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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Remembering and Recounting

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, Memoir on November 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale

As I organize multiple pieces of Rosslyn’s renovation, our littoral Adirondack existence, and my still-young marriage into some sort of coherent storyline I wrestle consciously with occasional incongruities between my story and my life.

The narrative landscape is vast. Too vast, it often seems, to fit into a tidy memoir beginning with the crisp crack of a book spine opening for the first time, and the contented-sigh closure compelling stories demand.

Day after day, week after week I reread and rewrite, sort and distill and sort again, hunting for the essential story lurking amidst a mosaic of daily munge entries; four year’s worth of to-do lists; over fifteen thousand photographs; boxes of technical drawings and hasty sketches; hours of dictation; recorded meetings; and emails. Properly assembled, these miscellaneous artifacts form a multidimensional map of what took place between the spring of 2006 and the summer of 2012, but they fail to tell the story, they fail to recount the adventure lived.

19/03/2009 La Ministra de Cultuta de Colombia ...

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Image via Wikipedia)

In fact, I am startled to discover that these precise, unambiguous reference points frequently contradict my recollection. Dramatic events indelibly etched into my brain at the time have already blurred despite the brief lapse of time.

I curse my mischievous mind and then accept that 100% accuracy will inevitably elude me. My mind’s imperfect cataloging at once humbles and liberates me. Though an imperfect historian, I am a chronicler and curator of stories, not facts.

Even when my data is unequivocal, I inevitably distort history, omitting and abbreviating and emphasizing, distilling the vast landscape of data into vignettes. These accrete gradually, revealing the narrative design of my story.

I am unlike my father and my brother who posses iron vaulted minds where information is deposited, preserved and safeguarded for later use. When the time comes to retrieve the information, they withdraw it from their vaults unaltered, uncontaminated, reliable, accurate.

I believe that there are different kinds of accuracy. I am a storyteller, not an historian, and though I strive for verisimilitude, some truths are more effectively preserved and conveyed through stories than history or vaults.

Some days I toil like an archeologist amidst a midden heap of artifacts, rewinding time’s mysteries, deciphering the prior summer’s garden vegetables from this season’s rich, dark compost.

Other days I seduce and charm and coerce the artifacts to share longer forgotten truths. I plant French radishes and bush beans in the compost-enriched garden and several unlikely seedlings emerge among the radish and bean sprouts. I skip them while weeding, and soon enough I am rewarded with yellow cherry tomatoes, wart covered gourds and a curly garlic scape! Although I’ve grown yellow cherry tomatoes in the past, I’ve never grown gourds or garlic.

I remember that we were given several multicolored gourds to decorate my bride’s annual Halloween birthday party last year. But they were smooth skinned. Perhaps they were discarded in the compost, and a recessive wart gene found its way into the germination process resulting in the exotic adaptation growing amidst the fattening radishes.

And the garlic? We eat plenty from Full and By Farm, our local CSA, but to date I have never planted garlic. I vaguely remember several bulbs that we left out while traveling last winter. When we returned home, the kitchen was ripe with the pungent odor of rotten garlic. The bulbs were discolored, sitting in a pool of their own brown fluid. Several garlic cloves had begun to germinate, pale green shoots emerging from the cloves and arching upward.

I imagine planting them in a terra-cotta pot and placing it on a windowsill in my study. Each morning I inspect their progress. One shoot yellows and grows limp, then wrinkles across the moist soil. The other three grow taller quickly, changing from pale to dark green. Soon they will twist into elegant scapes which I can cut just above the soil level. I will chop them up and sauté them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I will serve them to my bride as a dinner side with mashed potatoes and swordfish, and she’ll smile ear-to-ear, marveling that something so succulent could have grown by accident.

According to Garcia Marquez life is not only the experiences, the moments lived. Life is also the rendering of those experiences into stories, the recollecting, the filtering, the imagining, the sharing. To fully live we must share our stories. That’s an interesting notion in a world that more often favors accuracy, facts, history.

Perhaps even with history we become overconfident that the facts are irrefutable. Only in recent decades have scholars we begun to look critically at history’s biases, often tainted by ideology, objectives or favoring the victors to the vanquished.

Absent an omnipresent video camera that documents my life as I bump along, capturing every minute detail precisely, permanently, Garcia Marquez’s perspective offers reassuring guidance. Though I frequently daydream about a collaborative memoir comprised of the recollections of everyone who participated in the rebirth of Rosslyn, my story is an eclectic nexus of personal experiences, filtered, aggregated and cobbled into narrative cohesion by me.

