far too much writing, far too many photos

And suddenly it’s summer. Just like that. After the wettest May on record, featuring long stretches of gray, cold days — occasionally cold enough to warrant cranking up the stove – warm weather moved in two days ago, in perfect sync with the unofficial beginning of the lower-48 summer season. Warm enough to take local greenery over the threshold into vernal lushness, lilac bushes heavy with clusters of fragrant blossoms, dandelions painting green fields with cheerful yellow (before switching to the ugly white that signals the procreative mechanism running hyper-aggressively rampant). Critters are abruptly everywhere, the air on a day like today alive with insect life, swirling about on warm breezes like golden, sunlit snowflakes. (Except for the blackflies, who have been around since the end of April, but are now, with the sudden leap to summery conditions, seeking blood with a ferociousness that indicates unsated appetite.) This morning when the fog began to clear, spiderwebs that have appeared in trees and bushes in unbelievable profusion these last couple of days shone like jewels, the dew-drops on their strands alight with morning sunlight.

The entire crew of songbirds are on board, the hummingbirds who showed up a couple of days back completing the roster. They sing like their lives depend on it, as crickets have begun to make quiet music and the countryside is awash in a thousand shades of green. All of it coming together on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend with a timing that almost seems Hollywoodesque.

Cars with out-of-state plates cruise local highways, their occupants at times looking like they’re not exactly sure where they are. Back roads into Montpelier, usually sparsely driven, were alive with traffic yesterday in a way I’d never seen before. Many of the vehicles stopping in Adamant for the annual Blackfly Festival.

Refreshment stand, the Adamant Blackfly Festival

Adamant: a crossroads, one of Calais’ (a town without a town center) five teeny clusters of what passes for population density around here. Home to the Adamant music school and the Adamant Co-op/general store, ground zero for the happening. Perennials for sale covering tables along a driveway, an open house in progress in the art studio over the general store, cookies and cakes selling at what passes for a brisk pace in this part of the world (meaning low-key, relaxed — relaxed enough to border on narcoleptic), two or three musicians cranking out friendly, discrete classical music within the screens of the co-op’s new side deck. Almost absurdly good-natured and enjoyable, all of it.

And then today, morning fog gradually giving way to, well, Vermont summertime. Ideal. Spectacular. The kind of display that written descriptions can’t even begin to put across. The kind of conditions that soothe jangled nerves, make inner peace difficult to avoid.

Outside, birds now sing evening songs. Late-day shadows extend across the grass, the sun eases slowly down behind the trees. Time to smear on bug goo, mow a bit of lawn, stick some tomato plants in the ground.

España, te echo de menos.

This morning, far too early — East Calais, Vermont

España, te echo de menos.

Passed a storefront in Montpelier today, saw a sign posted prominently on the door stating forcefully that the restrooms on premises were ONLY for customers, anyone else had to use the public facilities in the City Center building, diagonally across the so-called downtown’s one big intersection (State and Main, natch). Reminding me of one of the countless things I love about Spain: anyone can go into any restaurant, bar or tavern and use the facilities, no problem. I’ve yet to see a person walking in off the street to take a whiz (or, er, whatever) refused entry to the washroom or given a hard time. Might be that it happens in some places, but I’ve never witnessed it.

Thinking about that got my bladder feeling frisky, I headed over to City Center to dump the ballast. As I stood at the loo’s one urinal, minding my own business, I heard someone enter behind me, talking to himself. He walked by, entered the single toilet stall, closed the door, began answering the call to nature, the steady muttering too low for me to be able to make out any words over the noise from the room’s ventilation system. He didn’t talk like a happy chappy, however. More like someone unhappy, aggrieved.

I finished, went to wash up. The wash basin area looked like a sloppy piece of conceptual art. The sink to the left contained a sizeable pile of coffee-stained ice cubes, the sink to the right contained a big wad of sodden paper towel, the counter lay awash in puddled water.

When I left, the self-talker in the toilet stall was still at it.

We’re a strange bunch, we human males.

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

The spillway, North Montpelier Pond, after the wettest May on record

España, te echo de menos.

