far too much writing, far too many photos

Man, yesterday turned out to be one of those days that develop an agenda and momentum of their own, so that all you can do is hang on and try to get through the ride with a bit of dignity. There’s a huge amount of stuff going on in my 3D existence — preparing the house and grounds for the looming winter, dealing with prep. for my return to Madrid (only a month away now), dealing with something sudden that came up with the IRS. That last is due to an error by a life insurance company post-my-mother’s death two and a half years ago and will work out just fine. It’s just necessitated some hours spent going through records, preparing correspondence, blahblahblah. Added to all that is the simple flow of things that must be done as part of living a life. And in the middle of all that I’m trying to finish up the last few pages of a novel, which will feel mighty fine to have done when it finally is.

None of this is bad. On the contrary — it’s all good. I have a life, it’s full of activity/input/great experiences. It’s good to be alive and immersed in one’s existence. It’s good to have a life.

I’m sharply aware of the coming return to Madrid and have slowly been upping the use of Spanish in my life, recently managing to connect with a small group of local folk who also speak the language to one degree or another. We’ve begun meeting once a week at a Montpelier Thai restaurant whose management is tolerant of a bunch of weirdos hanging around spouting a language the help doesn’t understand while ordering minimal chow. (Actually, I seem to be the only one who eats — the rest stick to a token bit of liquid refreshment.) They stick us at a table in the back, away from customers who might be distracted by foreign-language conversation, we blather happily. Or at least that’s the theory. It worked okay last week at the first get-together. Yesterday was the second. I arrived at the appointed hour like a good boy, sat myself at our table, ordered some fine Thai food. And I waited. At a quarter after five, one of the others showed up, and that was the extent of the turnout. Which turned out to be just fine as I got to talk a lot, so that by the end I was comfortably into the sound and rhythm. Heading back out into the cold, dark American-English speaking world was a bit of a jolt.

And it surely is cold here these days. Cold and increasingly dark, evening falling earlier with each passing day. When I pull myself out of bed in the mornings, the temperature hovers in the mid-teens, the ground is white with frost. Madrid will be cold, too, but it’s not the professional kind of cold winter brings to northern Vermont. It’s more of a dilettante’s version of cold weather, with the occasional spell of genuinely frigid temperatures. Come February, winter slowly begins giving way to spring. It’s mighty civilized and makes the glacial tendencies of the northern Vermont climate seem less user-friendly.

Meanwhile, it’s Halloween! A bowl of Reese’s sticks waits by the kitchen door on the off chance some costumed munchkins will show up later on looking for hand-outs. The lack of neighbors here makes that unlikely, but you never know. I’m prepared, we’ll see what the day brings.

Right. On to the morning.

It’s a cold, beautiful northern Vermont day – plenty of sunlight despite high clouds, a cold breeze, milkweed fluff flying through the sunlit air. When the warm season is coming on, dandelion fluff flies around, with the cold season it’s milkweed. Two examples of, er, airborne sperm launched by members of the vegetable kingdom, both excessively efficient, though if I had to pick between the two I’d choose milkweed fluff ‘cause it’s so beautiful when it’s flying around. Much bigger than dandelion fluff, designed to catch the wind and ride it, and when they’re sailing along, those bits of fluff catch the currents of air the way soap bubbles do. Real damn pretty, fun to watch. They’re out there right now, flying around the yard between the house and the barn, an image that takes a bit of the edge off the chilly wind for me.

My brother arrived yesterday, making the five-hour trip up from New Paltz, 90 miles north of Manhattan to cart some family stuff for storage here (a cedar chest made by our father for our mother when newly married, paintings done by my grandfather). Getting it all out of his already overstuffed attic where it endured extremes of hot/cold temperatures and irritated his wife, being MORE stuff taking up space.

He got here on a gray, brisk afternoon, brought his stuff in, we said hello, etc., then immediately headed out for a hike. Took back roads north to the town of Cabot, down miles of dirt roads to Nichol’s Ledge, a location only locals know, tucked way the hell off the beaten track. You park your car at the small turnoff, head into the trees down a slight incline to a bit of muddy, boggy ground — fed by either a spring or a tiny stream, I can never make out which. All I know is that it seems to be in a permanent state of grossly overdamp messiness. You make your careful way through that, shuffling across narrow lengths of tree-trunk that have been laid out from one side to the other of the boggishness. From there, the ground moves slowly into an upward incline that suddenly, 50 or so feet along, tilts to a much sharper angle and remains that way for the ensuing climb through the trees and rocks. When you emerge up top10-15 minutes later, you find yourself on the crest of a palisade edged with rock outcroppings – the ledge – that provide a spectacular, panoramic view of a pretty fair chunk of the northeast Vermont countryside. Mountains; rolling, mostly wooded country; two lakes dug by a passing glacier many millennia ago. Weighing the effort/payoff ratio involved in getting up there, it’s one of the great outdoor-entertainment bargains in this part of the country, with just enough effort expended in the course of the climb to make one feel virtuous.

Last night: dinner in Montpelier – some fine Italian food, with a chaser of Cherry Garcia from the local Ben & Jerry’s.

Today: me, taking advantage of the brief presence of two more hands to get some cold weather prep. done. Prying a humongous chunk of concrete (planted by the previous owners as the anchor of a butt-ugly, rust-ridden, nearly useless swingset they left behind out in the yard off the kitchen door, a swingset I eliminated almost as soon as the closing was out of the way) out of the ground, carting it downhilll, dumping it in a rocky portion of the northern property line. Moving the picnic table into the barn. (Brief pause for sad sniffling at one more symbolic death-knell for the past warm season.) Climbing an extension ladder (steadied by brother) against insistent gusts of cold, unfriendly wind to clear away a good-sized wasp nest. Stuff like that.

And then he was off, leaving me to do further cold-weather prep. and inflict this entry on youse.