I write these affirmative lines now, and yet I struggle with it each time my bride asks if she can participate more actively in the revising and editing. Yes, I tell her; when I am done. Which is not to say that I have neglected her input. I have sought it again and again. But her story is different from my own, as are the still unwritten memoirs of many creative and hardworking people who invested their time and energy into renovating our home. I hope to showcase many of their impressions and memories on the Rosslyn Redux blog. And I am optimistic that my memoir will serve as an invitation to dig into their memories and to recount their own versions of Rosslyn Redux.

Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for your guidance.

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Totally Incompatible

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on October 3, 2011 at 10:30 am
Carriage house and ice house

Image by virtualDavis via Flickr

My fixer-upper forays with Bruce and other local realtors evolved when Susan joined the search.

She shared my dream of an old farmhouse surrounded by open meadows with views and sunlight. She liked barns and was even receptive to my occasional flights of fancy about converting an old barn into a home.

But our notions of size and simplicity were less aligned. And Susan was particularly keen on finding a Lake Champlain waterfront property. “What’s the point of having a place that’s not on the lake?” she asked repeatedly as if the answer were self evident.

The odds of finding an old farm on Lake Champlain were slim enough, but the prospect of finding a simple, inexpensive property on the lake was totally implausible unless we shifted our thinking toward seasonal camps. South of Westport and north of Essex there were many small properties tucked along the lakeshore that Bruce insisted on showing us despite repeatedly explaining that they were not what we had in mind.

We also looked at inland farms and interesting old homes in small towns and hamlets, “Just so you can see what’s out there…”

We enjoyed looking and brainstorming, but we were growing frustrated with the increasingly diffuse range of properties we were seeing. We had lost our focus.

Bruce was trying to show us all of the options available which in equal turns dilated and frustrated our search. But there was an even more fundamental problem: Susan and my interests were not perfectly in sync.

Although a farm on the lake was proving an impossible ambition, our imaginations were piqued on several occasions by totally dissimilar and totally unlikely properties.

An old “Great Camps” style summer house in Westport overlooking Lake Champlain’s Northwest Bay intrigued me until I realized that this pedigreed manse adjoined the town’s sewage treatment plant.

A slate roofed barn, still square after a century or more standing at the crest of an immense field just south of Westport, also kidnapped my daydreams for a few days. I imagined a lofty open plan; exposed, rough hewn beams; magnificent views in all directions. But the seller was unable or unwilling to subdivide the field and barn from a much larger farm which included additional fields, an immense dairy barn, various other building for hay and equipment storage, a “pond” for storing cow manure and a large square farmhouse with cupola.

And then there was Rosslyn, a Merchant-Ivory film set for The Great Gatsby’s Adirondack prequel. A century earlier. Located on the lake in Essex, it included a boathouse I’d loved since I was a child, a carriage barn, an ice house, and plenty of stone walls. But there were no fields and too many buildings. And the house was too big. And too run down. Way too run down. And the price tag was beyond unrealistic.

During our first visit Susan and I had both known immediately, instinctively, conclusively that it was not for us. Purchasing this once stately but now desperately dilapidated property was a bad idea. A really, really bad idea.

The expense alone. There was no conceivable short term return on investment. None.

And the amount of time it’d take to understand all of the property’s problems, let alone begin to fix them, to build her back to her former glory? It was incomprehensible.

But money, scope, logistics, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Long deferred maintenance, decades overdue; a gutted rear wing with failing floors suspended from cables that stretched through the middle of rooms; crumbling foundations; faulty electric, plumbing and heating; a boathouse that was one ice flow away from a watery grave; an ice house with corn cribbing walls and a collapsed roof. The current owner had dedicated the better part of four decades of his life, four decades — full time — to renovating Rosslyn and yet it was disintegrating around him.

Buying Rosslyn was totally incompatible with our means, our lives and our plans. And yet Rosslyn seduced us. Susan and I visited and then, months later, revisited the property, each time musing about its potential despite knowing that we shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t ever own it.

Our increasingly unfocused search — Susan and my notions of the perfect fixer-upper diverging and converging unpredictably — must have vexed Bruce despite his perennial good humor and patience. Though we did periodically visit properties when Bruce called with new listings that he thought might appeal to us, our enthusiasm gradually waned.

