far too much writing, far too many photos

Vermont, the last day of June, 2007:

España, te echo de menos.

A summer morning — finally — in northern Vermont. Fog burning off, leaving hazy blue sky and lovely, abundant sunshine.

Irises and daises abound. Daylilies are preparing to put on their brief show. Foliage in general has filled every bit of once gray/brown space, the color green everywhere in countless shades.

Robins hunt for bugs in the grass between the house and small barn. Nearby songbirds make music. Honeybees and their various cousins browse among clover blossoms.

Now and then a car passes on the dirt road, otherwise I’m alone.

Inside: ambient playing on the stereo. Cup of espresso, a warm croissant. Small piles of semi-messes scattered around the living space wait to be picked through and massaged into order.

A summer morning, finally, and feeling just fine.

I spend a fair amount of time in an online community, have some close friends there. One of them went through a kind of meltdown two nights ago, acting out via im. in intense, relentless fashion — a person I’ve known a while and consider to be like a younger sibling I never had in real life. A sweet soul, not very secure in some ways and hard on themself, characteristics that now and then produce volatile behavior. Not much fun, that behavior, but something I’ve learned to weather by not hooking into the anger, responding instead with affection, and going away if it gets to be too much. This person went after a mutual friend that evening, destroying a connection with someone who cared. And in all that emotional chaos, the person acting out became a teacher for me in a way my biological parents sometimes were, showing me what I don’t want to be, how I don’t want to act — no small gift. And reminding me to appreciate what I have — home, possessions, loved ones — and to let people in my life who matter know what they mean to me. It’s transitory, this life — we have nothing but the present moment, with no guarantee of what comes next. Better to talk, not leave statements of love and affection unspoken.

That passage two nights ago sent me offline and out the door seeking peace and relief, into the mild evening where I suddenly found myself doing work that had been waiting — turning earth, clearing it of weeds, dropping plants in the ground, in particular lily of the valley, several of which had been waiting for a long, unhappy time to make the move from plastic containers into soil.

Not sure what happened that night, but since then I’ve been in a nicely low-key kind of work mode, ready to do lots of tasks that have accumulated while I made the inner transition from Madrid to this part of the world — a transition that’s been a long, slow slog this time around, my bod still waking up on European time, often leaving me a bit bleary. But time staggers forward and everything gives way before it, even bodies wishing they were several time zones to the east.

The local weather types have been warning today will be genuinely hot, with temperatures sliding up past 90. Right now that sounds just fine to me.

Anyway. Later.

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

Vermont backroad beneath hazy, gray skies:

España, te echo de menos.

Lately, for some reason, I’ve been running into individuals I haven’t seen or heard from in a long time — many, many months, even years. Each one of them friends who blew me off in one way or another — not all at once, rather with an accumulation of less than wonderful-feeling things and a final, especially less-than-wonderful event — so that I stopped making contact, which meant contact ceased. Each of whom seemed happy, even excited to see me again. Which is nice, I suppose, except that I had let go of them some time ago, so that each of the recent encounters left me bemused, not exactly sure how I felt about pretty much, er, everything. And I found myself not being cool exactly, not being warm exactly — somewhere in between. Cordial, not unkind. But restrained. Not effusively friendly. Walking a fine line that some part of me struggled to figure out in the moment. Doing the best I could, meaning it probably could have been handled better on at least one occasion and could have been handled worse on others.

So some days that’s been percolating in the background. Not today, though. This morning I got a haircut, meaning a half hour spent in the company of T., one of the most enjoyably eccentric individuals I know. A colorful 60-something sprite, with the rebellious spirit of someone way younger. Got married last year, now shares her residence with her guy: a house that sits on a corner at a t-junction of two roads, a corner drivers like to cut, slicing across part of her property, ripping up grass and flower beds in the process. She reached the end of her tether about it, wanted to end the incursions by sinking metal spikes in the ground on her property line at the corner, but the town wouldn’t give permission. Which pissed her off so much that she installed piles of old tires along the property line instead, which put a stop to the trouble (though she says drivers still yearn to cut the corner, tire tracks on the shoulder going right up to the tires). A neighbor complained that the tires were ugly, but spoke to T.’s guy, not to Herself. Her response: go out and buy cans of the brightest yellow paint she could find, slap it all over the tires as the primary phase of their redecoration. I suggested filling them with dirt, turning them into planters, which might blunt some of the ugliness complaint. She seemed to consider that, but mused aloud about painting them with happy faces or something equally unpretty.

