Sunday, July 14, 2013

Knock, Knock ~ You never know who's there

Monday’s our day off at the Treehouse. Guests check out by noon on Sunday, and H and I put in a load of laundry and then pack up and head to Burlington. We have a little condo in the city because H plays hockey on Sunday nights, and we come back on Monday afternoon and clean up, finish the laundry, pull weeds, and relax in the solitary quiet of the woods.
            Last Monday after dinner I was out in the front garden ankle deep in myrtle when an old van rattled up the driveway. I thought it was the heating man coming to check the possibility of putting a propane heater in the Treehouse, so I kept bent over, uprooting misbehaving clover.
I heard the van door shut and looked toward the driveway. A young man was walking toward me. Trim with sandy blond hair, he was wearing a blue tee shirt with a college logo—University of Passau, I think.
“Hello?” I said.
He smiled. “Hello—my name is Andreas.”
I thought he might be lost. But our driveway is a third of a mile uphill, and by the time you reach the tractor shed halfway, you should have figured out that you’ve made a wrong turn.
“Can I help you?” I said.
“I heard about your treehouse,” he said. “I wonder if I might see it.”
I asked how he’d heard about us, which began a long journey into the night. Andreas is a psychiatrist in Bavaria, Germany, working on the psychiatric floor of a hospital. His patients are severely mentally ill, some requiring physical restraint. At age 39, he was burning out and decided to take a year off and see as much of North America as he could. In Canada, someone offered him an old van for $800, and he put a mattress in the back. Most nights he found a bed via Couch Surfing. On an island off Vancouver, he spent a few weeks WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) doing everything from weeding fields to washing dishes in exchange for bed and board. Other nights he slept in the van.
In the Midwest somewhere, Andreas had surfed on the couch of a woman who told him about Airbed and Breakfast and showed him the website. Fern Forest Treehouse was on her wish list. He jotted down the name of the town in Vermont and pointed the van's windshield toward us. Lincoln is tiny and pretty much everyone knows about the treehouse. He needed to ask only one person to find our driveway.
H showed him the treehouse, and then we asked him in for a beer. Obviously intelligent, Andreas’s English is very good. He spoke a little about his job but was more interested in talking about Vancouver and his travels across the U.S., navigating only with a cell phone. No GPS, no iPad, no laptop. He doesn’t like technology and wrote letters home by hand and kept a journal with paper and pen. In quiet moments, he read books—real paper and ink books—and we talked about American authors he liked and German authors he thought we might know (Goethe, Hesse, Kafka). I told him about my German ancestors who hailed from Aachen in the north, and we asked about the wine in the Rhine Valley. He wanted to know about my books, and I told him about While In Darkness There Is Light, a story of young men who took risks with their lives. When I asked what dangerous thing he’d done in his youth, he said his father died when he was ten and he was raised by his mother and grandmother.

“And they taught you caution?” I said. He nodded. I suppose traveling in a rickety van twice across a continent and staying with strangers is risky, but Andreas seemed none the worse for wear.
His plan for the night was to find a couch in Portland, Maine, but it’s a four-hour drive and already it was getting on to eight o’clock, so H invited him to spend the night in the treehouse. He offered to sleep in his van, but we wouldn’t have it since the cot in the treehouse was already made.
Andreas accepted the offer and went to his van and brought back a bottle of good red wine as payment for the accommodation. We fed him and gave him a shot of Makers Mark sleeping elixir. Then I took him out to the deck to listen to the wood thrush singing.
“It sounds like a flute,” he said. Yes, it did.

In the morning I left early for a bike trip. When Andreas came in from the treehouse, H made him an omelet and English muffins. Andreas offered to wash the dishes, but H said no—he likes to wash them himself. Then our German guest headed north to Montreal where he was meeting his mother at the airport. She was flying in from Germany to spend some time with her son. What a lucky mother. And lucky us to have such a delightful night off.