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Serene, Patinaed Fantasy

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's the story? on September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am
Apartment buildings lining the south side of E...

East 57th Street between First and Sutton (via Wikipedia)

Accustomed to living out of a suitcase, I pendulumed back and forth between Manhattan where Susan was wrapping up a degree in interior design following a decade-long career in video production, and Westport, New York, where both of our parents owned homes and where we’d met a couple of years prior.

Susan had recently refinished a one bedroom apartment in The Galleria, and she was itching to sell it and start a new project. I was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating on a project and plugging my recent Paris experience into a tired but dignified New York apartment, but the Adirondacks were pulling me. After almost half a lifetime living in cities, I yearned to return to the rhythms and pleasures of rural life.

My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.

The perfect place, I explained to Bruce, the friend and realtor who shuttled me from property to property, would be a small, simple farmhouse in the middle of fields with a sturdy barn and some acreage, maybe a stream or a pond or access to a river. Barns, in particular, pulled me. Secluded places with good light and views, forgotten places with stories still vaguely audible if you slowed down long enough to hear the voices. No loud traffic. An old overgrown orchard, perhaps. Asparagus and rhubarb gone feral near the barn. Stone walls, lots of stone walls and maybe an old stone foundation from a building long ago abandoned, the cellar hole full to bursting with day lilies. A couple of old chimneys in the farmhouse with fireplaces. A simple but spacious kitchen. A bedroom with plenty of windows. A room to read and write and collage the walls with notes, lists, photos, drawings and scraps. Someplace I could tinker at myself, gradually restoring the walls and plaster and roof. Timeworn wide plank floorboards of varying widths that I would sand by hand to avoid erasing the footpaths and dings and cupping from a burst pipe years before.

Although I’d painted the picture often enough, my budget and unwillingness to abandon the serene, patinaed fantasy resulted in a few false starts but mostly a very clear idea of what I was not interested in buying. On the upside, I came around and helped Susan select and renovate a coop in a 1926 McKim, Mead and White prewar located on 57th Street just off Sutton Place. An elegant apartment in a handsome building. Great bones, view and sunlight enhanced with a top-to-bottom environmentally responsible, non-toxic renovation. A success!

Though there were occasional fireworks when our aesthetics and convictions clashed, we enjoyed working together and decided to look for a North Country property that would suit both of our interests…

Paris Renovation Bug

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation on September 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm
Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France,...

Image by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

Starting in about 2003 I initiated an unfocused real estate hunt for a “fixer-upper” in the AdirondacksChamplain Valley. I’d returned from four years in Europe with enough savings to justify some idle time, a reprieve I hoped to plough into a long languishing novel while tinkering with the vestiges of a web-based business I’d launched in Paris a few years before.

But I couldn’t shake the renovation bug that had bitten me quite unexpectedly while bringing a luxury vacation rental to market in Paris’ Faubourg St. Germaine.

I’d made it into my early thirties without owning a home due to my intentionally peripatetic lifestyle, and despite an aesthete’s appetite for buildings and furnishing and gardens, I hadn’t the least interest in settling down. No biological clock ticking. No nesting instinct. No yen for taxes and maintenance and burst pipes and snow shoveling. No desire whatsoever for the trappings of a settled, domestic life. I understood why it appealed to others, but for me the commitments and encumbrances far outweighed the pride and financial wisdom of home ownership.

Until recently.

Something had changed, and I couldn’t quite figure out how or why.

I’d spent the better part of a year and a half immersed in the acquisition, renovation and marketing of a grand Haussmannian property that promised tourists an opportunity to enjoy Paris à la Parisienne. My business partner and I joked that it was “Versailles in the heart of Paris”, which was a gross exaggeration, but fifteen foot ceilings, 3,200+ square feet of living space including three master suites, a grande salon, a petite salon and a formal dining room invited exaggeration. Magnificent marble fireplaces, intricate plaster moldings, hardwood floors and meticulous finish details exuded Parisian elegance by the time we started booking the accommodation, but it hadn’t always looked so inviting.

The property underwent a top-to-bottom transformation between the day we received the key and the day we shot the photographs for our brochures and website. Half of the property had been gutted and rebuilt from scratch. One bathroom was remodeled and two new bathrooms were created from scratch. Walls were moved, electrical systems were rewired. Carpets were ripped out and herringbone hardwood floors were hand sanded and resealed. Magnificent crown moldings were painstakingly restored, and sconces, chandeliers, and period hardware were refinished.