As I stood in a little room in a nearby health center on Friday morning, coughing on demand [see last entry], rain came down outside as it had for most of the last week. Two afternoons before, the clouds had suddenly given way, sunshine and blue sky shone through for a couple of lovely hours, long enough to dry out the lawn, making a hasty bout of mowing possible. (Kind of like trying to sweep sand off a beach, given the speed at which all the rain’s got the greenery growing.) Until low banks of unfriendly dark clouds pushed their way in, torrential downpours starting up, thunder and lightning beginning not long after, producing celestial fireworks that lasted well into the night, the kind of house-shaking display that would scare the living bejesus out of most family dogs.

And during all that, during most of the last four weeks, I continued slaving away, trying to impose some sort of sloppy order on the chaos produced by ongoing computer wackiness.

Two mornings after arriving back from the U.K. — more than four weeks ago now (aaaaiiiieeeee!!!!) — I dragged my sorry (but adorable) hinder out from under the covers, shuffled blearily through the wake-up routine. Finally struggled close enough to consciousness to be able to attempt higher functions, powered up my beloved Compaq laptop. And discovered that hitting the ON button didn’t seem to do much of anything. Dark screen. No pretty wallpaper, no icons, no cheerfully blinking cursor. My heart and respiration accelerated, I hit the button again. Same result, though I could hear that the machine actually did seem to be coming to life. Hooking the laptop up to my desktop computer’s flatscreen display confirmed that the laptop was on, its screen apparently gone belly up.

I packed it up, brought it to the local computer joint — The Computer Barn (I am not making that up) — where I showed the laptop to the guy behind the counter. He hooked it up to a flatscreen display, confirmed the laptop was on, its display light had joined the choir invisible. Told me replacing the entire display unit would be easier than disassembling it to pull the bulb and plug a new one in, with a total cost of anywhere between $250 and $350. Hmmm, said I. Given that the Compaq had put in 3+ years of service, enduring many thousands of hours of use, traveling many thousands of miles, a workhorse, superior in every way to my first laptop — a leaden, slow-moving Dell — this malfunction might be the first shot across the bow, the first indication that the Compaq was hankering for the peace and tranquility that comes with being decommissioned.

The money to repair it would cover one-third of the cost of a new machine. I thought about that, counter dude showed me the laptops they sell, a low-profile brand with a reputation for quality and sturdiness that the company backs with a full three-year warranty. Checked one out, used it a little. Packed up my Compaq, went home to ponder.

Pondered, then went back the next day and made the purchase, deciding to put the Compaq away for a while, thinking about maybe getting it repaired sometime in the future before giving it to a computerless friend.

Counter guy had told me that they didn’t have one of the new laptops in stock, but that the company usually made next-day delivery, offering to transfer my personal files from the old unit to the new one once delivery happened. Most excellent, said I. I handed over my plastic, the deal was done, the order put in well before the cutoff point for the day, and I went home to wait.

Next day: no laptop. “We’re waiting on it,” said computer man. Didn’t come in the late morning delivery, but might show in the late afternoon delivery. They had my phone number, I asked them to call if it arrived. Went home.

No call. Next day, same routine. Might come in later, they said. It didn’t. I stopped by the shop on the morning of the third day. Nothing doing. They said they’d call when it materialized. When I got home late in the day, a message on my machine said they had it.

Not the next day. Three days after. But still, it was in.

Picked it up the following morning, the machine shiny, virginal, promising all kinds of nerdy fun.

[to be continued]

España, te echo de menos.

Finally, after many days of rain and overcast: blue sky.

España, te echo de menos.

This morning: got up far too early, dragged my sleepy carcass out to the car, drove over to a neighboring town for a physical exam. There really is nothing like standing in a small, chilly, unfamiliar room, half-awake, pants around your knees, a stranger poking around your testicles and getting to know your prostate far too intimately. A stranger because my previous g.p. moved on a little more than a year and a half ago, me not getting around to replacing her until now.

Something that caught my attention: the medical history sheet they gave me to fill out while waiting for the exam essentially consisted of nothing but dire symptoms or catastrophic medical events. No uplifting possibilities, no cheerful options, no way to say, “I’m healthy! Wheeee!” (Except by leaving the page unwritten on.) Strange.