From there, she segued into other tales about living with the traffic at that corner, a lot of it drivers who come and go from what she called rich people’s camps down the road, whipping along at speeds well over the limit. She mentioned having called out to one car to slow down, the woman behind the wheel slowed to a stop, looking like she was about to respond by yelling something unwise and unproductive. T. picked up a nearby axe, began walking toward the car. The woman, she said, got the hell out of there. Other stories followed, progressively darker, featuring guns and mentioning the danger of home invasions, citing news stories about that. I tried to soothe her, pointing out that in this part of the world there’s probably more chance of being struck by lightning seven days in a row, suggested that watching news programs these days is more likely to cultivate paranoia than levelheadedness or peace of mind.

This is in a hair salon, mind you, me the only male on the premises at that time. I had the distinct feeling that T.’s dark conversation was making the other staff and customers uneasy, and much as I enjoy her and care for her, I was happy to step out of there into morning sunlight. (I’ve never experienced her in such an intense state before, will have to ask what was up next time I’m in for a shearing.)

Meanwhile, summer officially slouched in yesterday. I’m told that other parts of the northern hemisphere are actually experiencing warm weather. That’s what I’m told anyway. I can’t say for sure — cold weather returned to this part of the world two, three days ago, skies mostly gray and dumping plenty of moisture. When I stepped outside yesterday evening around eight, my breath produced mist, the air feeling autumnal.

This has really got to stop.

España, te echo de menos.

Drove into town yesterday morning, took care of errands. As I started the ride back home, I passed the Vermont College Quad, saw a big Red Cross truck parked in front a building, remembered seeing ads around town for a blood drive.

The last time I’d given blood: three years ago, during the days after the bombings in Madrid. The sight of the Red Cross truck sparked a sudden, vivid memory of sitting in a blood donation bus in Sol, in the heart of the Spanish capital, people from all over the Spanish-speaking world around me, all trying to contribute in some small way after the catastrophe. That image did something: I suddenly found myself pulling into a parking space, locking the car, walking past the truck into the hall.

Inside: people, noise, activity. Two gray-haired 60-something women sat just inside the door at a table stacked with clipboards holding forms to read and sign. They handed me one, I asked for a writing implement. They pointed at my clipboard, I grabbed hold of the elastic coil that should have secured a pen and waved it at them. They fell against each other laughing, handed me another clipboard. I sat, read, signed, stood up, handed it over. They motioned me to the next station, I drifted in that direction. A nurse met me, ushered me into her cubbyhole: a desk, two chairs, a laptop, all hidden away behind wheeled screens.

Nice person. We chatted, then she launched into a long list of questions, a long, long list that seemed to stretch on and on. I commented that it seemed like a lot of work for a pint of blood. She pointed out that one pint could potentially save three lives, suggested that ten minutes of Q&A might not be an outrageous amount of effort for that kind of payoff. I could only agree.

Once done, she herded me over toward the chaise lounge area, where someone else herded me to my very own indoor plasma-loss lawn chair. A 30-something gent in a lab coat, shorts, sneakers, prematurely graying hair, and an eastern European accent told me to get comfy. Once he’d finished with my neighbor — an attractive 40-something woman with a patrician nose, looking like an older version of the young Patricia Hodge — he returned to me, asked questions, set up bags and tubes, began feeling around inside my elbow for a likely puncture point. Seemed to be having trouble finding one, felt and probed and poked and searched and felt and probed some more. Me not being an intravenous drug type, having an abundance of blue veins clearly visible to the naked eye, it began making me nervous. After a while he painted the inside of my arm with iodine, got ready to do the plasma-sucking thing.

There was a time when I worked in an ambulance, working six long, miserably-paid months as an EMT. The me of that time got used to blood and gore and needles and all that. These days I’d rather not watch something pointed go into my skin. So I don’t. I look away, watch something else. When eastern Europe guy finally pushed the needle into my arm, I was admiring an attractive 30ish woman, one of the Red Cross staff.

Needle in. Squeezing fist. Blood oozing into bag. In the background, a radio played an old ZZ Top song (”Legs”). People came and went, some who knew each other called out hellos, exchanged hugs. Eventually, E.E. dude returned, finished up, removed needle, bandaged my arm, sent me off to eat/drink. I found a chair at a table across from a burly 30ish army type, dressed in fatigues.