No architect. No designer. No engineer. Just outsized self confidence and a hepped up learning curve. I scribbled construction drawings on walls and fumbled through French and Portuguese until contractors seemed to understand what I wanted. With the Lebanese contractors I gesticulated, made funny sound effects and scribbled some more. That we completed the project at all was a miracle. That the results were exquisite, a mystery that still awes me. Though I’d grown up assisting my parents with a couple of renovation projects, I’d never before undertaken anything so ambitious or complex. Or so rewarding.

Although our business plan involved duplicating the process in Italy and in Spain, the woman I’d been dating for two years lived in New York City, and after two years of cycling through Paris, Rome and Manhattan on a roughly two week cycle, I opted to trade the business for the woman I loved. I dissolved my interest in the business, packed up my apartments in Paris and Rome, and moved back to the United States.

[To be continued…]

We could live at Rosslyn

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's the story? on June 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm
We could live at Rosslyn

We could live at Rosslyn

“We could live at Rosslyn,” I said.

“What?” Susan sounded startled. “You mean buy Rosslyn and live there?”

“Why not? If we lived here, if it were going to be our home instead of just an investment, maybe we could justify buying it.”

We had joked about how much time and money it would take to make Rosslyn habitable, categorically dismissing it as an investment. And yet it clearly had captured our hearts. If it were our home and not a short term investment, then maybe the criteria were different. Maybe the potential was different. Maybe the risk was different.

“Will you be relocating here full-time?” a realtor had asked a month or two ago while showing us a house.

“Uh, maybe, yes, we’d like to,” Susan had lied, glancing at me awkwardly. Some locals disliked out-of-towners buying, renovating and reselling, so we kept quiet about our plans to do so. Our hearts sank.

“Are you serious? Would you really want to live at Rosslyn?” Susan persisted.

I was unclear whether she was horrified or excited. I had made the suggestion spontaneously, without forethought, and now I felt embarrassed. I knew the idea was absurd. We both knew it made no sense at all. And yet we had returned to see the house again that morning. A second visit to a house we had already decided not to buy. Why? It exerted an inexplicable pull on both of us. It had awakened our imaginations, our fantasies, our hopes.

“No. And yes,” I said, hedging. “No, I’m not really serious. I just suggested it off the cuff. It’s probably the stupidest idea ever, or at least the least serious idea ever. But yes, there is a side of me that would love to live at Rosslyn. I’ve felt it each time we’ve visited the house. I’m not sure I can explain it…”

“You don’t need to,” Susan said. She was beaming. “I agree.” She rose out of the bath and wrapped a towel around her broad shoulders. “What a dream it would be, to live in that grand old home!”

“Really?” A wave of relief and excitement rushed over me. What a dream indeed. I stood and wrapped my arms around Susan as we drowned each other out, pent up monologues bursting out. We sounded manic as we catalogued our dreams. Waterskiing from Rosslyn’s pier still visible in photographs from the mid-1980’s. Awakening in the yellow bedroom brimming with sunlight. Entertaining our families in the evening amidst mingling aromas of arborvitae and grilling hamburgers. Eating cheese fondue next to a crackling fireplace with friends after a day of downhill skiing. Watching the Fourth of July parade from the front steps with our nephews, still fascinated with fire engines, antique tractors and costumed clowns. Recalibrating our urban rhythm to the comings and goings of the Essex-Charlotte ferry. A pair of effervescent hummingbirds flitting from blossom to blossom in the flowerbeds that we would coax back to life. Puttering around in the carriage barn on Sunday afternoons. Tossing bocce balls in the side yard while nursing gin and tonics and watching Vermont’s Green Mountains slide into pastels, then monochromes, then memories.

Almost Logical

In Memoir, What's the story? on June 10, 2011 at 9:35 am
What if? Wondering what life would be like living full-time in the Champlain Valley...

What if? Wondering what life would be like living full-time in the Champlain Valley...

Within minutes we were tripping over each other, drunk with excitement, imagining one whimsical “What if…” scenario after another. No filter, no caution. Our reveries flitted from one idyllic snapshot to another.

