People want to know what the typical day is like for a writer. When do you write? Where do you write? And, most importantly, When do you start drinking? No less curious is the life of an innkeeper. People are amazed that innkeepers get up early and make coffee, as if that’s some kind of mean feat. They also have questions: What time do you get up? What time do you go to bed? And, most importantly, When do you start drinking? A recent November morning provided a pretty good template for how my mornings go around the Auberge.
After listening to the dog lick himself for half an hour in the dark, I got up at 5:30 a.m. and made a pot of coffee. Normally I cave into the black hole of email, but this morning I was excited to work. I’m in the process of bringing out a second edition of my short story collection, Name the Boy. In addition to working on the formatting, I was proofreading the manuscript. In the title story, a drunk at a bar tells the story of an enigmatic family that just moved into town. He describes the mother as sitting “on the front porch with a gun, drinking vodka all day, waiting for the goons to find her and try and kill her.” The phrase “drinking vodka all day” caught my attention–not because it was a goal I had in mind for later on, but because it reminded me of a song lyric.
In singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall,” from the Stealing Fire album, he sings:
Blaster on the back porch/shaking up the lane
They're drinking gin and joking /laughter falling down like rain
Everybody wears a halo/never saw nothing at all
So who put that bullet hole in Peggy's kitchen wall?
Hmmm, I thought. I wondered if when I’d originally written “drinking vodka all day” I’d been thinking about that lyric: “drinking gin and joking.” Same number of beats. And while I thought of that, I wondered if maybe I should just use Cockburn’s lyric in the story. Would it make sense for the drunk in the bar in my story to describe the mother as “drinking gin and joking”?
While I mulled this, I decided to do what writers all do when faced with an extended period of mulling: I went to YouTube. First I looked for a video of Cockburn singing “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall.” I found one from November 2009, from a performance in Hamilton, Ontario. I delighted in listening to the song and watching Cockburn’s finger-picking guitar style, and I remembered the last time I saw this song performed live.
In 1984, Cockburn released Stealing Fire, following it up with a tour that included college campuses across the U.S. It was just my luck to be on one of those college campuses at the time, the University of Maine at Orono. And it was also my luck to count among my friends Andy Rouvalis, a committed Cockburn fan. The singer was scheduled to come to UMO in early 1985, right around the time of the birthday of another of our friends, Bruce Hegland, whom we affectionately referred to as “Heggy.” Andy rounded us up and we attended the concert. Readers of this post who used to be rambunctious college undergrads can probably see where this is going: The song “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall” became “Heggy’s Kitchen Wall,” and when that line was sung during the concert, an astonished Bruce Cockburn looked out into the audience and saw a group of young men standing up, shouting “Who put that bullet hole in HEGGY’S kitchen wall!”
So tickled with this memory was I that I quickly hustled over to Amazon and downloaded not only the Stealing Fire album, but Waiting for a Miracle and Anything Anytime Anywhere, two of his compilations. Then I toggled back to YouTube and scrabbled through several more of Cockburn’s live performances. Then, for fun, I bopped over to Wikipedia and read up on interesting things like album chart positions, and Cockburn’s bent for human rights. Turns out he now lives in northern Vermont part of the year, which is no big surprise.
And then it was seven o’clock. I’d drunk most of the pot of coffee, done no breakfast preparations, failed to wake my teenage son or put the dog out, and accomplished nothing with the proofreading of my manuscript.
But I did write this blog post.
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Friday, September 20, 2013
It that time of year again: time to apply for a reservation at the Stone Hut on Mt. Mansfield. The Stone Hut is jointly administered by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation of the State of Vermont, and Stowe Mountain Resort. Here’s the blurb from the reservation form that describes the Stone Hut:
The historic Stone Hut was originally built in 1936 as a warming hut by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). These same crews cut some of the original ski trails on Mt. Mansfield. Once a home away from home for the ski pioneers of Vermont, it is now operated as a winter public lodging facility between mid- November and mid-April through a unique partnership between the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and the Stowe Mountain Resort (Mt. Mansfield Company). The Stone Hut is a rustic overnight lodging facility that is only heated by a woodstove. Guests should be prepared for winter camping as there is no electricity, lighting or cooking facilities in the Hut. (http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/stonehut.htm)
In other words, skier’s nirvana. Think about it: You and eleven of your best ski buddies, bunnies, and bums squeeze into the rustic Stone Hut. You’ve spent the afternoon making repeated trips up the FourRunner Quad, hauling up sleeping bags, camping supplies, and beer--lots and lots of beer. Soon you’ll have roaring fire in fireplace, and steaks sizzling on the grill. As the lifts shut down and the ski area goes to sleep, the sound of the groomers laying down corduroy can’t match your laughter in the cabin. But first, you have to have a reservation.