We exchanged heys, he asked how I was doing, I said I thought I was doing just fine. I grabbed a half-sandwich, bit into it, realized I was ravenous, inhaled the rest. Grabbed two more, inhaled them, chased them with some grapes. Restrained myself from wiping out the entire tray of sandwiches, got to my feet, returned to the car.

Drove home via back roads, appreciating the fluid that runs through my arteries and veins.

A Monday in mid-June. Northern Vermont.

España, te echo de menos.

Mid-June, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from entry of June 6]

Awoke three or four hours later experiencing a kind of creeping nausea — nose running, system feeling a bit of whack as if a cold were edging its unpleasant way in. Opening my eyes to the room around me did nothing to help — too large, nothing pretty about it, the ventilation system loud, the aroma of the canned air not exactly wholesome. But, I reminded myself, a place that provided shelter in ugly weather, that allowed me to get a few hours of shuteye. I had a car outside that would take me where I wanted to get to, I had plastic to pay for room, gas, a meal if I wanted one (and money to pay off the plastic). Blessings abound in my little life, I reminded myself.

I grudgingly accepted that reminder, closed my eyes, drifted in and out of shallow sleep until gray light began to creep around the curtains. Remembered the last time I drove the Thruway during morning rush hour hours, the road packed with semi’s, the air less than pure from their exhaust. Decided to get up and get going, try to avoid a repeat of that magic experience.

Rain outside let up enough for me to load the car and get underway. The same 60ish woman remained working the desk, surprised to me again so soon. The same generous, heavyset woman remained at the toll booth, still doing the night-shift thing, now with a work companion who handed me my ticket. And when I got out onto the road, I found it nearly free of semi’s, at least compared to that previous early morning drive. Flew north, two hours later found myself on two-lanes winding through green country, crossing into Vermont where round-peaked mountains reared up toward slowly-clearing sky. Made it through what passed for rush-hour traffic in Rutland — wonderfully, adorably laughable compared with places like Boston, Madrid, etc. Stopped in Montpelier for a leisurely espresso pick-me-up, and finally, five hours after the morning’s start, pulled into the driveway here at my hilltop fiefdom, sky not exactly clear, but not dumping oceans of moisture on me either — back 24 hours and several hundred miles after setting out. A kind of trip that would have taken many days, even weeks in an earlier century — now brief, fast, compressing a lot of distance and attendance at a major life passage into one compact package.

Amazing.

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

After the long, long cold season months of grays, browns, dark greens, black and white, June returns and the local world goes technicolor.

Greenhouse, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

Went into town earlier, ducked into a grocery store to pick up two or three items. As the express cashier rang me out, an older gent looking to be around 70 years of age got into line behind me — grizzled, face weathered, hair sparse and white, expression dour. Not scowling exactly, but not smiling either.

I finished up, grabbed my bag, the cashier turned to the gent, said a cheerful, “How are you?”

“Sweet,” he answered. “Kind. Tender, gentle, lovable.” He was still going on like that as I stepped out the door and out of earshot.

España, te echo de menos.

[continued from previous entry]

After a while, it came to feel like sitting in coach on a transatlantic flight — packed between other seated individuals, hours and hours passing, long periods of nothing really happening, punctuated by the arrival of food or drink. The differences: everyone nicely dressed, conversation getting progressively louder, no one falling asleep, every now and then someone got to their feet and proposed a sweet, rambling toast to the newlyweds. Who looked like they were having fun, something that made me smile every time I noticed it.

Now and then I got up to stretch legs, disappear into the loo or exchange a few words with someone. Just before the evening ended, I found myself in another room with my brother and nephew. Chatting about nothing of great import. My nephew noticed something in the corner by the fireplace, picked it up — a long, strangely tapered length of polished wood with two metal loops eight or so inches from one end, suggesting a hand guard. Like nothing else any of us had ever seen before. Brother and nephew examined it, debating whether it might be a practice broadsword. Nephew noticed that the hilt seemed to be springloaded, so intensely that it could barely be moved. A mystery. The group consensus: a shrugging of shoulders, returning the thing to its resting spot.