“What if I finally sat down and finished my novel?” After dawdling self indulgently for a dozen years – writing, rewriting, discarding, rewriting, shuffling, reinventing – my novel had evolved from failed poetry collection to short story collection to novel to a tangle of interconnecting narratives that loosely paralleled my life since graduating from college. Too much evolution. Too little focus. But what if I made time to sit down and knock it out? Reboot. Start over. Find the story. Write it down. Move on.

“What if you weren’t sitting in front of your computer all day? Every day?” Susan asked, returning to a common theme. “What if you went outside and played with Tasha? Took her swimming or hiking or skiing every day?”

“What if all three of us went swimming or hiking or skiing every day? What if Tasha and I went jogging along Lakeshore Road instead of the East River?”

We could waterski and windsurf for half the year instead of just two or three months, starting in May with drysuits and finishing in the end of October. We could sail the Hobie Cat more instead of letting it collect spider webs on the Rock Harbor beach. I could fly fish the Boquet and Ausable Rivers in the afternoon while Tasha snoozed on the bank. We could join Essex Farm, the local CSA, supporting a local startup while eating healthy, locally grown and raised food. I could grow my own vegetable garden, an herb garden, an orchard. Susan could work for an architecture firm in Burlington and volunteer at the animal shelter. We could buy season passes to Whiteface and downhill ski several days a week. We could cross country ski and snowshoe and bike and rollerblade and kayak and canoe and hike, and maybe I would start rock climbing again. And how much more smoothly the Lapine House renovation would be if we were on-site every day answering questions, catching mistakes before it was too late.

“I could interview candidates for Hamilton!” Susan said. She had recently become an alumni trustee for her alma mater, and her already high enthusiasm had skyrocketed. She had become a walking-talking billboard for the college. “You know how much more valuable it would be to interview candidates up here? There are tons of alumni interviewers in Manhattan, but in Westport? In Essex? In Elizabethtown?”

Suspended in lukewarm bathwater, our collective brainstorm leap frogging forward, it all started to make a strange sort of sense, to seem almost logical.

Kids, Friends and MSG

In Memoir, What's the story? on June 7, 2011 at 11:04 am
Iris bed (with a touch of monosodium glutamate)

Iris bed (with a touch of monosodium glutamate)

“You’re right. We both could have careers,” she said. I nodded. “But could we really live full time in the boonies? Where the closest healthy supermarket is in Vermont, a ferry ride away?”

“I could. I have.”

“Maybe I could… Our friends here lead great lives, right?”

“Right.”

“They have so much more to talk about than work and kids,” Susan said. She described conversations with our friends in the city and suburbs inevitably veering onto the strains, calamities and milestones of parenting. “Nannies, babysitters, nutrition, education, play dates… I mean, I do love our friends’ kids. I love seeing their personalities and their interests and their abilities changing, but I’m so tired of the perpetual kid chatter. I’m sick of everyone griping that their lifestyles have been kidnapped by childbearing and then – in the same breadth – imploring us to have children, assuring us that it’s the best decision they ever made.”

We enjoyed spending time with children. I had taught middle school and high school students for a half dozen years and genuinely missed the daily interaction with teenagers. But long before we were even married Susan and I had decided that we would not have any children. Our insatiable appetites for wandering the globe and our tendency to hyper fixate on each new personal and professional endeavor, comprised less than ideal ingredients for child rearing.

“Our friends here are different.” Susan had the spirit now. “Even the ones who have children have so much more to talk about…” Her words came fast and excited. I turned on the hot water to warm up the tub. “They’re passionate about politics, the environment, the health and viability of the community. They’re enthusiastic about improving the world around them. They’re so much less concerned about financial success, about how big their homes are, how green their lawns are, how stylish their wardrobes are. They’re cultured. They’re well educated. They’re well informed. They love animals. They’re athletic. They’re outdoorsy… Can you turn that off? It’s burning my leg.” I turned off the hot water, and Susan resumed her monologue about the merits of our North Country friends and their lifestyles. Smaller communities resulted in greater civic involvement, she opined. “They join the boards of local non-profits. Or they start their own organizations. They participate in local government…”

“Susan?”

“They’re environmentalists, writers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, artists, realtors, yoga instructors. They’re entrepreneurs and architects, camp directors and farmers…”

“Susan, I’m with you. I understand. I agree.” She stopped talking and smiled. “You don’t need to lecture me on why we admire our friends’ passion or their choices to live intentionally. Or their abilities to balance meaningful work with quality of life. I’m on board. It’s admirable. We’re on the same page.”

