A cold front blows in, shaking the pecan trees. Their shadows, dancing ghosts seen in the corner of the eye, remind us that we inhabit many dimensions, but our bodies are trapped in one. Hearty stews and hot cider bring comfort to darkening days. With comfort comes a stirring of memory, and yearning.
An old Volvo chugged in second gear. The road turned to dirt a mile past Maple Leaf Farm on the north face of Mount Mansfield, above Underhill Center. Halfway up the mountain, at the height of a wicked curve, a steep driveway climbed past a broken tractor to a white farmhouse, built in 1830. The springhouse opened to a well, lined with stone, deep and wide. Behind the house, a ten acre field ended woods which climbed up to the Chalet where the von Trapp Family lived after they fled the Nazi invasion. In that field lay dozens of tree trunks, stacked and ready for the saw. A trout stream gurgled along the edge, finding its way down the mountain. On a steep bank, an old trash heap yielded purple glass jars and the steering wheel from a Hupmobile. This was Autumn, dazzling with color and crisp air that invited hikers up the steep trails to a hut built by the WPA during the Great Depression.
The first snow came in October. Out came the cross-country skis and the woolen knickers. Neighbors met each other schussing along the meadow trails. They shared their hearty stews and helped each other getting in wood and getting out of mud slews. Thanksgiving and Christmas were wonderful times with crackling fires and hot cider. One day, the North Wind came to stay. The thermometer dropped to twenty below and stayed there. The threat of frostbite kept the skis in their racks. Soaped up, in the middle of a hot shower, the water stopped. The protected well had frozen. The ice adze and a sturdy shovel hewed a path to the spring house. A bank of bright bulbs was plugged in, and the ice melted. Next morning, the Volvo would not start. An extension cord ran from the outlet by the back door, and a work light was placed under the hood, left burning all night to warm the oil and revive the gasping battery. The brave road crew from Underhill Center plowed the road once a week. Between times, the neighbors were isolated, holed up in their freezing drafty charming old homes. Ten full cords of firewood was not enough. So, numb fingers pulled the chainsaw cord and hefted the splitting maul. “Firewood warms you twice,” they said. And the sweat froze on the outside of the parka, and toes screamed with pain as they thawed before the stove. Dry air rubbed the throat raw. Dust and smoke clogged the sinuses. The darkness of ever shortening days sealed the despair of bitter cold. Survival became the watchword.
After an eternity, the first warm day of spring came. Naked, they ran into the field, whooping and twirling. The woods were filled with bird song. The birds were there to feast on the black flies and horseflies and mosquitoes and deer flies, who were there to feast on the naked bodies and drive them back into the confines of the winter prison.
I summon these frost-bitten memories to explain why I choose to remain in the Deep South. The dancing ghosts torment me. There are people along the Hudson Valley whom I would love to be with, to make a life with. The charm, however, comes from summer nights. A group of friends gathered under stars, the easy flow of like minds, the rides along twisting roads, all of these pull me toward their heart. As I sit, alone, watching the bending trees, the fantasies of what could be are strong. I recall a bedazzling women sitting in her car with her sleeping children. I recall a long conversation in a crowded hall, the sweet surrender of truth, a cascade of curling hair. Theodore Roethke wrote of the far field, how it beckons with dreams of journeys. As dead leaves scratch across the parking lot, the fantasy of a far field beckons. But, like Roethke’s traveler, I know that road ends in a hopeless snowdrift where the wheels spin until the headlamp darkens. What we need is always close at hand. Yet, it is a pure, serene memory, and I long to be with you.