Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mt. Washington Part I: Remembering the love my young parents had for each other while scarfing down a burger at Horse-Feathers

We head east towards Montpelier planning to go through St. Johnsbury and across the river into New Hampshire. Our destination: Mount Washington and North Conway, NH. We turn off 89 and head towards St. Jay; the towns grow smaller, less developed. The main streets still wooden storefront buildings that remind me of something out of “Fried Green Tomatoes” or the Old West. The rivers are high because we’ve had record rain this spring; I watch them longingly and think: river, lake, ocean—all water soothes me but moving water in particular has a vivid spirit. Lately—let’s say the past three weeks—I’ve felt like I’m treading water, my lips just above the surface. I’ve felt frantic and scattered so the rain and the rushing water seem both to free me from my feelings and to fit those feelings.

Everywhere brilliant, spring green explodes. The mountains grow deeper, closer; they converge with both road and sky. I point out the evergreens to my husband—they appear regal and of fairy tales with trolls and horsemen, with grandmother’s and fair maidens. Just past Marshfield we meet a “Road Closed” sign and Josh pulls over. We’re quiet. We don’t travel well together because we’re both moody travelers who want to exert different means of control—Josh always drives; I always want to stop for a variety of reasons, especially the bathroom. We return to Marshfield with its own rushing river that we spend a moment observing. In the general store the young woman behind the counter gives me a map when I ask for one and I make a mental note that Josh wouldn’t have asked and then I make a mental note to X that mental note because it’s too obvious a thing to note.

Josh re-routes us and we’re off. We drive in silence, the mountains soft giants standing in the mist. We cross the Connecticut River to enter New Hampshire and Josh says, “You can just tell it’s not Vermont now, at least it’s still the Red Sox Nation.”
“You can’t tell! How can you tell?” I protest, just to disagree.

But, maybe it does look different. We pass an old man sitting on a cement stoop and a girl with yellowish hair riding her bike along the uneven sidewalk. Pink streamers flutter from each handlebar.

There’s a carnival underway when we reach Lisbon—population 1,595—located along the Ammonoosuc River. Lisbon, we’ll find on our drive back, hosts a Lilac Festival every Memorial Day. The roads in New Hampshire, like in Vermont, are mostly two lane blacktops that turn into small town main streets, it’s like we’re driving through the tiny small-town carnival.  We pass the white tents selling Native American Art, ball caps, and pottery.  Metal arms with bucket hands jammed with coupled people locked behind a single bar, whirl. Carousel ponies move slowly on their poles, while a pin-striped candy-apple shack winks at a candy corn stand. We pull into the gas station adjacent to the small carnival. A woman paints black music notes on a gray-bearded man.
     “Let’ take pictures,” I say after I’ve returned from the Porta-Potti.
Josh’s hand is on the gear shift, ready, but he acquiesces and kills the engine.

There’s no fence keeping us in or out. First I try to photograph a child harnessed into a vertical sling-shot, but I’m too far away. I move quickly to the carousel, with its carefree, deliberate sluggishness—its loveliness a throwback from some other era that cared about beauty in something like a carnival ride. Finally I give the camera to Josh: you take better photos, I say. Get that lady with the big hat, that family, the little dog…The carnival is so small that it takes only five minutes to circle through it.

Round and round we go
A family waits in line for tickets

Back in the car, we eat a bag of chips, lick our fingers and roll down the windows.  I make a list of all the things I want to have occurred in ten years. I imagine—particularly if my mental health doesn’t improve—I’ll be making lists forever. Lists of what I need to do today, this week, this month, this year and in ten years. The ten-year list isn’t really a to-do list. More like a Hail-Mary in the game of impeding anxiety.  Josh says, “We want so many things it hurts sometimes.” We are like two over-sized children, wanting our own children to play with, and to remember by, because both of us have never been able to completely adjust to the reality of grown-up life, the idea of making money, the loss of toys and endless imagination.

This makes us sound ridiculous, but of course we are.

We reach our hotel and later we walk out over the sidewalks of North Conway to the central eatery, oddly named "Horse-Feathers," where we’re seated at a tiny round table in the middle of a room filled with middle-class families with young children.  I think of how silly my own family must have seemed to others when we went out to restaurants on vacation—the eight of us, all blonds except my father, all looking Norwegian, Swedish, something Scandinavian. I think of us piling into a booth, scarfing down burgers and salads and sodas. At any given moment one of us would have been going through some major phase of adolescence. I suppose all of adolescence is in a way a “major phase” of life.

I think suddenly of my mother and father diving into the waves on a beach in North Carolina. I would have been six or seven. We always went out walking after dark along the beach. There were only six of us then. The spring moon was out, the waves charged the shore—tumbling close and fast.
“Wanna go in?” My dad asked my mother.
She might have smiled, shrugged her shoulders, flirted. They used to like racing each other, taunting each other to competitions like who can swim the furthest underwater in the pool.
“You wanna?” Dad repeated.
“Are you serious?” She would have said, her two-year old daughter, Bess, with the white-blond curls, on her hip.
“Yeah, I’ll go.” She set Bess down. She handed Bess to me.