The high clouds gradually thickened, giving birth to a huge, swooping halo around the sun — looking like a compact rainbow as the sun lowered itself toward the trees to the west of here – before taking over completely, the air developing some real bite.

Any illusion of warm season is long gone in these parts. The past few days have seen numerous occasions of snowfall (aiiieeeee!!!) and a growing sense of looming winter.

It’s beautiful here. Should you find yourself heading in this direction, though, bring along thermal underwear.

[Continuation of entry from 10/25]

Down the field a bit, near the end of George Road, closer to the road itself, stands another something. Not a memorial this time, not made of stone. A vertical thingie whose front appears to bear paper covered with plexiglassed text. Which all turns out to be documents describing the history of the Hudson Farm. Which turns out to be pretty interesting history.

I won’t inflict too many details on you, but I will mention a few highlights, such as:

In 1790, the first owner (and here I make a conscious decision to ignore all issues related to the area’s original natives and any controversial assertions re: who, if anyone, actually had any claim to start with), Phineas Slayton, cleared the land, with his two sons Simeon and Jesse.

In 1795, Jesse built the farmhouse and half the barn.

Slaytons owned the farm through 1800s, during which time it expanded to include 600 acres of land, then back down to 175 acres.

During the late 1890s, Walter Slayton had a hired man by the last name of Martin who’d served in the Civil War (served in the largest regiment recruited in Vermont, wounded twice, discharged at the end of the war). Having no children, Slayton left the farm to Martin. From him the farm passed to the Georges (Martin’s daughter and her husband) and finally to the Hudsons (grandson of Flora Wheeler George). The farm was never sold, always passed on to family or like connection, and the original barn and farmhouse have survived.

Across George Road, nestled in the trees, is a small graveyard, bounded by a rickety whitewashed fence. A family plot, it looks like. The gate at the front was closed, I didn’t feel like trespassing, so I contented myself with scoping out a few easily-readable headstones, and by that I mean they were near the fence. None of them were easy to read due to time and weather. But right up front was the stone for the farm’s original owner:

PHINEAS SLAYTON

BORN

in Barre, Mass.

Sept. 15, 1737

DIED

in Calais, Vermont

Sept. 19, 1825

He was one of the original

proprietors and charter

members of Calais,

One of the first settlers,

Revolutionary Soldier and Officer

So Phineas, a tenaciously long-lived old coot, hung in there to age 88 — an exceptionally long stay compared with what I could see on neighboring headstones. The Willey family, for instance — Enoch, Susan and Byron – lived to be 46, 42 and 34.

George Road terminates down the lane a bit from the cemetery at Lightening Ridge Road. Posted there on a tree is a sign that reads:

E. L. Hudson

Traps & Supplies

Schrade Knives

Leather Goods

Maple Syrup

Lumber

1/4 mile ——->

So. Lightening Ridge Road. Notice the ‘e’ in there — Lightening. First time I saw that I assumed the signmaker had meant to paint “Lightning” and goofed it up. It’s a common enough misspelling, almost epidemic on the ‘net. And the name Lightning Ridge seemed logical — it’s up in elevation, high enough that lightning might be a consideration when storms come through. I asked the Town Clerk about this, it turns out the correct name actually is Lightening Ridge Road. Why? A century ago there were granite quarries off in another part of Calais, a major industry at that time, with major loads of granite being transported along this ridge road by horse-drawn wagons on their way to the city of Barre, where the area’s stone-working industry was concentrated. When the wagons reached this particular ridge, they had to remove some of the granite — lighten the loads — so the horses could actually make it up the road and complete the trip.

[this piece in progress -- more to come]

I woke up in the early hours to find the light which seeped in the windows looking suspiciously white — on getting up to bumble my way in the direction of the loo, I discovered why: the world outside lay beneath a thin layer of snow. (Aiiieeeee!!!!) White, white, white — the ground covered, the trees cloaked, each branch delineated in white.

As I got the coal stove going, snow began coming down heavily — big, fat flakes falling faster and faster, the valley to the north disappearing behind a curtain of white. It continues as I write this, the flakes smaller now but still coming down at a pretty good pace.

Snow. In October. Not so unusual here in northern Vermont. Pretty, real damn pretty, but not a kind of pretty I’m craving right now.

***********

It snowed all morning until the temperature pulled itself up to the 30 degree mark, high enough that the flakes began turning to rain. The rain fell lightly through a lot of the afternoon, not enough to wipe out the fallen snow, but enough to thin it out, perforate it. Enough to get it looking kind of ragged.

Fog moved in during the afternoon so that the air, while not white with snow, was still white, looking kind of eerie, mystical.

It’s nice to be in a warm house in the middle of it all.

************

For a brief, silly Halloween flash animation created by a friend, go here.

[Continued from entry of 10/23]

After the road passes the house/brook/cows, it crosses Pekin Brook Road. Peck Hill Road becomes George Road there, running by a working farm whose house sits right at that intersection, a big, old two-story structure of weathered wood topped by a metal roof whose peak is studded with lightning rods. There’s a sizeable old barn, miscellaneous farm machinery strewn around outside, a small pond by the road in front of the farmhouse and up ahead a stream that winds its way alongside the road for a while before trees obscure the view. It’s all lowlands there, damp and green, often featuring cows hanging about. After the farmyard, the road curves to the left then sails ahead, finally mounting a steep hill and turning back on itself with a hairpin turn where one is obliged to shift down to second gear, hoping no cars are approaching the turn from above ‘cause the road’s narrow and vision is limited.

Once up in elevation, the road passes acres and acres of wooded land on the right, a hunting camp plugged into it not too far from the hairpin curve. On the left, trees giving way to meadows, views of hills/mountains — green as all get-out in the warm season. Now that stick season’s here, that’s changed to greens, browns, grays. Also beautiful, just more austere.