In order to fill reservations for the Stone Hut, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation operates a lottery. Applicants must pre-select their desired dates. Applicants can select up to five consecutive nights (this is a new twist from previous years, when the maximum length of stay was seven nights). Preference is given to five-night applicants, who are chosen first until all the potential five-night slots are filled; the drawing then moves on to the four-night applicants, then the three-, two-, and one-nighters. A complete explanation of the entire process can be found at the Stone Hut website:
But there’s a little wrinkle in this system. Though the selection process claims to be a “randomized” lottery, that’s not quite how it works, because there are people who win reservations at the Stone Hut every year--some of them on the same date every year--and there are people who are never selected. The lottery is flawed.
Since the Stone Hut sleeps twelve persons, it’s possible for a group of twelve people to all apply for the five-night maximum stay for the same dates. The Stone Hut receives around 300 applicants each year, meaning the chances of being selected go up drastically when a group of people can coordinate their applications.
On page four of the application form, the Stone Hut selection rules apparently address the issue of group coordination with this disclaimer:
Multiple requests from the same party are considered an attempt to bypass the lottery system and all of those requests will be considered last.
How the operators of the lottery will be able to recognize coordinated efforts by groups is a mystery, because there’s no spot on the application to identify yourself as the member of a party. And who would?
There’s a better solution for this process, and it actually comes from within the same agency in the State of Vermont. The Department of Fish and Wildlife, in the Agency of Natural Resources, operates a lottery each year for moose hunting permits. Upon being drawn for a permit, applicants are subsequently excluded from applying for the next three years. Applicants who aren’t selected receive points toward the next drawing. The points essentially push them closer to the front of the line, increasing their chances.
Another thing that can be done to ensure that more people have access to this state resource is to require a reservation list. If you stayed at the Stone Hut during the winter of 2012-2013, you’re ineligible to stay there the following winter. That would make the clause about “multiple requests from the same party” enforceable.
An even better idea would be to allow only three- or four-night stays from applicants; no more five-night, two-night, or one-night stays. Simplify the process by offering either a Thursday-Friday-Saturday night stay, or a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday night stay. That would assure the Stone Hut of 100% occupancy during the winter, and reduce the amount of work needed to make the selections. There would be only two piles of applications: three-night and four-night.
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
It’s happening again. It feels premature to talk about it already, but autumn is upon us: my oldest son is beginning his freshman year at the University of Vermont, and his younger brother is beginning his senior year at Stowe High School. These are sure signs of fall. In my last column, I talked about the August change in the weather. And as soon as that was posted, we returned to a soupy, tropical, late-summer environment in Northern Vermont. But fear not, because despite the blip in temperatures, the one thing that defines fall in Vermont has begun: the change in foliage.
To understand why the foliage in Vermont in the fall is so famous, so vibrant, so iconic, you have to go back to winter. In winter, Vermont is white (Vermont is white in many other ways, too, but that’s a column for another time). We’re blanketed under snow for five months, blanching our eyes. The only points of reference are the denuded forests reaching through the snow, and the ribbon of asphalt leading up to the ski area.
Snowmelt in April reveals a ravaged landscape heaving its way through the transition. It rains. It snows. It muds. And finally, around the third week of May, it greens. The buds on the trees explode with pale green, an effervescent green that’s a marketeer’s delight. Throughout the summer the shades of green on the trees progress, moving to a deep, dark, foreboding green by the end of July. This is the color that chokes the forests, keeping them cool and shaded. This is the green that gave Vermont its name.
It’s worth noting that while it’s easy for me to say, “This is the green that gave Vermont its name,” we’re still unclear about who, or how, Vermont got its name. One thing that’s certain: it wasn’t Samuel de Champlain. Nor was it the indigenous peoples who frequented the area. Like all myths, the naming of Vermont is murky and difficult to document. For an academic discussion of this history, check out “Samuel de Champlain and the Naming of Vermont,” by Joseph-Andre Senecal, Ph.D.
The disambiguation of nomenclature aside, Vermont could easily have ended up being named Whiteburry, or “Place of the Deep Snows,” or “Mudville”--or something that reflects the state’s most stunning season, autumn. And therein lies another myth.
In precolonial times, Vermont didn’t have the blazing foliage that has made it famous today. According to forestry historian Charlie Cogbill, the dominant tree species in Vermont before European settlement were American beech, spruce, and hemlock. The maple, which comprises one third of the trees in the state today, was barely present. That’s important not only for the maple syrup industry, but for the tourist industry as well, because it’s the prismatic progression of maple tree foliage in late September and early October that dominates the color scheme of our famous landscape. And the reason the maple tree took over is because most of Vermont was deforested in the 19th century to provide lumber for a growing nation. The second growth forests that restored Vermont were predominantly deciduous, the maple first among them. And that’s why the state isn’t called “The land of the blazing colors,” or some other marketing proviso.
But it could. Because now, as we lose the deep greens of summer, as the chlorophyl recedes from the foliage, paling the leaves, moving them toward their seasonal glory, we move back to our colors, and beyond that, when the foliage drops, and we’re left with the peace and grace of stick season, waiting for the snows.