She might have taken her sweater off, rolled up her jean shorts, but they were basically dressed though shoeless when they ran together over the wet sand and dove into those waves. The four of us, my sisters and I, stood watching them. They dove over and over again into the hard crashing waves. They seemed to become water creatures that night, disappearing into the wild darkness of the ocean, time after time, like their bodies had endless energy, like they were diving something out of them.

Maybe they squeezed hands as we all traipsed back to our hotel. Maybe we had to enter the hotel lobby in two separate groups in order not to get caught having too many people staying in one hotel room. Or maybe, they didn’t care, they laughed passed the maître de, their bodies dripping with salt water and something else—something sweet and secret. Their four blond daughters trailed behind; me, rolling my eyes, sighing, embarrassed, and filled with longing for something distant, incomprehensible.

Josh and I walk back to our room after I track down the Ben and Jerry’s for Ice cream. Tomorrow we’ll hike Mt. Washington all the way to the top, something he’s been waiting to do since he was a child and got caught in a hail storm near the top that forced his family to turn back without reaching the summit. 
Me at Horse-Feathers

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Fragments

Spring arrives like a new or long forgotten planet in Vermont. I once had a teacher who said that when you reach a certain age spring becomes invaluable to you. I suppose he meant it offers the rejuvenation, renewal, exuberance that only the young—with all their intensity and longing, insecurity and possibility—can maintain as a part of their identity and being. Oh, how you groan at me for saying this! After all, I am a mere 31. But life does change after thirty. The confusion, the fear, the insanity, the wild feverish desires, the big expectations and big plans, they simply chill out post-thirty. In fact, scientists have reported a new stage of life termed by Jeffery Jensen Arnett, “emerging adulthood,” which marks the 20-somethings as a phase of life all their own.

Kirk Age 11: Anarchist, Punk, Musician

I’m inclined to mark my life by decades. I have a sense of thirty being the decade of both career and family but maybe thirty will be career and forty will be family. If I were still a 20-something I’d be too uncertain to make any such claim—who knows if I’ll have a career or a family!

I’m inclined also to tell you that all these stages of life overlap and intertwine and stunt themselves and go through growth spurts. But, back to spring. I keep trying to write about a single line by the poet Ricardo Reis, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa who created multiple identities for himself as a poet. Really you must look at Philip Graham’s blog for more info, which is where I came across this line.

“Countless lives inhabit us.” (Pessoa took this literally)

Newly married, Hannah and Paul, 29 and 41:
lawyer, runner, gardener/ baker and builder

The divisions within myself, the parts of me that co-exist in a sort of conflict within me but also peacefully, unconcerned with wanting both hermit hood and a deep rooted community with constant social obligations and actions or with wanting a child and not wanting a child—a desperate desire mixed with a sometimes immobilizing fear—or wanting financial stability and wanting free time enough for the wasting so that I might be a wondering artist of sorts, all force themselves upon me in the moment of spring.

Sally 60-something (with her newborn grandaughter Claribel):
writer, mother, grandma

I don’t want to be here I want to be in a field with sheep, beside a rushing stream, in the forest as it blooms neon green. Spring gives us the most intense feelings of renewal in its literal new life. Again, I feel myself failing to get at Pessoa’s line, actually Reis’s. The old winter elf would write: I live multiple lives at once, I am both the six year old crossing the spring field, her shoes soaked through with dew, and the eighty-year old woman I hope to become, her curled hands reaching into the wet soil of spring to plant seed. I am a teenager driving down a muddy dirt road, getting stuck there, laughing, running away, careless and irresponsible; I am a twenty-something so fraught with depression and anxiety I can’t see straight. I am the woman who will watch cancer destroy another family member or hold the tiny newborn of a sister.

But, spring-me just isn’t feeling that shit. Spring-me is full of longing, she wants to run hard and fast away from everything she’s worked and fought for, everything she’s established. She wants freedom from responsibility even while she wants to take on new responsibility.

Jen 30-something: Activist, Artist, Teacher

Sometimes I wonder if wanting to escape is some sort of symptom. I tell my husband that I refuse to work forty-hour work weeks to which he usually rolls his eyes and once, after he’d had a single beer, he kissed me and said that was why he loved me, for my stubborn convictions. I realize that this feeling of wanting to escape is truly one from my college days. The first hint of warm weather in Minneapolis and I was jumping out of my skin. My roommates and I would find some park or riverbank or back porch and spend the afternoon and evening getting drunk, escaping the anxiety and pressure of looming deadlines and finals. My grades Spring Semester were always a little lower than Fall Semester. Back then I suffered from the most intense kind of winter depression so coming out of winter felt like leaving a cave to be stung with sunlight. Back then I ran out of the city as soon as I’d turned in my last term paper, took my last test, up north to the lakes, to the wilderness, to my family.

Roger age 80-something:
Retired pharmacist, business man, tree farmer; father, grandfather, husband

The residue persists from that era of life when everything was a wild spring river, rushing every which way. And about these multiple selves… well I think of course that all conflicting forces within us and around us are the course of true growth, true spring.