Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The snow at night is big and bright

    On February 14, Fern Forest received a Valentine gift of two feet of fluffy white snow. Steve and Carmen braved the late winter nor’easter to spend a romantic weekend in our secluded treehouse. But first they had to get to us.
The young couple moved to Vermont from Austin, Texas, two years ago, so what did they know about driving in snow? Living in Burlington, they leave their car parked most of the time. Steve commutes by bus to Montpelier, where he works at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and Carmen walks to the University of Vermont to teach math education.  
            H usually plows the driveway with his aging pickup but because of the ferocity of the storm, he hired a local guy who knows the nuances of plowing. Well and good. But it’s impossible to scrape down to gravel even with the best plow.
            Three years ago Fern Forest got so much snow that even the local guy couldn’t handle it. For a few days we were held captive except for a path H was able to clear with the snow blower. A bulldozer arrived just before we ran out of milk—and beer. I remember that spectacularly sunny day when I looked down the driveway at the growling machine and felt like the captive maiden when the Mounties come to the rescue.
            The hero for our Texans on Friday afternoon was a member of the Lincoln road crew. Steve had tried to get up the last steep hill on Quaker Street before our driveway when his wheels started spinning. He backed down and slid into a snow bank. With no cell phone reception, he wasn’t able to call for help. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and the road crew guy had been out plowing Lincoln’s roads since one in the morning, but he paused to pull Steve and Carmen out of the snow. Then he tipped his hat and went home for a nap.  
            But there was still the hill to negotiate. While Steve was contemplating his options, Quaker Street neighbor Nathan Reynolds stopped, attached a tow rope to his pickup, and pulled the Texans all the way up our long, steep driveway. Then, as Good Samaritans do, he vanished without accepting as much as a cup of hot cocoa.
            For his bride of two years, Steve had ordered a dozen pink Valentine roses from a florist in nearby Bristol. No problem for the florist, who rumbled up the driveway in his four-wheel-drive SUV to deliver a vase of the fragrant beauties an hour before our guests arrived. H perched them on the desk in the cozy treehouse to surprise Carmen.
The snow fell all evening, and Steve and Carmen came in to sit with us by the wood stove, nibble cheese and chat. We discovered that they met in a flash mob group. Flash mobs are dramatic groups—sometimes dancing, sometimes acting—and perform in public places to the surprise and delight of impromptu audiences. Their mobs have flashed in Austin’s Whole Foods, the Ikea store, and shopping malls. In fact, Carmen and Steve enjoy flash mobbing so much that they choreographed two-thirds of their wedding guests in a flash drama during the reception.
There are no mobs in Fern Forest to flash, so the Texans retired early and watched the snow swirl out the treehouse windows. The stars at night may be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but there were no stars that Valentine’s weekend. Luckily the snow was bright reflecting in the solar light of the lamps along the path to the treehouse. That and the quiet peacefulness of a blanket of fresh white was enough to generate all the romance they needed.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Buckeyes take to the trees

Before Christy and Tim came to Fern Forest, I wasn’t sure where Iowa was located on the map. I got Iowa confused with Indiana. Whose idea was it to line up three states that begin with I?
There’s a highly respected writers’ conference in Iowa City—I do know that much. I’ve heard people talk about running into Kurt Vonnegut at the local grocery store when he wasn’t educating his MFA students about the difference between resonance and resolution. I know writers who earned their MFAs from Iowa and have gone on to publish some impressive works. But other than that, the Midwest for me has been a bit of a blur.
            Tim’s Iowa blood goes back many generations. He grew up in Cascade, a small town near Dubuque. The last of the "spit-ballers," Hall-of-Famer Red Faber is from Cascade. Tim's dad works as a mail carrier there, and I imagine he knows everyone in town. Christy started out in Cedar Rapids and then moved with her family to Iowa City, which is where writers fall out of the trees.  She managed to hold onto a limb and majored in journalism at University of Iowa. She met Tim at the university. He was very shy, he admits, and a mutual friend introduced them. Christy didn’t expect much after their first date, but she must have charmed him because he called for a second date.
            Recently their work in software and mobile app development took them to Boston. When we asked about living in Red Sox territory, their faces looked blank. Boston is fine, they said (Midwesterners never  criticize).
Then we asked about growing up in Iowa. Suddenly a light went on and their eyes sparkled. They wanted to talk about school and sports and family. They wanted to tell us how Iowa is bordered by six other states and is bounded by the Mississippi River on one side and the Missouri on the other and how you can drive to Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee or Kansas City in just a few hours. They wanted us to know that Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids is the largest cereal company in the world. They even wanted to tell us about the best places to eat—like Shores, which has good burgers but, as one might imagine, not good seafood.
They don’t mind Boston but if we mention Grant Wood, they perk up. Christy assures us that in spite of the popularity of his “American Gothic” painting, Wood's landscapes in a Cedar Rapids museum are beautiful as well.
            H did a little research and discovered that Wallace Stegner is from Iowa. How could I not know that? I always associate Stegner with Stanford, where he taught, or even Vermont, where he set his novel Crossing to Safety. Silly me. Not only was Stegner born in Lake Mills, but he earned both his Masters and PhD from University of Iowa.
Cloris Leachman and Johnny Carson are also from Iowa. Do you have to have a sense of humor to grow up there?
Buffalo Bill Cody, the great bison hunter, was born in the Iowa territory just before Iowa was admitted to the Union as a state. There were probably buffalo roaming the prairies back in the mid-nineteenth century.
H was also gratified to see that Nathan Pusey is from Iowa. Mr. Pusey was president of Harvard College while H was a student there.
I remember seeing the David Lynch film "Straight Story" a few years ago about an old guy whose eyesight so poor he lost his driver's license and so drives his lawn mower across Iowa to visit his ailing brother. It was a rather slow moving movie.
But Iowans seem to like things to move slowly.
Christy and Tim are our first Iowans to stay in the Treehouse, and they represented their home state well. They hold the honor of being from the same geography as John Wayne, Herbert Hoover and Mamie Eisenhower.
I’m now gratified to know where Iowa is. If the rest of the citizens of Iowa are as nice as these two, a visit to the Hawkeye State is definitely on my bucket list.