A p.a. took care of me, a good guy — tall, slender, 50-something, with short, receding gray hair and a serious demeanor. I think I kept him entertained, something he seemed to experience as a pleasant surprise. Maybe more accustomed to patients not having much fun.

And yeah, he had me turn my left to the left and cough. Two times. Maybe three — I was having so much fun I may have lost count. (And what’s with the to-the-left thing? A blatant indication of the medical profession’s liberal bias?) (Note to medical profession: just kidding.)

Outside, rain came down as it has for most of the last week. The exception: two afternoons ago, when the clouds suddenly gave way, allowing a couple of hours’ worth of sunshine/blue sky, long enough to dry out the lawn, making possible a hasty bout of mowing. (Kind of like trying to sweep all the sand off the beach, given the rate at which the rain has the greenery growing in these parts.) Until big, unfriendly-looking banks of dark clouds pushed in, bringing torrential downpours, thunder and lightning producing big-time celestial fireworks that lasted well into the night, the kind of house-shaking display that would scare the bejesus out of most family dogs.

And during all of this, I slave away in the wake of a whole bunch of unexpected, disruptive computer wackiness.

But that’s a story for another, far more long-winded entry.

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

In blossom — Montpelier, Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

Emerging foliage and explosions of blossoms provide washes of springtime color (compensating for day after day of gray weather) — Montpelier, Vermont

España, te echo de menos.

Wednesday morning: woke up thinking it was Thursday, liked the feeling of suddenly being near the end of the week. Saw a calendar not long after pulling myself to my feet. Big letdown.

Thursday morning: woke up thinking it was Friday, feeling a bit unnerved at the way the days had slipped blithely by, feeling adrift in time. Saw a calendar not long after pulling myself to my feet. Big relief.

This morning: woke up knowing it was Friday, feeling just fine that the end of the week was at hand, ignoring the mind-bending speed at which the last few days had surged past. Saw a calendar not long after pulling myself to my feet. Felt like such a grown-up for being so grounded in reality (such as it is).

This was, truth be told, one of those weeks that past at surreally rapid speed, me often feeling a step behind it all but forging gamely ahead. Beautiful weather in the earlier part of the week has produced an explosion of color in Montpelier, trees and bushes bursting into blossom, the view down Barre Street an almost supernatural display of reds, pinks, whites, greens, coming as it is after the many long months of winter’s limited palette. Out here, fifteen miles northeast of the capital, things are moving more slowly. Apart from splashes of yellow from the recent days’ emerging daffodils and the wild overabundance of dandelions gearing up for their yearly push to take over the hilltop, the colors visible outside the house are greens, browns and the gray sky looming overhead (the beautiful weather having packed its bags and moved on).

Work, gym, food shopping. Grass-cutting season is underway, most days have seen me out there pushing a mower — so far a manual Brill cutter I picked up a couple of years ago instead of the power mower that’s trimmed the hilltop’s ridiculously expansive lawn these last seven years. Don’t know how long that’ll last — given the quantity of grass and the rate it keeps thrusting itself up toward the sky, the hand mower routine gets feeling like trying to bail out an oceangoing vessel with a plastic spoon. It’s so quiet, though. And light. Easily maneuverable. So nice, all of that. But as the speed and thickness of the lawn increases, the Brill begins to seem more and more like a Fisher-Price creation — a toy, not the kind of heavy-duty mechanism reality demands.

A good stretch of rain — imminent, according to the wet blankets in the local weather biz — will get the grass growing at more serious velocity and thickness. At which point, the power mower will come out of retirement, the lawn routine will revert to more normal summertime noise levels.

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

Mid-week: the view from here

España, te echo de menos.

I found myself awake far too early this morning, could feel I wouldn’t be falling back asleep anytime soon and surrendered. Levered myself to my feet, shuffled around the house in bleary fashion, drawing shades. Brilliant sunlight filled the living space, easing the chill that had settled in overnight. A glance at the thermometer outside a dining room window explained the chill — nighttime temperatures had fallen well below freezing, were hovering down around 20 when I pulled myself out of bed. Hard frost covered lawn still in shadow, a chilly breeze blew.

