Sunday, July 20, 2014

A firefighter takes a leap

What is it about Fern Forest Treehouse that inspires romance? Fireman Tom and his girlfriend Jessica have been together for four years. Tom’s mother has been bugging him about popping the question. He thought a treehouse in Vermont provided a good opportunity.
Saturday morning they were both up at 6:30 a.m. Oh dear, I thought. The bacon wasn’t even fried yet. But Tom said, “We’re going to climb a mountain before breakfast.”
A mountain? Before breakfast? Okay, I guess there was no hurry to cook the eggs.
As it turned out, it was a small mountain, and they were back by nine o’clock. H and I served them in the dining room, and from the kitchen we heard them giggling. Later I noticed a huge diamond ring on Jessica’s finger.
“What’s this?” I asked. She grinned. They had hiked to the top of Deerleap and sat on a ledge overlooking Lake Champlain. That’s where Tom took the leap.
Jessica works at a nursing home in Massachusetts. She loves the residents with dementia because they have no filters and she’s always amused by what they say. “It’s so refreshing to be able to say whatever you’re thinking,” she says. I can take a guess about what she’s thinking today with that glittering rock on her finger.
Tom is a full-time firefighter and part-time plumber. The firefighting bug bit him at an early age. He was a senior in high school when he became a cadet with the Civil Air Patrol, a squadron trained for emergency services. He got a call late on March 3, 2003, to assist in a rescue. A small aircraft had crashed in Beartown State Forest. He phoned his partners, two other high school boys ages sixteen and seventeen and told them, “Get up. We have an actual.”
It was the middle of the night when the boys started up the mountain with temperatures hovering around zero. At eighteen years old, Tom took the leadership role. In the dark the boys waded through thick woods with snow up to their waists, trudging slowly up the 1,700-foot Mt. Wilcox. By noon when they finally reached the wreck, they found a blue and white Cherokee Six torn apart, its fuselage resting on its side just above the creek bed. Birch and ash trees had clipped off the plane’s wings, but snow had cushioned the impact.
Running shoes were scattered around the site, and goose down feathered the plane’s cabin. Inside they counted the pilot, his wife and four of their five sons. The wife and two of the boys were killed on impact, and the others were suffering from hypothermia.
Tom radioed the search helicopter and looked around the wreckage. Something caught his eye 40 feet from the demolished plane. He walked toward it. Nestled in cold slush near a stream was a baby with no shoes or hat, a boy about two years old. Acting on instinct, Tom grabbed up the child, put him inside his bulky jacket and breathed warm air on him until help arrived.
            The family had been returning from a Florida vacation when the plane’s wings iced up. Three of the boys were in critical condition but were the only survivors of the crash. They never had a chance to thank Tom and his partners. Tom never saw the boys again, but he thinks of them often. Mostly, he feels privileged to have been able to help. Helping is his passion.
            Tom likes to skydive and once Jessica took the dive with him. She prefers to lace up her skates for an invigorating game of pond hockey. Tom can barely skate. These two give each other challenges, but they also balance each other. From our perspective, it’s a perfect match.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sky Rockets in Flight


            Treehouse guest Charles wrestled his way through Williams College and now coaches high school wrestling. He’s also an English teacher starting a new job in Boston next month near his girlfriend Alexis, who joined him in our lofty perch.
            These Midwesterners brought their affability with them to the east as well as their affinity for sports. Sure, they wanted to have a romantic, relaxing time for a few days (and Charles did relax on the deck with his laptop), but the World Cup was on, and Argentina was playing Switzerland. Alexis was born in the USA, but her parents moved to the Chicago area from Argentina. We all know whom she was rooting for.
             We gathered around the television to watch, chatting and nibbling hummus and crackers. After Argentina’s victory (and an excited phone call to Alexis’s parents), the two drove up the river to a pretty swimming hole on the New Haven for a dip on this hot first day of July. They were back in time to catch Belgium whupping the USA. But by that time we had uncorked a bottle of chilled white, which soothed our disappointment.
            After two nights aloft, our new friends Charles and Alexis packed up to head back to Boston. Charles went to his car, brought out six packages of sky lanterns and handed them to us as a thank-you for hosting them. I had seen videos of these beautiful little hot air balloons being launched at festivals in Thailand but had never witnessed them in person. We were invited to a huge party at a Lincoln neighbor’s house for July 4th, and I brought the lanterns to launch over their pond.
            The Danforths (of Danforth Pewter) have a pot luck picnic with volleyball, swimming and sparklers every Independence Day because it’s also Fred Danforth’s birthday. He thought the sky lanterns were a great idea.
            It was a cool evening and people gathered around the fire pit, watched children run across the mowed grass, feasted at the food tables, and filled their cups at the keg. Over a hundred neighbors and local politicians were there, and we are always delighted to be included among the invitees. 
           Everyone contributes something—a dish to share, a bottle of wine, some fireworks, and sparkling conversation. This year I baked an almond cake with fresh cherries, and just after dark H and I lit the sky lanterns. It took a minute to ignite the first one and we were a little awkward with making sure to hold the paper away from the flame and wait for the air to heat inside the balloon, which took longer than expected because of the night chill. But then the lantern rose gracefully from our fingers. It sailed up over the volleyball net, over Fred’s new barn frame, higher yet over the trees and off toward Mount Abraham.
            Suddenly children and guests surrounded us, all wanting to help light a lantern. We pulled the other five from their wrappers and got them going. When the lanterns were aloft, we stood looking up at their beauty. Someone started singing happy birthday to Fred and everyone joined in as we watched the lanterns float higher and then vanish over the treetops.
            On this Independence Day weekend, H and I feel grateful to live in this country, even if we didn’t do too well in the World Cup. We’re grateful for quality Treehouse guests like Charles and Alexis, for fine friends, and for our good fortune to live in such a gorgeous place.

            So happy birthday, Fred. And happy birthday, America!