The time: 10:30. Rain had begun falling outside, people began streaming through the room on the way out, saying good-bye. Nephew suddenly grabbed the wooden thing, checked it out more closely — might be a prototype, he said, but not of a sword. Looked more like an old, old pogo stick. And damned if it didn’t. An antique pogo stick.

Said good-byes, hugged a few bodies, kissed a few cheeks. Headed downstairs, couldn’t find a functioning door, had to beg a staff member to guide me to a real exit. He did, other staff folks watching with amusement, until I finally found myself out in the rain and cool night air, pointy boots taking me along a damp walkway and into the street, through shallow puddles of rainwater toward the car.

Followed winding roads through intensifying rain, got onto the Thruway, began the trip north. There really is nothing like sharing a road with bigass semi’s in a major rainstorm.

Visibility was nearly nonexistent, dealing with tractor/trailer backwash was wearing me down. Two exits along, I bailed to look for a motel, get a few hours sleep. As I followed the exit ramp up a slope, a coyote appeared from the brush to one side, trotted across the ramp ahead of me (fur sodden with rain), disappeared into the greenery on the other side.

I slowed and stopped at the toll booth, offered the ticket and a twenty to the woman there, a big, heavyset mama. She stared at the bill. “I don’t have anything smaller,” I apologized. The toll was not much, she would have had to come up with a wad of cash in exchange for the twenty. “Well,” she said, waving me on, “just move along then and have a good night.” “Huh?” said I, confused. “I just came on,” she explained, “I can’t change that bill.” “Er,” I er’ed, jamming a hand into a pants pocket in a search for nonexistent coins. “Don’t you worry,” she continued. “Have a good night. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.” I thanked her and pulled away, totally blinkered by the event.

Found a motel nearby, a big, bland, characterless one belonging to a motel chain. Got a room — a bizarrely huge room, so outsized that it looked nearly empty, despite containing all the furnishings a normal motel room would feature. Something about its subtle odors, the noise from the air system, the cheap rubbery foam blanket on the bed, provoked a faint feeling of nausea. Or maybe it was just the long day, with its hours of driving.

Got under the covers, drifted off before I could kill the lights.

[concluded in entry of June 9]

España, te echo de menos.

Back from an overnight trip to the Hudson Valley for a family wedding.

Sunday: awake far too early, as often happens on a traveling day. Several hours of packing and putzing around, followed by five hours behind the wheel.

Tooling along winding two-lanes through Vermont landscape so lush and vividly green it almost seemed unreal. Overcast thinning outside of Rutland, hazy sunshine flooding down, green, looming slopes shining beneath suddenly open skies.

Crossing into New York, landscape still lush and rolling (minus green peaks stretching skyward). Traffic increasing, two-lanes leading to the Northway, packed with cars and trucks barreling along at warp speed. And everywhere enormous passenger vehicles — gashogs on steroids. Vermont has its share of bizarrely oversized pick-ups, but nothing like eastern New York’s display of rolling fortresses.

Heading south, Northway leading to Thruway, traffic sailing through bands of driving rainstorms, so intense that road speeds immediately dropped from 70-80 to 30 or less. Off the highway at Kingston, far enough ahead of schedule to allow a pitstop. Found a likely looking diner, parked, stumbled inside, exchanging hey-how-ya-doin’s with a wiry, friendly everydude heading to his car, bags of take-out dangling from either hand. Grabbed a booth, gazed around at fellow customers, an impressive array of obese humans, including a family of five stuffed into a nearby booth — mother, father, grandmother, two boys — one of the male offsping bearing a startling resemblance to Pugsley from The Addams Family.

Good food, turned out. Friendly waitstaff. Then back outside, sky occasionally glimmering with diffuse sunlight, air mild and soft. Dove into the car’s backseat, changed from traveling duds to pants/shirt more suitable for a wedding. Threw a necktie around my throat, pulled on pointy boots. Drove the remaining miles, pulled into the driveway of the house shared by bride and groom. A lovely spot on a winding road, house and drive giving out on a coupla-acres backyard, with stream, a large pond, many towering trees, everything green as could be.

An intimate affair, twenty-five individuals at most — family and a handful of friends. Ten or twenty minutes of hellos and small talk until the bride appeared, escorted by her brother. A brief, sweet ceremony, officiated by the bride’s father (recently elected to local political office), ended by the strewing of wildflower seeds on a large plot of newly-turned earth.

Post-ceremony joy:

A drive through miles of narrow, winding roads to a restored inn (200+ years old) for the reception.

