Thursday, September 27, 2007

S is for Snake

First, a brief explanation: I wrote this back in 1996 for a fly-fishing audience, introducing a journal issue that included one or two articles about the various ways, historically, that anglers got to water. This was the first part of the introduction, the part that came before the hey-look-what-you’ll-find-in-this-issue part.

There are things I decided not to share with that audience—like just exactly how hungry I was and how consequently cranky I was getting. (I wonder if Tim noticed?) Like how it became clear as we followed the truck that this guy went by the moniker Snake. Like how even though I happen to love snakes, I wasn’t convinced that someone called that would automatically be the nicest guy in the world.

But it was the most memorable day of that vacation, which we had dubbed in advance Moosequest ’96. The title of this intro was “Access.” Here’s yours to it:

On a dirt road in Maine one August noon, my husband and I were trying to find a particularly remote pond, and it was eluding us. The pond was clearly marked on the Gazetteer, but we were discovering a lot of side roads that weren’t. This pond, we were told, was sure to harbor moose. Moose was the reason I was in Maine—moose and landlocked salmon.

About to give up, we saw a pick-up truck coming the other direction and flagged it down. It was a Mainer on vacation; he thought he knew where we wanted to go. He said he had all the time in the world and would be happy to show us the way. He turned the truck around, and we followed him.

It soon became clear that he couldn’t find the right road either. But he offered to take us to the pond where he’d just been fishing. He took a look at our VW Golf, made a quick assessment, and decided we could do it. We got back in the car and followed.

We followed a long way, for a long time. The roads got worse, more remote, and our clearance was becoming extremely questionable. My city survival instincts were beginning to kick in, and I wondered what we thought we were doing, following a complete stranger into the middle of nowhere. It could be weeks before our bodies were found. The fact that we’d flagged him down wasn’t alleviating my anxiety.

Finally, without warning, he stopped. He got out of the car and showed us his secret carry to the pond, invisible from the “road,” marked only by the smallest of cairns. By sharing this access with us, he’d saved us significant paddle time. We thanked him, Tim offered him some flies, and we carried our canoe down and ate lunch.

And there they were. Two calves, two cows, and a magnificent bull moose feeding in the pond. We paddled all around them. It had taken several frustrating hours to get there and to find them, but it had been worth it.

And I caught some salmon on the trip, too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

T is for Trampoline

In elementary school, I was the kid whose jumping made the trampoline go down the farthest.

Trust me: You do not want to be that kid.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

U is for Udder

In 1998, life mimicked art when Fred Tuttle, star of the 1996 film Man with a Plan—the story of a Vermont farmer who runs for Congress because he needs a high-paying job with health benefits and no experience required—ran for Senate. He won in the primary against a multimillionaire originally from Massachusetts. The most famous moment, of course, was when, in a televised debate, Tuttle asked his opponent the number of teats on a Holstein. The flatlander said six. There are, in fact, four.

Upon winning the Republican primary, Tuttle promptly endorsed Democrat Patrick Leahy, admitting that he didn’t really want to win because then he’d have to move to DC. I’ve lived in both DC and Vermont. I loved DC, truly, but I have no plans to return.

This year I went to the Washington County (NY) Fair with my sister. Alison’s a speech-language pathologist, and one of her young clients was part of a family showing cows there. I learned from them that sometimes cows don’t have four teats—occasionally they are born with extra, which are usually nonfunctional and removed. Sometimes an infection can cause a teat to become nonfunctional, and again, it would likely be removed—leaving the animal with fewer than four. (Of course, you won’t see a three-teated cow at the fair.)

Alison’s client is a great kid. At age three, she’s already got both love for the animals and a clear, objective understanding of where animals fit into their lives. When given an opportunity to name a steer the family was raising for later use, she promptly christened it Dinner (like David’s rabbit, Stew; in that case, though, it was merely a threat). Dinner will be ready in another year or so.

So, here I am, rambling about Tuttle and teats and cows and steers and even rabbits, none of which is actually an udder. I know that. I seem to have to talk around the udder, not directly about the udder. I seem unable to look directly into the light of its milk-making glory.

But U is for udder, and today I must declare what U is for, and udder is an excellent U word, no matter how you get to it.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

V is for Vee

Last Sunday we headed south to Dorset for the weekly farmer’s market. For us: Pascal’s gourmet sausages, Swiss chard, and purple-and-white-striped beans. For Chuck and David, to be called on after: sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and a bouquet of zinnias mixed red, yellow, fuchsia, purple.

We bumped into neighbors and made plans for the sharing of food and drink. The sky was breezy bright blue.

And then, the loud honking, and right over our heads, low-flying Canada geese—a vee of twenty or so, the sun somehow bouncing off their bellies with the flap up of wings—heading farther south than the Dorset Sunday farmer’s market. Probably much farther south.

No, not yet, I whispered. Then, bon voyage.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

W is for Will and Eric

Something good has happened in this village.

I live in a village. Not really a town, although my town is taxed with another town under a single “Town of…” umbrella. There are allegedly several hundred people here in Parts West, but they certainly don’t all live in the village.

There is no traffic light. There is a post office and a firehall. And until late last year, there was what some would call a general store, but what I would call a convenience store, tucked into an old building that used to be by the railroad tracks back when there were railroad tracks. Let’s call it Barney’s (for the sake of irony).

Perhaps in this way I’ve clearly been an outsider in this slate town: I almost never went to Barney’s. The place had none of the charm of the quintessential Vermont country store. It was dirty and dusty and smoky, and there was very little in there that I needed (the occasional fishing license, a propane tank refill). In fact, I almost never even thought of Barney’s for emergency purchases. Instead, we’d drive the 5 miles to the grocery store.

A couple of neighbors, when Barney’s closed, desperately missed its convenience for wine and beer. Likely it was a long dark winter for them.

One day, at yoga, a woman from a neighboring town asked me what I knew about the new owners. As I’m an editor chained to her computer in her home office fewer than a dozen buildings away from Barney’s, of course I knew nothing. I didn’t even know there were new owners. What did she know? Two guys, she said, and maybe one would be selling meats.

Work began at Barney’s: cleanup, construction, painting. And then something extraordinary: two twisty topiaries appeared, one on either side of the steps. The collective gasp of the ex-city chicks and village gays was very nearly deafening.

Will and Eric opened in August, right before I left for vacation. The place is transformed. (Of course, as several have noted, “clean” passes for “transformed.”) The boys are doing a good job of catering to the old customer base while batting their eyelashes at the new. That is, Barney’s is essentially still a convenience store with a deli counter—but check out the Vermonty perks: Fresh Rupert Rising bread. Consider Bardwell cheese. Pastries in the morning and Green Mountain Coffee in thermos pump pots. Wilcox black raspberry ice cream in the freezer. And someday, soon, beer and wine again.

I don’t often frequent convenience store–type places, so I keep looking for ways to patronize these guys (without gaining too much weight). The other night Alison was over for dinner, and we sent Tim to pick up some Chesster ice cream sandwiches (they carry them!) for dessert. Tim made the trip à la longboard, and apparently Will took it for a spin.

Barney’s: A phoenix has risen from the ashes.