Sunday, April 25, 2010

Betwixt and Between

 Rte 91 northbound to Vermont

I have been away - away in body, away in mind, away in spirit.

Years and years ago my then husband, our four children, and I moved to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We were part of the massive back-to-the-land movement of the early-mid 70s, a migration from city to rural life that caught us up and swept us northward until we found a piece of land we could afford. There we built a log cabin from scratch, raised pigs and chickens for meat, planted and harvested a large garden, went without running water and electricity for a few years, and generally lived the life of pioneers, though we did it without a covered wagon and we went north instead of west.

 with my mother at our unfinished log cabin circa 1978

That was in the past, in my former life as wife and helpmeet. A few years into the adventure I became a single mother, then an empty nester, then an ex-Vermonter, moving back to Massachusetts and the town in which I'd grown up. Still, every year since then, I've returned to Vermont to visit old friends. One in particular just turned 102 and I spent the last few days helping her celebrate (albeit sedately).

with my friend Lora two years ago on her 100th birthday

The trip to Vermont is always an emotional one. Thirty-five years ago, I fell in love with the sky-piercing mountains, the wind-ruffled pines, the sight of field upon field of corn or cows or upland hay. I gave my heart to the hilltop where our cabin stood, to the trees that were sacrificed for log walls, to the fierce winter winds, the spiraling hawks and the foraging bear. Going back is like moving through time

The trip up is one of recognition, and of registering the changes. I still get excited when I pass the Welcome to Vermont sign even though I have hours of driving ahead of me. When I visit in the springtime like this the clock spins backwards - I leave leafing trees and forsythia bushes the color of butter behind me. Each mile lessens the amount of bloom until I am two weeks behind myself and the trees still hold ink sketch branches against the sky. The fields show only a hint of green under last year's brown, dead grass and the air is noticeably chillier.

Once I reach the town we lived in and stop for gas, I begin looking for familiar places. Where's that little restaurant we used to have lunch in sometimes? Oh, there's the school the kids attended, there's the museum with the lions guarding the entrance, there's the store I worked at in town. Most often I drive clear to Barton to visit my oldest friend. I spend a few days with her and we go gadding about, or sit talking, talking as though we were word-starved. Going to Vermont is anticipatory and welcoming

Leaving Vermont is different. I cannot do it without being reminded of the reasons why I left in the first place. I pass the restaurant where I saw my husband with another woman, the courthouse where my divorce was declared final, the turn off to our old homestead. My throat starts to ache and I blink back tears. All the years between have merely eased but not erased the sorrow of giving up a dream, of having to sell the kids' childhood home, of leaving behind a beloved place. I drive for 100 miles before I register the budding leaves on the trees and the gentling of the mountains. Another 150 miles and I am home again, home among familiar landmarks and the space I've made for myself here.

In a day or two I will wake to find all traces of sadness and guilt lifted. I will be back in the here and now amid the blossoming trees and the greening grass. I will have remembered my previous lessons of impermanence and the futility of mourning forever something once loved and lost. I will be back.

the patio I built myself for myself


Jo said...

Thomas Wolfe said it best, didn't he? "You can't go home again." I remember reading that when I read 'Look Homeward Angel' when I was a teenager, and I didn't understand then what it meant. But I do now. I believe we can have many homes, but home is really where we are right now -- the place where we are making our nest. The other homes are the ones we keep in our heart.

BTW, your friend looks pretty good for being over 100...!

Anonymous said...

What a rich varied life you have lived!
I think we are contemporaries....

steven said...

pauline - what a post! the most powerful kind of presence - the thoroughly truthful emotive dancing between the past the present and the future kind of experiences. the picture and the presence of lora! oh my. through it all the thread of your self. thanks so much for this. steven

Hilary said...

What a beautiful and touching post, Pauline. It is hard to go back and visit with the past. And I'm sorry it was such unfortunate events that caused you to move along. What I sense from you through this story is strength and the ability to see the past for what it was.. and always will be. Oh and your friend looks incredible!

Barbara said...

It must be so bittersweet to go home to a place that holds so many memories. This is probably your first trip back since your old friend William Lederer passed away, another set of memories.

I would love to hear what your children have to say about their time pioneering in Vermont.

Pauline said...

Barbara - their stories are different from mine - we were looking at life from such different perspectives. When they read through the journals I kept from those years, they all remarked that they didn't remember being so cold!

Hilary - talk about strong people, Lora is one of the most remarkable women I know!

thank YOU steven!

ewix - it would appear so.

Jo - you can go home again but not without some change in your expectations.

Jingle said...

free treats,

Meggie said...

What a heartfelt post. I recognize so many of your feelings.
How wonderful your friend looks!

focusfinder said...

I can hear the theme tune to The Waltons!

Sky said...

those steps back in time can be a bit overwhelming. glad you have a fulfilling life to return to after your trip.

reading this made me wonder if you had known scott and helen nearing during your homesteading days. they were already in maine by the time you arrived in vermont but were sought out by so many in the early 70s who began their own journeys. their books are fabulous reading for those like me who would never be brave enough to work so hard at living - too lazy. i had an interesting conversation with helen about 20 years ago; she was a fascinating woman, indeed.