George Road straightens out and races ahead then, fields on the left dropping away into ravines, until it reaches the end of the driveway to the Hudson farm and dips steeply down, the land on the right suddenly opening out to open pastureland. This is where the drive gets a bit more interesting. (And about time, huh?)

George Road ends at another road about a quarter mile beyond the driveway to the Hudson farm. As you drive that last distance, you may notice that out in the fields on the right, on a small rise, is what looks like a memorial. You can see one large headstone-shaped stone and a few feet from that another stone, smaller, shaped like the cross-section of tree trunk, standing up on its edge. The sprawling expanse of fields that stretch away in every direction from this rise is allowed to grow during the warm season, harvested twice during the season for hay. No matter how high the growth, a wide mown path is maintained between the road and the rise.

When walking that path toward the rise and stones, the first thing one notices on nearing them is a garden of shrubs and flowers planted in front of the rise, a few granite steps set into the soil at the garden’s center point so a visitor can step into the middle of the garden and read a small stone there, into which the following verse has been carved:

“If tears could build a

stairway, and memories

a lane, I’d walk right up

to Heaven and bring

you home again.”

The two stones on the rise are arranged so they face the garden and the road, the smaller one reading:

“I have believed it

was my path in life

to save this old farm.

Was it all in vain?”

The larger one bears the following:

“Do not dwell in sadness and despair

of things that are gone and cannot be.

Life is a gift that must be fulfilled.

I let mine become empty

and I want everyone to make life

whatever you want of it

and let nothing stop you.”

Beneath that, carved into the granite, is a reproduction of a signature reading “Dwayne.”

When one mounts the rise, you find the two portraits etched into rear side if the large stone, the image to the left that of a smiling young man, under which is inscribed:

“Dwayne Paul Hudson

March 7, 1973 ———–> Dec. 20, 1998″

(Above and below the line of the arrow, respectively, are the words ‘Too’ and ‘Short.’)

Below that is inscribed:

“You were respected, admired and loved.

May peace and happiness be with you now.”

To the right of Dwayne’s portrait is an etching of a labrador retriever, standing at attention – beneath that is the legend: “Quarter – your friend”

Beyond the stones are some saplings that have been put into the ground, beyond them a granite picnic table with two benches.

In the wrong setting, all this could come off as treacly or morbid. Out here, in the middle of the Vermont countryside, it feels sweetly emotional, heartfelt. Beautiful land extends away in all directions, striking views lay beyond that. And there’s not much else.

In all the times I’ve driven George Road, I’ve never seen anyone out in the field at this memorial. This particular morning, on impulse, I pulled to the side of the road and walked out to the rise where I paid my respects to Dwayne. Crickets sang in the grass as I stood there, voices from the people out in front of the farmhouse, a fair distance away, drifted by on the wind. A couple of brawny pick-up trucks sat parked in the yard there, one of them hooked up to a horse trailer. A white horse grazed in a fenced-in area by the barn.

The larger memorial stone, like many stones of its type, had a large base that the vertical piece rested on. I noticed someone had left items on top of either end of the base, up against the vertical part of the stone – to one side a small, mass-produced ceramic piece of a bed made up with a quilt and a plump pillow. Across the quilt, on his stomach, snoozed a fat, smiling Garfield, his teddy bear at his side. On top of the pillow sprawled a sleeping mouse, complete with a nighttime stocking cap. To the other side of the base, someone had left a large smooth stone and a rusty pair of grass shears. Something of Dwayne’s? There for more utilitarian reasons (trimming the grass around the stone)? Got me.

I spent a moment taking in the views – mountains off to the northeast, woods to the east across George Road. The land rolls away to the south and west, gradually rising to meet stands of trees, a country house, more fields. Green Vermont countryside everywhere.

[Continued in entry of 10/27]

So I hauled my carcass out from under the nice warm covers early enough that I was out the door and on the way into Montpelier by 8 a.m. Another cold morning, the sun dragging itself up from behind the cover of gray clouds that masked the lowest part of the eastern sky.

On impulse, I turned left at the end of the driveway instead of right, heading up the gravel road instead of down the hill to Route 14. The road makes its way up a gradual incline, past a huge barn owned by my uphill neighbor — a beautiful old building, three stories tall at least, constructed a century or more ago using enormous planks of dark, weathered wood — then past my neighbor’s house, situated right on the road, as opposed to mine, which lurks at the end of a 150-foot-long dirt ‘n’ gravel driveway. To the right of the road, all the way along, is wooded land, rising at a steep angle toward the top of Peck Hill. In fact, most of the land here is wooded, most of the leaves gone, so there’s more sky to be seen as one moves along the road, more glimpses of green/brown slopes falling away at places on the left or climbing out of sight on the right. Up at the top of the hill, maybe a third of a mile along, the gravel road branches off to the right (called Fifers Ride, curving around Peck Hill to terminate a mile or so along at a house) and to the left, that branch the continuation of Peck Hill Road. It becomes a fourth-class road there, one notch up from a track, plunging down through more densely-wooded land and out of sight. The Town doesn’t plow fourth-class roads, and as a consequence only three families live along that mile-and-a-half length, the last residence a house that used to be the local one-room schoolhouse.

Making my way along that rough, fourth-class road — containing enough rocks and ruts that one really needs to pay attention — I listened to the morning weather report, which mentioned that quite a bit of snow fell in central and southern portions of the state overnight, anywhere from one to six inches. I gave groveling thanks to the Universe at large for not pelting my neighborhood with several inches of snow.

As the fourth-class road approaches the former one-room schoolhouse, it gradually transforms from a rough ride to something more civilized — still dirt and therefore muddy in inclement weather, but not peppered with rocks and ruts. There it crosses a small bridge under which runs a creek, after which it’s flanked on both sides by cow pastures. The cows’ owners rotate the pastures the cattle are kept in, so you never know whether there’ll be a bunch of heifers watching you go by or not.

