night. The spa. Mt. Abe. The main house. The breakfast. She’s got a good eye for composition. Will requested that H take a picture of them in front of the treehouse. Then Florencia asked to take a photo of H and me. When she left, she hugged us. She looked well rested, well fed, and happy. As far as giving her a nice couple of days to relax for her birthday, I’d say Will did all right.