May 7, northern Vermont. Where the daffodils have only started coming up within the last week. (At least here on my hilltop outpost.)

Still, all that sunshine promised a beautiful day. I cranked up the caffeine dispenser, began the a.m. slog toward consciousness. And found myself thinking about the visit to Edinburgh, three short weeks ago now, where cold weather also hovered about, despite Easter, despite spring sunlight.

Edinburgh was in my thoughts yesterday as well, me remembering two strange passages.

The first: during the long, long drive north, after crossing the border into Scotland, afternoon slowly giving way to early evening. D. at the wheel, doing his impression of Michael Schumacher, northern countryside billowing by.

We’d been going for five hours or more by then, had made two pit stops, the trip easy, anxiety-free once we’d gotten off major roads onto country two-lanes (apart from the growing possibility that we’d find ourselves driving eternally, signs along the highways promising Edinburgh lay ahead though the city, for some diabolical reason, remained off in the distance, never drawing near).

Conversation came and went, CD’s provided good music, towns and countryside provided excellent visuals. Apart from seeming to get no closer to our destination, all was well. Until D. mentioned that we’d need to stop for gas soon. Something about his tone of voice prompted me to ask how soon. Very soon, he replied. Very, very soon. I took a quick glance at the gas gauge, saw the needle pointing at that little gas pump down at the bottom. We figured we had maybe thirty miles before the Honda began running on vapors, figured hopefully that we’d pass through a town before too long, could get a fill-up there. And indeed, a few miles up the road, a town materialized. A small town, with a gas station along the main drag. Closed. Same with the next town, several miles along. One gas station. Closed. The highway continued on through rolling countryside of spectacular beauty, towns few and far between, all, for some reason, without an open gas station. (And yet there were cars about — what the hell did their owners do to keep them going?)

Beginning to feel the real possibility of finding ourselves stranded out in the middle of beautiful Scottish nowhere, I suggested that D. pull in at the next commercial establishment we passed, whatever it turned out to be, to ask where a source of gasoline might be found. A handsome pub/b&b hove into view, we pulled off, I headed straight inside. Found myself in a comfortable-looking space where a friendly, attractive barmaid heard the concern in my question, told us we’d find a station three or four miles down the road. A sigh of relief from me, followed by a sincere thank-you. Returned to the car, we headed off, figuring we probably had enough gas to take us the distance we needed to go.

Three miles passed. Four miles. No towns, no gas station. We saw a small mobile home/RV park down a side road, D. said a place like that might have fuel. We drove by, staring off in that direction, debating a fast u-turn. But kept going. And finally, as the Honda mounted the crest of a hill, we saw what looked like a restaurant/service station a mile or so ahead. Along a stretch of highway lined with stands of fir trees, the light from the lowering sun cutting through them, the air feeling cool and clear, almost alpine. We pulled in, saw other cars under a canopy gassing up, I thought I heard a collective releasing of breath from the three of us.

The second: In August, 2001, I rendezvoused with a sizeable, congenially motley group of adventurers in London for a Saturday of wandering backstreets, snooping around whatever caught our attention, stopping frequently for food-liquid refreshment. The participants included a broad assortment of folks, from various locations in the U.K., the States, Canada. A combination of personalities that produced good energy and abundant conversation. Fun.

Among those in attendance was a woman named Charlie. Young, redheaded, barefoot. At that time in her life living out a free-spirit, hippyish kind of existence. A good person who struck me as being, in some ways, genuinely young — tender, as yet untested by life. Accurate or not — I only spent, after all, a few hours in her company — that was my impression.

Never saw her again, don’t think she ever came up in post-event talk or hobnobbing with other participants.

So.

Three weekends ago in Edinburgh. Standing in an ancient passageway off the Royal Mile, a kind of hybrid alley/pedestrian way that cut through an enormous city block, its entrance fronting on the Royal Mile, its first ten or twelve feet narrow, high-ceilinged, an ancient pedestrian tunnel that opened out into the space between buildings, the walkway continuing on downhill, disappearing off into the distance.