I love driving these back roads. I’ve been told this town — Calais, VT — has more miles of back roads than any other town in the state. True? Don’t know. There’s a whole lot of back-country mileage one can cover here, though, something I find seriously therapeutic at times. It’s the remedy for years of driving in Boston, N.Y., L.A., etc., and as I drove it this morning, gradually waking up while I tooled along, I began realizing all over again how beautiful it is. This area is looking classically autumnal right now – I hate to inflict a word like this on y’all, but it’s breathtaking, even with the colors mostly gone. You drive these roads, going up hills and ridges, down into hollows and lowlands, you find yourself as far from the city as if you’d been dropped down in the Sahara. Only without the sand. And the camels. And the heat. And with rain and lots of trees.

[Continued in entry of 10/25]

Woke up this morning around 3, 4 a.m. Stumbled into the bathroom, where I happened to glance out the window. The combination of light from the nearly-full moon and the thick layer of frost from a cold, cloudless night gave the world outside an otherworldly silver glow. A few hours later, after sun-up, the outside thermometer read 19 degrees.

Insulation. Thermal underwear. They’re good things.

This morning: got out of bed, took a look out the dining room window, saw that the thermometer read 26 degrees. (Aiiiieeee!!) When I pulled the car out of the garage a short time later, light snow had begun falling. (Aiiiiiieeeeee!!!) To the north, the valley was obscured by a white curtain of snow showers that moved this way. (Aaaiiiiiiieeeeeee!!!!!) Luckily, I was about to head south to Montpelier, so mounted up and bolted, taking back roads above which sun and clouds duked it out, light snow or sleet occasionally coming down.

October 21. Snow. Not so unusual in these parts, these parts being northern Vermont. Still, a bit of an adjustment.

In Montpelier: went to the gym, picked up airline tickets to Madrid, my return now officially happening on Dec. 2. (Yee-ha!) I’ll readily confess that I love being up here in these green mountains, and that seeing this autumn (heading toward winter) landscape whenever I look out the windows is quite a backdrop to the passing days. I’ve gotten tons of work done, something I often find more difficult to do in Madrid, where there’s so much distraction available. But the change will be good, and it’ll feel great to be back in the city that feels like a home to this heart of mine. Not the only home, but one of them.

Home: an idea that’s been a bit of an issue for me in this lifetime — what does it mean, what does and doesn’t feel like it. Growing up I got pulled back and forth between Long Island and upstate New York, on the Hudson north of Albany -– every year from the time I was four, creating a sense of never settling in anywhere. On top of which, my family felt more like a place I was serving time than home. After high school, I began moving all over eastern New York –- even at university, in Binghamton, my residences changed with the frequency of a cheap ham radio. I moved to Seattle for a while three years, retreated back to New York, first upstate, then to the Apple itself. Zipped out to L.A. two years later, lasting less eighteen months before returning back to upstate New York. Sis months later found me relocating to Cambridge, Mass., where I stayed for most of the next 20 years, the first few of which consisted of the same old M.O.: changing residences on a regular basis.

And then something began to settle down. Cambridge came to feel like home, maybe the world reflected that back to me. I actually found an apt. where I remained for eight years, a dive on Mass. Ave., between Central and Harvard Squares. That eight years continuous years in one living space remains the record for me. Next: West Cambridge, where I shared a flat with my best friend for a year and a half. From there I found another third-floor joint, this time in North Cambridge, living there for nearly six years. During that last period, I got this place here in northern Vermont, then found my way to Madrid, life veering around between all that — not a mode of living I ever would have predicted for myself, much less thought possible.

I’ve known people whose lives have been different from that model. My landlords in N.Y.C. lived on that street their entire lives, the wife in the same building. All her life. (In contrast to me: born in New York but out of there at the six-month mark.) Up here it seems fairly common that there’s real continuity in where one physically lives their life. My downhill neighbor (neighbor being a relative term in these parts, his house way downhill, across the gravel road), Mo, comes from a family that’s lived in East Calais for generations and, apart from his years in the service, he’s lived in this town his entire life. Married, in fact, for 50-some-odd years, most of which have been spent in that little house.

In Spain, that’s more the norm. People grow up in the same place, rooted in the community and in a strong network of family and friends. That seems to be changing, post-Franco, as the country has become more connected with the world at large, but most Spaniards I’ve met have remained in the same city, the same neighborhood they grew up in, and if they do relocate for some reason, they generally maintain strong ties with family/original community.

What’s remained constant for me through most of the moving around has been a feeling of the northeast U.S. being home, becoming more specific to New England as time passed. L.A. never fit, though it was an interesting place to experience for a while. Seattle gave me a lot, but never felt like home. Cambridge fit the bill for a while, but so many elements in my situation there changed so drastically with time, along with huge changes in the city itself during that 20 year period, that the sense of home gradually faded. And then I went to Madrid, expecting nothing like what happened.

So. Home: New England? Madrid? Somewhere else? Got me.

There are ways in which Madrid currently comes closest, in that sense of a place that connects with one in deep, almost inexpressible ways. I’ll be curious to see what it’s like being back. As it becomes more and more of a world-class city, Madrid, like Cambridge, is undergoing massive changes.

But then everything changes, always. That also remains constant, at least in my little world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s a lovely evening here. The sun’s gone down behind the trees to the west of the house, across the valley its last light — bright orange — continues to shine on the higher reaches, what’s left of the autumn colors showing clearly across the ridges. I threw on a coat, went outside for a walk, and as I’m wandering around I’m thinking Damn, it’s cold! After a while, I realize that it feels like winter out there — genuinely chilly, the air clear and crisp. When I came back inside I checked the thermometer.

5:30 p.m., the evening just coming on, and the temperature is already 30 degrees (-1 centigrade).

Northern Vermont: it’s beautiful. I love it and all that. But this is really pushing it.