“It’s just, the more I think about it, the more I realize I’d love to move here.”

“And the more you talk about it, the more I worry that your perspective’s a wee bit idealistic. No? A little too saccharine? A little too much MSG?”

Susan laughed. “Maybe.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the North Country tableau you’re describing, but I don’t want to…”

“I know.”

“You do? What?”

“You don’t want me to be disappointed if it doesn’t measure up.”

“Partly, and I… Listen, I really do like the idea of living up here, for a while, at least. But I don’t want you later to feel like you did it for me, like I talked you into it, like I misrepresented it or something. Does that make any sense?”

Postprandial Soak

In Memoir, What's the story? on June 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm
Postprandial Soak

Postprandial Soak

After dinner Susan opted for a postprandial soak. Quiet. Languid. Sybaritic. Tasha curled up beside the bathtub, sighed and fell asleep. A breeze carried the faint smell of pine trees through the open window. A whippoorwill called in the distance.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could live here?” Susan said.

“Why couldn’t we?” I asked, vaguely aware that my response might abbreviate the placid mood we were enjoying.

“Really?” Susan sat up abruptly. “I mean, of course we could, but we can’t just leave our friends behind. And the apartment?”

“Our friends would visit. And the apartment? Well, I don’t know. We’d have to figure that out.” We only recently had found and renovated the co-op on East 57th Street, our first home together. Located on the twelfth floor of an understated pre-war with a southern exposure, tons of sunlight, a working fireplace and beautiful hardwood floors, we knew we were incredibly fortunate. The neighbors and staff were friendly, and the neighborhood offered excellent restaurants, grocers, wine shops and even a knowledgeable and well stocked fromagerie.

“We can’t just sell the apartment. I mean we’ve barely lived there. And besides…”

“You want to work in green design, right?” I asked. “Why not get a job in Vermont? They’re all about green over there, aren’t they?”

“How did you know I was thinking about my career?”

“I didn’t know. I guessed.”

“I know I haven’t exactly gotten around to starting my design career yet,” Susan said and went on to remind me that soon – very, very soon – she anticipated a high profile job with a world renowned firm, designing hotels and proving that commercial interior design could be environmentally friendly, healthy and affordable.

“Sounds good,” I said softly, definitively and tried to sink back into dreamy limbo. Susan was quiet. Tasha ran in her sleep, thumping against the side of the tub.

“I need to spend a few years with a big firm first, for the experience. Then, maybe…”

“I’m just saying, if you’re serious about green design, Vermont might be as good a place as any to start your career. And besides, you’d actually be living a green lifestyle in the Adirondacks, right?”

“But what about you?”

“What about me? I’d be living a green lifestyle in the Adirondacks too. I love it here. I’d be thrilled to live here for a few years.” Peripatetic by nature, I enjoyed relocating every three to four years. Having grown up in the Adirondacks, mostly in the Champlain Valley, I had long yearned to reconnect, not just for vacation or a weekend.

“Really? But what about your career?”

“Which one? Teaching? Ecommerce? Renovating real estate? Writing? Susan, my career is adventure!” I said melodramatically. “And right now my adventure is the Margaux Project and ShipStore,” referring to two websites I was currently working on. “I can do that anywhere. And, frankly, if we we’re up here I might find more time to write. This’d be the perfect place to finish my novel.”

“And my screen play.”

“And your screen play.”

The Farm

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's the story? on May 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm
Rock Harbor Rhubarb

Rock Harbor Rhubarb

We walked down the road from the tennis court and stopped off at my parents’ house, still closed up for the winter. It would be several weeks before my parents arrived in Rock Harbor for the summer, and by then the asparagus would have gone to seed, so we picked enough for dinner and enough extra to bring back to the city for another meal.

I also picked a fistful of rhubarb to sauté with maple syrup for dessert. Susan disliked rhubarb, but I loved the lip puckering tartness. The taste transports me instantly to The Farm.

My parents, living and working in New York City, had purchased an 1840s farmhouse on 85 acres in Greenwich, New York five months after getting married. I was born less than two years later.

