Monday, September 10, 2007

Postcards from Vermont - with pictures!

I. We wake nearly every morning to the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. The breeze is nearly constant, and the willow outside our bedroom filters the morning sun so that the light itself seems to dance with the wind. Soon afterward the children start roaring. Literally. Sam likes to growl and roar first thing in the morning. Then, if I don't get up, I hear the rapid "tump, tump, tump, tump" of Violet's bare feet, and her little head pokes up over the side of my bed and she says "Mommy?" to ask if I'm awake. Not long afterward we are an awkward pile of elbows, knees, and blankies, cuddling until Sam leaps laughing onto us and I get up to save myself. Will generally sleeps through all of this.

II. A bike ride with Sam is rather like speaking a foreign language. It takes a little while to get started, there's a little weaving and hesitation, but then you pick up speed and everything seems to be going okay, until you hit a sudden stop. Then there's an awkward period of trying to figure out how to start up again, but eventually you hit your rhythm and things go well for a while and you even begin to enjoy yourself, maybe get a little proud of the accomplishment, start looking ahead to the next stage, but your partner takes a sudden turn and you have no idea where you're going and you follow because it's the right thing to do, but you're not sure of the path, and again you stop, maybe even going back a little to make sure you know where you are. This continues for a while, and then you both start to grow weary of the effort, and you slow down, stopping more and more frequently, searching for a way to end it, until you reach a wobbly conclusion and walk gratefully away.

III. We hear the tractors coming long before they pass the house, which is nice, because it gives the kids a chance to run to the windows to watch. There's a low growl which gradually gets louder, and suddenly the machine is there, grinding it's way up the hill, big tires spinning dizzily and plaid shirted driver slouching comfortably, perhaps spotting the little heads in the window and giving a lazy wave hello. This is a highlight of their day.

IV. Down the road apiece, on the south shore, there's a place Sam has named Rocket beach after a dog we met there once. Unlike our stone waterfront, there's actually some dark gray sand, ground out of the shale by the constant south wind and waves. Higher up, the beach is covered in smooth dark gray stones like thousands of eggs jumbled together. The uniform gray is interrupted only by long lines of crushed mussel shells outlining in white the memory of the water's edge in winter. Some of the stones have delicate tracings of white running through them, mirroring in my palm the beach on which I sit.

V. As we round the bend on our bicycles, the lake stretching south to our right, a small marsh spreads out to our left, full of cattails and glimpses of green algae between the stalks. Maples and other trees I don't recognize surround the marsh, creating an enclave that somehow reminds me of a chapel in a cathedral. Most striking are the birdhouses on nearly all the trees, ringing the marsh with bright red, yellow, orange, and blue boxes halfway up nearly all the trees, facing randomly inward. Swallows dart in and out of the houses, while redwing blackbirds bounce gently on the cattails. In the midst of the plants, a stone dinosaur grazes obliviously. The whimsy of this spot brings me great joy.

VI. Many years ago a man built seven castles around Grand Isle. The castles are small but elaborate garden sculptures made of small round stones unlike any I've seen here, and are topped with red clay roofs. Each is distinct from the others, unified by style and materials, but nothing else. People now ride their bicycles around the island to see them all.

VII. The forests on the island have been cut, grown back, cut again, and grown again. Pictures from a hundred years ago show carefully tended fields and apple orchards (this once was known as Apple Island) and long views to the lake, reflected in the names of the few roads -- sunset view, Lakeview, etc. Today the trees stand seventy feet tall in places, and the lake peeks through, barely visible even from Lakeview road. Summer people have bought most of the shoreline, and let the vegetation grow high for privacy and because they don't need the land. Inland, however, red barns rise above well mown hay fields and black and white cows lounge like stars with orchards as their back drop. Outlining it all are three-rail cedar fences, zigzags of weathered gray wood. The islands were first settled in the 1700s, and the design of the fences dates back to then. I wonder how many other people feel connected to the founding fathers just by gazing at a fence?

VIII. The Cub Cadet riding lawnmower is faded yellow, with a fair amount of rust. It's older than I am, but new to Will, who as a young man had only a push mower to conquer the grass. Sam adores mowing the lawn, asking to mow at least once a day, and often more. He'll even ask to mow in the evening after spending an hour riding around that very afternoon. My favorite part is looking out and seeing Will, Sam clasped tight, zooming around, making crazy turns and laughing maniacally as they mow together. And now Violet is learning that same love, riding with "the boys" as often as possible.

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