I’ve been working away on something I want to get done by the end of the month, a writing project. Something life has become increasingly centered around during the last couple of weeks. Today I woke up, lay in bed doing edits for a couple of hours, got up, went right to the computer, got to work. Next thing I know it’s 3 p.m. It’s been a while since I’ve been that focused on work. It’s good, but strange — life has narrowed way down. The hours rip by, next thing I know it’s evening.

The weather here has vacillated back and forth between gray, cold days/nights of rain and brilliant spells of October sunlight, the sky a deep, intense blue. The days draw to a close earlier and earlier, the sun comes up consistently later. With the cooler weather and more moisture, several kinds of mushrooms have sprung up around the house, including a herd of tan ones that begin near the northeast corner of the house and fan out down the hill. The perfumes of the warm season have died out, the air smells and feels different, washed clean by rain, heavier from moisture and leaves gone to the earth.

Nothing stands still. The weeks roll on, everything passes. It’s a good idea to appreciate the hell out of the days we make our way through, the people who populate our lives. Know what I mean?

More tomorrow. Be well.

Well. Chick Corea.

I had an extra ticket, so when I arrived at Dartmouth, I found my way to the box office, down one level and one hallway from the entrance to Spaulding Auditorium, the space the concert was held in. This is all in one sprawling complex of connected buildings at the college, a warren that includes at least three different performance spaces, the offices of the theatre department, a small art museum, a student center kind of affair, with a cafeteria and tables spread around both indoors and outdoors. Filled with people, loads of them college-age, of course. I spoke to one of the kids in the box office and let him know I had a ticket to sell in case someone needed one (the show was sold out), then grabbed a nearby piece of wall to lean against while I waited for a buyer. Almost immediately, students showed up nosing around for tickets, the fella in the box office referred them to me and when they discovered that I wanted to sell the ticket for what I paid, its face value, they immediately drifted off in search of other ticket sources. (They seemed to think I should be willing to take a loss on the ticket — HA!!!) So I waited. People came and went. Until three or four short minutes before the performance was to start — the crowds cleared out, I noticed a 50-something gentleman patiently standing in front of the box office. Waiting, it looked like, for someone just like me. I asked if he needed a ticket, he said yes, he was happy to pay face value for the bugger, and I was off to the auditorium.

Found my way to the seat, the guy who bought my spare ticket showed up just as the lights went down (the tix were for adjoining seats), the members of the band began to filter out, the energy in the joint immediately shot way up.

I’ve listened to Chick Corea’s music on and off since I was embarrassingly young, when he put together Return To Forever and they, along with Weather Report, had a massive impact on the jazz universe. But I haven’t followed his career closely since the 80s. This outfit, the Chick Corea Electrik Band, is a unit he threw together back in that decade. They played until the mid-90s, then went separately off to do other things. Having just regrouped, this was their third performance in an exploratory three-week tour.

Clearly, a lot of folks in the auditorium – a crowd whose age spanned a range that began with high school and continued upward from there, including a fair number of 60- and 70-somethings, even one 80-something – were familiar with the Electrik Band, because as soon as they strolled onstage, people started clapping, calling out, leaping to their feet. Chick Corea walked out last, the energy coming from the audience doubled, the feeling of anticipation crackling in the air. I don’t mean that as hype or dramatic overstatement – the air literally seemed to start crackling with intense energy as people got ready for what was coming. As I write this, I’m thinking this is not so unusual at popular music concerts, rock & roll, pop, rap. Not so usual in jazz, though, at least in my experience.

They picked up their instruments and they were off. And mama, as soon as they started it became apparent why the audience’s energy was so high: these guys were heavyweights – virtuosos who love being together onstage and play with chemistry to burn. Powerful, wildly accomplished musicians, every one of them — a band with no weak link. Chick Corea, of course, is a world-class player, and it was immediately apparent that the drummer and bass player were major talents, on a distinctly higher level than most of the musicians of their ilk one sees playing around. But as the music flowed and time passed, it became apparent that the sax player and guitarist were right up there with the rest of the band — killer players, all of them.

The percussionist sat behind the biggest, most sprawling drum set I’ve seen in many years. Like a fortress, like a drum shrine — ten drums (two different-sized bass drums, three different-sized tom-toms, two snare drums, and three timbali-style affairs), eight different cymbals, two of which were double cymbals (I’m not including the high-hat in that count). Just a massive array of firepower. The bass player used a six-string electric that he often played like a lead guitar. His solos seemed to be the ones that got the audience the most fired up – not because he was any better than the other players (he wasn’t), but because his work stood out so sharply from most bass playing one encounters.

The performance program reads: “Tonight’s program will last approximately 70-90 minutes. There will be no intermission.” After 75 minutes, they took a 15-minute break, then came out and played close to 90 minutes more. Three hours that whipped by, getting funkier and funkier as it went, until two songs from the end they got into a jazzed-out version of the kind of thing Booker T. & The MG’s might play. The encore: out-and-out funk – high-level, complex, jazzed-up funk, but funk, and impossible to sit still for.

And that’s another weird thing – as psyched out as the audience was, many of them sat still as they listened, intensely focused on the show. I can’t do that. If there’s any kind of beat, I have to move to it. And so I was, planted there in my comfy auditorium seat. After a while, I began checking out the crowd, where I observed people like me sprinkled all around the space – moving in rhythm to fast, driving (usually loud) music, even if it was only a bobbing head or a leg moving in time to the beat.

During the encore, I moved down closer to the stage, taking advantage of seats abandoned by folks who bolted at the end of the regular set. Across the aisle from me sat an elderly couple, her in her 70s, him easily 80 or older, with a cane. They got up just before the encore ended, him needing the cane to get to his feet. She put her arm through his, they walked slowly up the aisle, smiling as funky music washed over them.