D. and I stood there enjoying the vista and the feel of the passageway, talking, lapsing into tourist-style photo-taking mode.

A moment or two later — us still hanging about, talking — a woman holding a young child brushed by, moving quickly, her expression and overall energy suggesting someone not looking for interaction. Charlie. Feeling like a distinctly different version of the person I met in London several years back, looking like an Edinburgh resident, not a visitor. Her face registered, I followed with my gaze, taking in her vibe, thinking briefly about saying hello then letting it go, everything about her in that moment suggesting that a greeting would be unwelcome, an intrusion. I mentioned all this to D., then turned and watched Charlie’s form diminish and disappear.

One more moment in time, come and gone.

España, te echo de menos.

Trees greening up, blue skies liberally sprinkled with puffy white clouds:
spring starts getting serious in northern Vermont.

España, te echo de menos.

The first day back repeated the weather of the evening before. Beautiful, springlike, all that. My bod, still functioning on European time, came to at 3 a.m. (three short hours after it had conked out) and stayed that way, me so unmistakeably awake that I surrendered, crawled out of bed, began trying to impose order on stuff pulled from baggage the evening before and left scattered around. Stayed awake, drifting around the house, simulating productivity. And despite two nights’ severe lack of sleep, I carried on brilliantly, like a high-functioning genius. Or at least that’s how I felt. Picked up the mountain of mail that had accumulated at the local post office, drove into town, went to the gym, did a big grocery shop, stuff like that. Feeling like the man of steel, carrying on as if I leaped five or six time zones all the time. Good thing, probably — kept me from thinking too much about how I felt re: being back. If I’d thought about it much, I might have booked another flight east, packed up, bolted. Despite the outrageously user-friendly weather.

The second day back, Saturday, more normal April weather moved in, commencing four straight days of gray and damp, temperatures cool enough to warrant cranking up the coal stove. I continued with the man of steel thing, my system acting like it was invulnerable, unaffected by skipping merrily around the globe. That ended on Sunday. Something about the rain, the lack of sunlight. My energy seemed to bleed away, my bod gave in and crashed. I didn’t fight it.

During the month away, my hair — an irrepressible part of my anatomy, given to regenerating at nearly supersonic velocity — seemed to grow at an even more accelerated rate. By the time I got back, my neck had begun having trouble supporting the additional mass accumulating up top. On Monday, post-crash, I made a trip to my haircutter — a hugely entertaining woman, ex-proprietor of the now-defunct Acme Hair — who gave me a bona fide shearing. I hardly noticed, the conversation got so interesting. As in the revealing of details from earlier, wilder times in her life. The particulars are not mine to pass on, except for this: somewhere back there along the timeline, she learned that when stopped by the state police, the younger officers didn’t take it too well when confronted with an excessively happy female attempting to try on their headgear. Older officers, on the other hand, mostly seemed to enjoy the show.

That was nine days ago. I’ve been back now nearly two weeks. I write this on a Wednesday, the evening outside easing quietly toward dusk. Gray skies above, ever-greener land below. The tops of the hills that ring this part of the valley stand swathed in mist, low-hanging clouds, rain falls now and then. The kind of weather that produces beautiful warm-weather countryside. And the kind of weather that gets me spending more time than I wouldd prefer in my head.

A shot of sunlight would remedy that. The local teases in the weather biz claim we’ll get some tomorrow. We’ll see. In the meantime, the day outside, already dark and close, turns toward genuine starless darkness. Here in my hilltop fiefdom, I turn on lights and carry on as if I know what I’m doing. Sometimes I think I actually might have some idea what I’m doing, sometimes I feel clear, content, capable, busily creating a hellaciously interesting life. And other times? Well, not so much. Which is all right. (Grumble, grumble, gnashing of teeth.) I’m allowed to be less then perfect, a work in progress. Good thing, ‘cause there’s nothing I can do about the not-flawless/in-progress thing.

Oh, blah blah blah.

Time to quiet down for a while.

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

Brampton Park, Newcastle-under-Lyme, England

España, te echo de menos.

Sunset aurora, 5/1/06 — East Calais, Vermont

España, te echo de menos.

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