Monday, February 18, 2013

Fern Forest Fantasy

     I could write a volume about last weekend's Treehouse guests: Mom Jessica, Dad Will, their two children, and puppy Peanut. Will, handsomely Cuban by heritage, is an accountant born in the year of the Dog, which makes him inherently agreeable and likable. Jessica, of French Canadian ancestry, has a sense of wanderlust not held back by family and canine. She and Will acquired Peanut a decade ago when they bought a house in Los Angeles and jokingly told the sellers they'd take the house if they'd throw in the dog. They did, and Peanut has been with them ever since. 
     Jessica owns Cucumber Design Company and does most of her work online so she can travel anywhere she can access wifi. When their daughter came along, they moved to New York City and enrolled her in an international school to learn French. Their son followed a few years later, and they moved to Boston to be closer to Jessica's family in Maine. Their hope is to live in France for a few years and travel around Europe, exposing the children to a world of adventures.
     Instead of giving the kids toys for Christmas, Jessica and Will give them experiences. These are wiser parents than I was, evidenced by boxes upon boxes of Christmas gifts stashed in my attic, discarded after the boys grew up and left home. I hold onto the dim hope that maybe ~ some day ~ there will be toddler grandkids who'll want to play with them. Jessica and Will are less foolish. Last Christmas Santa brought their children a Treehouse. Or, rather, a weekend thirty feet up in the air. I was a little nervous with energetic youngsters ages five and eight climbing up to the loft and perhaps even dangling from the deck, but I needn't have worried. This bright new generation can figure out things for themselves.
     In fact, I'll let them speak for themselves. Take a look at Jessica's blog for a peek at their high Treehouse fantasy:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finding hope and art in waste and decay

By Saturday morning, Sébastien was still undecided about whether to drive the Porsche up from Albany or get his girlfriend Stephanie to take her Hyundai. The weather forecast promised snow in Vermont—a lot of it. But he does love to drive that Boxter. It’s low and fast, a sleek black panther with a cabriolet top for warm, hair blown days.
The car’s as exotic as Sébastien. He’s got that tall, dark French handsomeness about him. Born just outside Paris, he still speaks with a delightful accent even after a decade working in the states. He’s got a PhD in computer science, and I like a guy who gets what I’m saying before I finish saying it. “You’ll need a reservation for dinner at the Bobcat….” And he’s found the number on his phone and is already dialing. Dinner at 7:45, which gave us plenty of time to chat before he and Stephanie slipped and slid down the driveway.

        Working as a biomedical engineer is Sébastien's day job. After hours he’s a photographer. One of his obsessions is photographing architecture—a decrepit old castle, a dilapidated theatre, an abandoned hospital streaked with graffiti. He’s drawn to decaying buildings because of “the sense of time,” he says. “Buildings and structures can outlast us but inevitably crumble and collapse, burying the memories they were attached to.” He wants to preserve those memories and “show a small glimpse of hope in that waste and decay.” In the last couple years his work has been featured in three solo and eighteen group exhibits, and he had photographs displayed at the 75th exhibition of work by artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, hosted by the Albany Institute of History and Art. Check out his impressive website at

His passion for buildings may have led Sébastien to Stephanie, who works as an architect designing commercial buildings. She conceptualizes new hospitals, theaters and the like, and Sébastien photographs those that are falling apart. Stephanie doesn't like to talk about herself and asks more questions than she answers, which creates an irresistible mystique about her.
What we did find out about Stephanie is that even though she’s beautiful, she’s also pretty tough. She and Sébastien get the award for spending the most frigid night in the treehouse. On the Saturday evening of their stay, the temperature dipped to -12F. In the morning when they came in for coffee (Sébastien drinks milk), the thermometer was flirting with zero.
“Did you get cold?” I asked Stephanie.
She shook her head no. “I dressed for it,” she said. Practical girl.
Sébastien seemed invigorated by the cold and showed us photos he took of the Treehouse, some at night adorned with its colorful lights and some in a mystical light. He says he tries to “provide a glimpse into the world of chaos and decay before it inevitably gives way to something completely different, old or new.”
As much as I admire Sébastien's photography, on that note I’m rather glad he didn’t ask to photograph this chaotic and decaying writer. Even though he avows that the French don’t like to disclose much about their personal lives, I do hope Sébastien and Stephanie return to Fern Forest—I have a feeling we’ve barely scratched the surface of getting to know this fascinating and very cool duo. 
Here's one of Sébastien's of Fern Forest Treehouse on a cold winter night.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Nothing tacky about natural beauty

It’s odd how treehouse guests not only share a bit of themselves when they visit but also act as mirrors for H and me. Each time we have a new guest, we see our view of Mt. Abe in a new light. I look around at H’s beautiful handcrafted lamps as if for the first time. Instead of taking our surroundings for granted, I feel the peacefulness of the forest around us.
            Our last treehouse guest, Kimberly, is a makeup artist and has done makeup for stars and models like Naomi Campbell. Since she moved from Florida to Massachusetts, Kimberly’s main clients are brides and bridal parties, prom dates and once in a while a birthday party for thirteen-year-olds.
            The evening Kimberly arrived with her handsome boyfriend Phil, I wasn’t wearing makeup. Usually I’ll brush on some mascara, but I feel overdressed in blush and lipstick here in the wilderness. I’m lucky if I get my hair combed. Kimberly’s makeup was perfectly applied—understated and classy. She was stunning, in fact. Even her hair looked as if she’d laid out a fortune to have it cut and styled.
            But there was no sense of competition between us. The trick of Kimberly’s trade, she says, is to make the client feel good about herself—not to feel overshadowed by the artist. She could have said to me, “Just let me fix you up a bit.” Instead, she said, “You don’t need makeup—you have natural beauty.” I loved her immediately.
            Before they went out to dinner, I gave Kimberly a glass of wine and let her wind out some stories about makeup. One bride wanted heavy eye makeup with rhinestones glued to her lashes. Kimberly tried to convince her that not only would such affectation look tacky and unnatural, but she’d have trouble blinking. The bride was adamant about the rhinestones. Kimberly applied the glittering fake diamonds. The bride blinked. Her eyes watered. She asked Kimberly to get the rhinestones off her lashes—immediately. Kimberly smiled, removed the gems and managed not to say “I told you so.”
            Boyfriend Phil is a stonemason, which keeps him in good shape. Kimberly keeps her slim figure by going to the gym every morning and working out with a trainer. She pulled out her phone and showed me photos of herself in some of her fitness competitions. First of all, let me say that Kimberly is in her early fifties, ten years younger than I am, but when you see her in a bikini, you’d never believe her age. She’s all muscle—all definition, as they say. Two percent body fat when she’s working it. Her skin is tan sprayed a golden bronze color. She looks amazing.
            The competition involves flexing, posing, and doing a dance number choreographed with help from her trainer. Kimberly was competing in the over forty category.
            “Did you win?” I asked.
            “I came in second,” she said.
            “Who came in first?” I expected it would be someone younger but she said, “A woman your age.”
I gulped. I swore off French fries. I scheduled a gym workout.
Before they left, I asked Kimberly about eyelashes. Mine have thinned since I’ve gotten older. She recommended Colossal by Maybelline. I went right out and bought two tubes of the mascara. My lashes now are long and thick. Thanks, Kimberly.
As for the rest of me—well, that’s going to take some time.