Afterward, the college staged a Q&A session between the band and whatever audience members stayed around, a half-hour of back and forth which the band seemed to enjoy immensely. A couple of audience members – parents of young children — asked for the musicians’ thoughts re: how to support/encourage their kids in music, which developed into the longest, most interesting, most emotional part of the Q&A. Every bandmember spoke about the importance of exposing kids to the arts, providing it as part of the atmosphere in the home as kids grow up but never forcing them to do anything. Let them find out what interests them, what excites them. Support them, allow them to discover that calls them, and see what happens. They used the words “allow” and “support” over and over again. And it developed that every member of the band had grown up in families where the parents did exactly that. Which got me thinking about the house I grew up in.

Neither of my parents were involved in the arts, neither played music or painted or drew. Now and then my father did volunteer technical work for a community theater group in a neighboring town, something he never brought home with him or brought us to see. My mother was tone deaf, couldn’t pick up a tune and toss it against the wall, much less carry one. And yet one of my most consistent memories from early times is music playing on the family’s little record player in a small room down at the end of the first-floor hallway, far enough away from the living/dining rooms that the volume had to be cranked way up so that it could be heard. My father played classical LPs, my mother folk music. My brothers, both substantially older than me, played rock and roll on a record player upstairs. With all that in the air, I became hooked on music early on, listening seriously to radio by the time I was four.

My father’s father had been a successful painter, self-taught in mid-life and able to make his living at it from there – his paintings were all over our little house. My brother Terry became an art major, his work began finding its way into the living space, inspiring me to draw and draw and draw all through elementary school and into junior high where my art teacher encouraged me. Terry began bringing music home with him from college, especially Dylan, and would draw and paint in my bedroom as I fell asleep, Dylan playing on the cheap little record player I had.

All of this had an immense effect on me. The only misstep my parents made was in making me take up the violin when I was eight. I never really took to that bugger. They made me practice a half hour every day, and I hated it, never really put my heart into it (yet still always wound up in the third or fourth chair of the first violins in the school orchestra). I played that thing for ten or eleven years, and once I’d found other disciplines – voice, theatre – that I discovered on my own, violin studies faded away.

Pretty interesting.

They’re powerful words, “allow” and “support.” But you already know that.

The band hung out until after 11:30, I got to shake their hands, thank them for a great time. People were getting autographs (the allure of which I’ve never understood — ah, well, to each their own). A great time.

And there you have it.

I’ve found myself, during the last few days, feeling so inundated with things-going-on/stuff-to-do that I haven’t had much time or focus to sit down and throw an entry here. On the other hand, I finally sat down here a little while ago to write some about what’s been going on and wound up boring the bejesus out of myself. This is take two — I’ll keep it brief and take another, more detailed swing at it tomorrow.

So let’s see. Finally finished up transferring the official aspects of my life to the State of Vermont, something I put off for many months, only undertaking it when it could wait no longer, as my Mass. auto insurance runs out in less than a month. Considering I haven’t had a squat down there since last December, when I returned briefly from Madrid and closed out the Cambridge/Boston chapter of my life, it’s about time I got off my compact little hinder and did the deed.

The last two days have been classic October days – sun hanging lower and lower in a deep blue sky, leaves flying around, trees looking increasingly stark. I stepped outside yesterday afternoon, discovered there are still plenty of critters off in the grass singing away. Around 5 o’clock, just as I was getting ready to get into the car and head south for the evening, I looked outside and saw that another bunch of robins had stopped for a migratory pit stop. All over the lawn, hunting down crickets, grasshoppers and the like, nature’s snack food. Today they’d moved on, the singing of the critters in the grass continued undiminished, which suits me just fine. The flowers may be all gone, the leaves may be long past peak, but the critters that are left continue singing – I’ll take whatever remnants of the warm season I can get. At some point, the cold season will settle in deeply enough to silence the holdouts, and the only noise around here will be the occasional sound of rifle shots as the various hunting seasons roll through.

Meanwhile, yesterday evening I drove an hour south of here to Dartmouth, to see my second concert of the last week. Chick Corea this time. I expected it would be a good show, but I didn’t expect a performance that had a packed house roaring and nearly levitated the building.

Details tomorrow. Later.

Gray. Rainy. Chilly.

Drove into Montpelier this morning, went to the gym. It’s a nice gym, well equipped, with friendly, cheerful staff and music playing constantly. The music system lives in a small office situated off to one side of the exercise floor in the main exercise salon. The individual in charge of the tunes seems to be the ranking trainer on duty, whoever that is in any shift, and most of the trainers-on-duty are 20-something males with a taste for heavy metal, or if not heavy metal then Bob Seger, ZZ Top, etc. All of which is okay with me in moderation or mixed in with a variety of other stuff. Moderation is often not the case, but what the hell — I enter the place, I do what I’m there to do, less than two hours later I’m out. We’re not talking major torture here. (Still, it would be nice to hear something with, say, a woman on vocals. I think I can count on one hand the number of songs I’ve heard with a female vocalist in the many visits I’ve paid to this gym. Is that normal?)

One of the things I enjoy about this facility is the range of folks who use it, from early teens to 70-somethings, both genders. You got your serious pump-me-up types, the kind who talk little except when other iron-pumping monsters are around; you got your I-hate-doing-this-to-myself-but-I’m-doing-it-anyway type; you got your folks of all ages who are in far less than optimum shape, carrying plenty excess poundage, who show up, work out, never seem to complain about it; you got your folks with amazing legs, who tend to spend huge amounts of time on the treadmill, cross-trainer or stairmaster. An interesting place, with all sorts of people.