Although The Farm served primarily as a weekend getaway for the next five years, it dominates the geography of my earliest childhood. A stream of nostalgia gilded memories flow from this pastoral source: exploring the time-worn barns, absent livestock except for those conjured up by my energetic imagination and the swallows which darted in and out, building nests in the rafters, gliding like darts through dusty sunbeams; vegetable gardening with my mother; tending apple, pear and quince trees with my father; eating fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blackberries; discovering deer and raccoons and snakes and even a snapping turtle.

Tasha, Tennis and Wildlife

In Memoir, What's the story? on May 20, 2011 at 9:00 am
Tasha Testing the Territory

Tasha Testing the Territory

Tucked into a meadow surrounded by forest, the tennis court was starting to show a quarter century of soggy springs and icy winters. The net drooped, but we decided not to tighten it and risk breaking the rotten netting. Besides the droop better accommodated our rusty tennis skills.

The twelve foot tall fence around the court sagged along the north side. A tree that had fallen across it a few years before had been removed, but the stretched steel mesh retained the memory. Several young maple trees grew along the crumbling margin of the court and protruded inside the fence. Towering maples, oaks and white pines surrounded the court on three sides, lush with new foliage that whispered in the wind. Birds and squirrels chattered in the canopy. Ants paraded across the court’s puckering green surface, and a pair of small butterflies danced in a rising and falling gyre. Tasha sniffed around the perimeter of the court, her obligatory inspection as head ball girl for our sylvan Roland Garros.

We started to volley back and forth, balls collecting quickly on both sides of the net. It felt great to be hitting a tennis ball again, and – like every spring – I vowed to spend more time on the court, perennially optimistic that a solid tennis game was within my reach.

The sound of our rackets making solid contact with the fresh balls encouraged us and prompted Tasha to abandon the grasshopper she had been badgering. She headed out onto Susan’s side of the court and started to lunge at balls, attempting to catch them in her mouth. We tried to be more creative in our placement, trying simultaneously to avoid hitting her and to protect the nice new balls from her slobbery maw.

Soon enough she discovered that she could simply take her pick from the balls that were collecting beside the net, and she plunked down in the middle of the court to enjoy a new chew toy.

“Maybe we should have brought the hopper of old balls, so it wouldn’t matter if she chewed them…”

“Home run!” Susan cheered, sending a ball soaring over the fence into the woods. Excited, Tasha got up and padded over to the fence where she stood, looking for the ball in the woods.

Soon, enough balls had vanished over the fence that we headed out to see how many we could recover.

“Hey, come check out this snake!” I called out to Susan after startling a small garter snake in the tall grass near the woods.

“Tasha, come! Grab her. Don’t let her get close to it!” Susan’s words came like machine gun fire as she sprinted toward me. “It might be poisonous!”

“It’s just a garter snake,” I said. “Tasha’s fine.”

“Are you sure it’s not a rattlesnake? Where is it?” she asked, next to us now, grabbing Tasha by the collar and pulling her backward, away from the grass where the snake had already vanished.

“It’s gone.”

“Gone? Where? Why didn’t you keep your eye on it?” Susan hustled Tasha back toward the tennis court.

“Relax. It was a garter snake, Susan. It’s harmless. Nothing to worry about.”

“How do you know? What if you’re wrong?”

Tasha shags a tennis ball

Tasha shags a tennis ball

When I returned from the woods with most of the balls, Susan had our tennis rackets tucked under her arm. Tasha was leashed.

“I’m ready to go,” Susan said.

“Because of the snake?”

“No. I’m just ready. I’ve played enough tennis.”

“Okay.”

Susan asked me to walk ahead, checking for snakes. I laughed, then obliged, walking a few paces with exaggerated caution.

“Stop!” I bellowed, freezing and pointing into the grass ahead. “I think I see one…”

“That’s not funny,” said, repressing a smile.

“Wait, do you hear that rattling noise?”

Susan laughed. Tasha pulled at her leash, excited, ready to help me search for snakes.

“Well, you never know,” Susan said. “Tasha’s a city dog. She might try to attack a rattlesnake.”

“Because that’s what city dogs do?” I laughed.

Tasha, our twelve year old Labrador Retriever, enjoyed bark at wildlife, maybe even an abbreviated mock charge in the case of deer, but she had little interest in tangling with animals, birds or snakes. Frogs intrigued her more, briefly, until she realized they were not toys. A sleepy cluster fly could entertain her for five or ten minutes. But Tasha would leave rattlesnake attacking to younger, more aggressive beasts.

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