Phase one: an hour at tables outside the inn, wiping out plate after plate of hors d’oeuvres. The initial round or two: platters of seafood sushi, me — not generally a seafood fan — searching fruitlessly for something without raw fish, etc. A sad question from me about that apparently gave everyone the impression I’m vegetarian (the truth: here in the States? not exactly veggie, though I tend not to gobble down much meat; in Spain? not vegetarian, will consume just about any plate of non-seafood fare that lands in front of me). For some reason, I said nothing about the vegetarian thing, instead observed how it seemed to become accepted fact, everyone suddenly considering me a non-meat-eater, arranging for me to have a veggie main course when the party moved indoors. Good main course, turned out, arranged prettily on the plate by some wacky artiste back in the kitchen. But consisting of little actual food, leaving me nearly as ravenous post-entree as pre-.

Phase two: the meal indoors — in a long room, around a common table. A long affair, courses of luscious food coming slowly with vast spans of time between, me mostly watching and listening to the assembled attendees, longing for chow. Noting how the noise level zoomed upward in direct relation to the amount of wine imbibed by everyone. Three seats to my left sat this character, a celebrity in certain specialized circles, and apparently now playing on big screens in this bit of goofiness. (Said not a word to my humble self during either wedding or reception, apart from an expressionless “Excuse me” as he pushed past at one point.)

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos.

For some reason, every now and then emails of an intimate nature — meant for other individuals — show up in my account, usually followed by a brief, embarrassed p.s. note once the authors realize what they’ve done. The latest arrived overnight.

Its final paragraph:

Honestly, [name withheld], I don’t know why I’m sending this to you. I guess I’m hoping for some sort of closure or validation or something. Tell me you want to be with me. Tell me I’m being stupid and friendship is better anyway. Tell me it won’t work. Tell me something.

And the follow-up note:

Ha, ha. Wrong address. Wheee!

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

Yesterday — one more gray, cool, foggy morning in northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos.

There was a time in what passes for my life when I found myself getting up extra early to drag my sorry (though adorable) ass to the Y for a long pummeling workout before slouching off to the day’s labor. There were rational reasons for that descent into lunacy, the foremost being a schedule so out of control that early mornings were mostly the only time to squeeze in a bout of sweaty suffering. Didn’t matter — after I don’t know how many months of pure bliss, my bod began letting me know loudly and clearly that it wasn’t crazy about that particular lifestyle and kept bitching until I caved and found a way to squeeze in gym-time at more user-friendly hours.

Four action-packed weeks after getting back from Madrid, my bod still seems to be running on European time, waking me up real damn early, so early that I’ve found myself giving in to it, pulling myself out from under lovely, warm sheets and driving into Montpelier to the gym. And mostly doing okay with it. Mostly.

Two mornings ago, the first day back to what some might call normalcy after a three-day weekend. A Monday masquerading as a Tuesday. Me at the gym, barely conscious, my long-suffering bod not up to what I was trying to convince it to do. The result: me bitching and moaning at immodest volume. Dazed, not at my high-functioning finest. Waded through the full workout, which should have won me all sorts of brownie points on the cosmic level. Instead, the day brought a series of jolting, unpleasant moments, each one darkening my mood even more. I don’t generally experience what some would call a bad day. This one, though: nasty. Its big saving grace: sunshine, birds singing. The warm season continuing its slow settling in. Lilac bushes covered with blossoms, butterflies browsing among clusters of lavender forettes for a nectar pick-me-up. The kind of details that can cut through my personal darkness. (Now there’s a silly, melodramatic, self-important expression. It’s not like I have anything going on in my life worthy of high angst. On the contrary, I’m awash in blessings. I just forget sometimes and begin grumbling about… whatever. Ignore me.)

Er… where was I? Oh, right — angst and rustic thingies.

Gray, moist weather moved in later the next day, has hovered around ever since. Last night I woke up in the wee hours to the sound of a hard, hard rainfall pounding on the roof. Drifted back to sleep, woke up at a more user-friendly hour with an old top 40 song going through my head — She’s About A Mover, the Sir Douglas Quintet.

How do these old tunes find their way into my teeny brain? I can’t remember the last time I heard that one, could probably count on one hand the number of occasions I’ve heard it in my short lifetime.

One more mystery.

España, te echo de menos.

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