For about 16 years, I belonged to the YMCA in Cambridge, Mass — not a state of the art facility, but possessing a certain energy that made up for that, with lots of members who had clearly gone there for many, many years — older men with thick Boston area accents who knew each other on a long-standing basis. Loads of black guys who hung around the indoor basketball courts for pick-up games. One of the two basketball spaces — with a 2/3-size basketball court — also contained an elevated running track, so that as you did your laps you got to observe the hoops skirmishes below. Almost entirely male. Every once in a long while during the cold season, when I did most of my indoors running, I’d show up, get started on my laps and realize a woman had been added to the mix downstairs. They usually did just fine – not a small thing considering the games tended to be a bit intense. Lots of yelling, the sound of sneakers squeaking against the wood floor, a burst of running feet as the action transitioned from one end to the other, then less sound as people positioned themselves, tossing the ball around until someone finally tossed the ball up, followed either by the sound of ball going through net or renewed yelling as the ball missed and someone rebounded, the action immediately surging toward the other end of the court.

Why am I going into all that? Because the gym in Montpelier has nothing like it. It’s not an old, dog-eared urban building like the Y. It’s a sleek, relatively new facility, maintained with impeccable care, having a whole different feel from the Cambridge Y. No games being played, just exercise. There are TVs in two of the exercise salons, facing the rows of treadmills, stairmasters, etc — three in the bigger space, with the sound off so the music dominates. A smaller room has a large TV with the sound on, usually playing CNN. That TV fell out of its mounting a couple of weeks back. One member went to change the channel, pressed the button, next thing they knew the set had taken a header, slipping out of its mount-frame, crashing to the floor with huge noise, scaring the bejesus out of everyone in the place.

The gym in Madrid is more like the gym here in Montpelier than like the Y, only huge. Three times bigger, with mirrored walls and a radio playing euro-pop over the PA. Slick, much slicker than the gym here. And of course everyone speaks Spanish.

Strangely, the gym here in Montpelier is the most expensive of the lot – half again as expensive as the Y, more than twice as expensive as the gym in Madrid. I’m not sure what to make of that. (Maybe there’s nothing to make of it.)

I blabber.

More blabber tomorrow.

Two months ago, in the middle of August, the sun didn’t stray down behind the trees to the west of here until 7:30, 8 o’clock in the evening. Now — the middle of October — it’s dropping behind the trees at 4:30. Soon as it does that, the temperature sinks, the air develops some bite.

At 7:50 this morning, I took a look at the thermometer that hangs outside the dining room window read 17 chilly degrees. Frost covered everything in a layer so thick, so white that it looked like snow had fallen during the night. We’re deep into autumn now, the cold season is upon us. For real.

I’ve been working hard on getting the novel I’ve been laboring away on [see entries for 5/24, 6/15, 8/13, 8/22] ready for reading/feedback. At one point this afternoon, I stepped outside for a breath of air and was struck by how quiet it is here — up on a hill, no neighbors close by. The only human sounds: a car or truck passing down below on Route 12, heading north toward Hardwick or south to Montpelier; the occasional report of a rifle somewhere off in the distance. Other than that, there are bird calls and insects singing in the grass. Maybe the sound of a gust of wind now and then. That’s it.

The fact that there are insects in the grass, crickets and their cousins, making it through these nights of hard frost and genuine cold is pretty amazing, I think. Hard to figure how anything without any natural padding or insulation would survive a long night of below-zero temperatures, though there must be pockets of insulation off in the long grass and undergrowth. By ten a.m. or so, when the sun has hauled itself high enough in the sky to melt away most frost, the little critters begin stirring. By midday, with the temperature up into the low 60s, they’re carrying on as if the temperature had never dipped low enough to wipe out flowering plants or freeze the leaves on trees and bushes so that they let go in cascades of faded color when a breeze rustles branches.

Something I noticed on my outing: woolly caterpillars (also called woolly bear caterpillars. All over the place, preparing for winter, doing whatever will continue the cycle of life for their breed. They’re big buggers, covered with dense black and rust-colored fuzz.

I even saw one or two of the small yellow butterflies that hang around here in the warm season – holdouts, basking in the brilliant October sunlight.

And that’s been the story of the last two days — brilliant sunlight, deep blue skies. And leaves coming down. The trees around here have lost enough foliage that the sense of space is changing, opening out. Those that run along the uphill property line no longer obscure the view of the fields and upward-reaching slopes beyond. As the cold season settles in it opens things up, makes the terrain more transparent. The acres of long grass that stretch down the north side of the hill from the house, yellow with blossoming yarrow in August, gradually change to the whites and blue/purple of flea bane and asters in September. With the hard frosts, that’s all changed to grays and browns, as the grass shrinks away and that land beneath becomes more apparent, more accessible for walking.

Blah blah blah. I may be overdoing the rustic bit, but out here the land, the weather, the constant changes that are part of the day’s passing are the major source of sensory input. Bear with me — in six or seven weeks I’ll be back in Madrid and my focus will change completely.

The days here have turned mostly gray and cool– a kind of Vermont weather that sometimes becomes far too normal a part of autumn for my taste. The good part: when the sun does break through, the land positively glows.

Yesterday morning: drove into Montpelier on roads wet from early morning rainfall for a session of self-punishment at the gym. Turned out to be member appreciation day, meaning platters of fruit, bagels, healthy snacks arrayed at one end of the reception counter and people testing for blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, blahblahblah. Tests confirmed that I am excessively healthy.

Next: stopped at the Montpelier farmers market where I mostly ate (vegetable samosas, egg rolls, steamed Chinese dumplings — not your usual country farmers’ market fare). Got home around 11, remembered that the local power company had scheduled an outage for yesterday morning between 9 and noon for line work, giving me an opportunity to put a dent in clean-up waiting to be done. Not much fun, but looking after one’s living space can be its own reward. (And if I spew more aphorisms like that, someone, please, shoot me.)

The colors, though past peak in many places around here, have grown widespread enough in this muted, low-key autumn that the landscape has begun to look like a patchwork quilt spread over the sides and tops of the hills. Cloud cover gave way mid-afternoon, the sun lighting everything up in a quietly spectacular way.

