far too much writing, far too many photos

The rain stopped sometime last night. (I refer to the rain that began sometime Monday night, contining off and on since then — mostly on, mostly torrential.) The sun came out this morning, playing hide and seek with plentiful clouds until early afternoon, when late spring/early summer suddenly recommenced. It’s beautiful here when it rains, in a primeval way. Low dark clouds sweep across the sky, swinging slowly between the mountains. White mist rises up from hollows, gradually dispersing. When the rain gives way and blue skies reappear, it’s a whole different thing. Birds and butterflies abound. Wildflowers poke themselves up everywhere. Crickets sing. Happier, much more fun.

The rain is fine –- this area suffered a drought, beginning last summer, lasting until late in the year, the ground has needed the water. Lots of folks’ wells ran dry during those months — something that also happened the summer I bought this place, three years ago — and they’re still spooked. I’ve noticed, however, that they’re beginning to bitch about the weather when rain arrives — they must be getting over it.

Monday morning, shortly after I dragged myself out of bed, the phone rang. Turned out to be one of my neighbors, a bright woman named Charlotte, the wife of a couple that live at the end of the road that passes this house and runs around the rim of the hill. Her 14-year-old son had a Spanish final the following day, she wanted to know if there was any chance he could come over and get a little help from me. (Having lived in Madrid for most of the last two years, I’ve now become the local Spanish expert -– HAR! If only they could hear me trying to hold my own in conversation with native Spanish speakers.) This did not arise out of the blue. A couple of days previous, when I’d been out working on the section of the lawn that abuts the road, she pulled over for a chat, the subject of her son’s Spanish had come up. During this last year, he’d written to me in Madrid asking if I could give him any info. re: Madrid/Spain that he could use in a presentation in his class. I wrote back with a few things, mostly referring him to this journal and to other, more respectable sources of reference. Somewhere in there he found out from me that the Spanish word for snot is “moco,” which apparently made a lasting impression.

Long story short, we said he could show up from 5 to 6 p.m. on Monday. He did, shlepping a backpack packed with books and a paper plate of sweets his mother had baked. We sat down, he pulled out his Spanish textbook, began working on the sweets, and what most struck me during the following 50 or so minutes was how much he reminded me of myself at that age. A bit shy, a bit plump, bright but disorganized. A good kid, right in the middle of his teenage years, morphing slowly in the direction of some adult version of the personality that sat at my dining room table.

His notes were pretty much in a state of chaos, some stuffed haphazardly between pages in the textbook, others hanging out of his notebook. As far as I could tell, he was exactly the same kind of student I was when I endured Spanish classes during 7th and 8th grade, not learning a whole lot, with little real interest in the language and little idea how to study.

I asked him what he needed to know for the exam, turned out his teacher had told them exactly what material the text would cover. Some basic vocabulary, the differences between the verbs ser and estar, some other verbs and their conjugations. Numbers between 1 and 100, some vocabulary having to do with the weather. (¿Qué es el tiempo hoy? ¡Hace sol hoy!) Nothing profound. I defined a few words for him, drilled him on a couple of things. Mostly, I let him know that what he needed to do was organize -– locate the small amount of material he needed for the test, write it out and take a little time to go over it, memorize what he wasn’t sure of. I basically did what someone should done for me when I was that age: provide a vague idea of how to study (something not really learned until after college). I must have studied in my teenage and undergrad. years, though I have no memory of doing so. I mostly coasted, I think, unless a subject really motivated me, in which case I poured time and energy into it, but without a model to work from. I made it up as I went along, my grades improving as I did.

I have no memory of anyone actually giving me some idea of how to study. But maybe no one got taught how to study. Maybe we all had to figure it out for ourselves.

Regardless, he got something like a 93 on the exam. Way to go, John!


This last Saturday the Strolling of the Heifers took place down in Brattleboro, the largest town in southeast Vermont. The following is an excerpt of an Associated Press article from Monday’s edition of The Boston Globe entitled “Brattleboro milks parade for all its worth”:

“BRATTLEBORO – The Strolling of the Heifers came off with nary a moo out of place and organizers are thrilled with the publicity bonanza it provided for the town and the state’s agricultural heritage.

“That’s why a half-dozen state officeholders, a New York City firefighter, the ‘dairy godmother,’ and the local American Legion band marched on Saturday alongside heifers led by students and farmers.”


“Marchers drew hearty applause, especially for a rear guard armed with shovels.”

Vermont. There’s nowhere quite like it.

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