Yesterday evening: drove down to Hanover, N.H. for a performance of flamenco at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth. A small company called Noche Flamenca — two guitarists, two singers, two dancers. The theater was packed with as multicultural a crowd as you’ll find in these parts — whites, latinos, blacks, asians — including a vocal Spanish contingent, producing high energy both onstage and off. I was prepared for a more buttoned-down response than what I was used to in Spain, a more repressed, intellectual display from the New England audience. Instead, people around the hall whooped and clapped, calling out “¡Vale!” and “¡Olé!” at any wonderful moment onstage or any old time the spirit moved them. Made me homesick.

Both guitarists were superb, both singers excellent, especially the older of the two, Manuel Gago,a 50ish guy with a tremendous, expressive voice that just wouldn’t quit. The weakest member of the troupe was the male dancer, a 40ish fella who had the spirit and some good moments but suffered in comparison with the female dancer, Soledad Barrio, who gave as sharp, explosive a performance of dance as I’ve ever seen. Man, this woman was good — she had a long solo number near the end of the show that just stretched on and on, with bursts of astonishing dancing — majestic, transcendent. A killer performance, one of those times when the individual simply catches fire and the audience is privileged to get a glimpse of something far beyond the ordinary.

Afterwards, the artistic director along with one of the guitarists, the older of the two singers and Ms. Barrio (who looked exhausted, and no wonder). At one point they were talking about the part improvision plays in flamenco — like jazz, there’s a basic structure within which the performers can improvise, calling each other out and supporting each other when the energy/emotion is right — when one of them mentioned that her solo last night ran twice as long as it had the night before. I gave thanks that I’d been there to see it.

The artistic director was bilingual — the other company members spoke only Spanish. Felt fine to see that I understood everything they said, which was not the case when the singers were performing. Their Andalucian accents were thick enough that I could only get phrases and individual words here and there. Might have been demoralizing if I hadn’t been able to get all the dialogue during the Q&A.

Before the show yesterday evening, I stopped in for a meal at an Indian restaurant near the theater where I listened to a conversation between three Dartmouth students at a table next to mine, one of them, a young woman, telling a story about a friend named Loren. Seems that Loren and her roommate had taken in a third roommate, another young woman. Soon after moving in, the new arrival noticed that Loren had cleaned hair out of her hairbrush, tossed into the bathroom wastebasket. She advised Loren that you should never throw your hair away — it should be flushed down the toilet because you never know when it can be ‘used against you.’ That apparently was the exact phrase — ‘used against you.’ Soon after that, one Saturday morning as Loren slept in, the new roommate’s mother came to visit, and Loren’s second roommate overheard the mother ask her daughter where Loren was. “She’s still asleep,” the third roommate answered, sharply disapproving, “at 10 o’clock in the morning.” Apparently, the second roommate saw the mother and daughter exchange a dark look, after which the mother quietly suggested putting a hex on Loren. Between that and other voodoo references, Loren and the second roommate moved out soon after.

Ah, life.

I’ve been seated at this table in my dining room for several hours, working. We had a cool, overcast day here in northeast Vermont, mild enough to walk outside wearing a flannel shirt over a t-shirt, cool enough to remind one that it’s still October. Most troublesome flying insects have been wiped out by the few days of genuine cold (and a couple of nights of hard frost) that have recently passed through, though some of the bugs that lurk in the grass and sing are still hanging in there. It’s nice, that layer of soft sounds amid the general quiet of the afternoons here.

Somewhere around 5:30, I looked up from work and saw motion out on the expanse of grass between the house and the barn. Robins. There were robins everywhere, spread out all over the lawn. Probably down from Canada, stopping here for the night on their way south.

The robins that summered in these parts took off for warmer climes a few days into September, so it’s been several weeks since I’ve seen them about or heard their voices around the house. I haven’t seen a concentration of them like this since April, when there were still patches of snow on the ground and they were newly arrived from their flight north. Probably bitterly regretting leaving palm trees and warm breezes behind, though they seemed gamely intent on ignoring the arctic conditions they’d stumbled into. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a concentration of robins like I saw earlier. There must have been thirty or forty of them, mostly hunting, taking a few hops, stopping to listen or peer about, maybe spotting a bug and quickly gobbling it down. Flying hundreds of miles probably builds up an appetite.

Two or three autumns back, I sat here working one day, happened to look up and noticed a flock of a kind of bird I’d never seen before spread out across the lawn, their feathers a dark brown, slightly mottled with a lighter shades, working their way through the grass, feeding. That particular warm season, the crickets had populated the acreage around the house in particular abundance, singing 24 hours a day. The birds hung around for an hour or two, chowing down intently before taking off. When I went outside after they’d cleared out, all insect noise had been wiped out. The mystery birds had hoovered up every member of the insect world they could find, doing a spectacularly thorough job of it. Made me a bit sad, that, as if all lingering traces of summer had been suddenly eradicated, replaced by the hard silence of the cold season.

There’s not much mown lawn in these parts. A lot of the countryside is wooded, lots of what’s left are fields or hillside meadows – overgrown, not the kind of terrain robins and their ilk can hunt in. A two or three acre spread of mown grass stands out, attracting hungry birds. Any time part of it gets mown, soon as the mower’s put back in the garage and everything quiets down, robins show up and begin rounding up food.

This afternoon, I made a point of staying inside until the robins cleared out. When I finally stepped outside, I did so prepared for silence, for the absence of crickets and the reality of the cold season coming on. And in the yard here, no insect noise rose from the grass. Further away from the house, though, they carried on, not yet wiped out by those migrating feathered speedsters. It was around 6:30, evening was settling in, and in the trees off across the road robins sang their evening call, something I haven’t heard in over a month.

The seasons roll on, whether we like it or not. May as well enjoy the show, with its kaleidoscopic changes.

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