Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections of...

The end of the calendar year always brings us reflections. We look back at the year that was, and ahead to the year that will be. I was listening to some of these reflections on the radio this morning, and they mostly centered on famous people who died. If you listen a little harder, though, you will get to a review of the top stories of the year. Listening back to some of the things that made news several months ago was a shock—not because of the topics, but because those stories felt so far away. That’s where this discussion of reflections comes in.

Why do we wait so long to reflect? Does information take that long to soak itself into wisdom? For example, does anyone remember Boko Haram? The world stood transfixed by this terrorist organization in Nigeria after they kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls. By the way, the instant reflection of hashtagging in order to raise awareness of an important event may be temporarily satisfying, but those girls are still missing, and we’ve moved on: Robin Williams, Roger Goodell, and we can’t breathe.

Instead of reflecting like this once a year, perhaps we should reflect more frequently. Weekly news roundups purport to fill this void, but unlike the learned and patrician versions of Meet the Press and This Week with David Brinkley that aired in my youth, most of these programs are now nothing more than positional pissing contests showcasing infomediatainment apparatchiks.

Religion used to fulfill this niche, until it became a dirtier word than pornography. As Americans flee the pews and flock to the zeitgeist, however, they seek other venues; they must, because no man has no religion. The structure of the church has been replaced by other structures, most powered by electricity instead of faith, and these other structures require less from us: giggling and bloviating will suffice.

What if we reflect once a day? Daily reflection can be a powerful tonic to the noise in and around us. Reflection through intention at the beginning of the day can set the tone for the unknowable life that awaits us. Reflection at the close of the day can be the captain’s orders to the first mate before leaving the bridge. I’ve often told writers that I allow myself to dream my stories the night before I write them.

And why shouldn’t reflection occur momentarily? The end of each sentence I type invites a pause, an opportunity to reflect on another building block for the current paragraph. Momentary reflection is already happening within you, as your mind analyzes and process thousands of things. Let’s acknowledge that action and make it a conscious part of ourselves.

So as we reflect on an entire year—which is really too much to reflect on, if you get the irony—let’s reflect on the act of reflection itself. Let’s make it a conscious act, a momentary act in perpetuity. Let’s not give the distance of time the chance to make life less real, and in that diminution, less beautiful.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Picking Up Sticks

“November is a month of transitions, offering multiple paths all leading to the same destination.” --Mark Breen, Fairbanks Museum

The destination, of course, is death. The year is dying. Halloween and the Day of the Dead have passed. The light flees us by handfuls of minutes each day. The harvest is in, the leaves are down, and the Connecticut and New Jersey plates have receded with the outgoing tide. It’s stick season.

We’ve been busy at the inn, so it hasn’t felt like a traditional stick season. So when a young family was asking me the other morning where they could go for a short hike, I enthusiastically shared a few spots I thought would fit their needs. Then I stopped.

“Do you have any blaze orange with you?” I asked. “It’s youth hunting season in Vermont this weekend.”

They were Canadians, so they weren’t aghast at my inquiry. But they were amused, and we finally sent them on a hike to Taylor Lodge, behind the trout club, which isn’t normally populated with hunters on youth weekend. “Just don’t grow antlers,” I advised them, and we all had a laugh. Then I remembered that during youth season, young hunters can take any deer, antlered or antlerless. “Better wear some orange.”

Hunting is a big part of autumn in Vermont. Thanksgiving soon approaches, and to wit there was a lively discussion around the wood stove at the Auberge the other night about how to cook a turkey. Big turkeys are problematic (and their place at the table is mythological anyway). Cooking methods that were discussed: smoking (not moist enough), deep frying (“What the hell are we going to do with five gallons of peanut oil?”), brining (Avast!), trash can turkey (“Who’s going to go out and buy a galvanized trash can and a bag of coals?”), and brown bag cooking.

The brown bag method was met with incredulity and refills in all the wine glasses. “Doesn’t the bag catch on fire?” Well, no, Chantal explained. The flashpoint of paper is 451 degrees Fahrenheit, and brown bags are heavier, with a higher flashpoint. And the turkey bastes itself in the bag while it cooks, forgoing the need to open the over repeatedly and baste. Promises to try this method were made all around, and small, side discussions erupted. Somehow, the conversation drifted to ebola, as is often the case.

And we’re waiting for snow. Many of the slopes on Mt. Mansfield are covered, and we’ve had reports from early season skinners that there’s mountains of the stuff banked on North Slope, with lots of natural snow above that. So we’ll be out there soon.

But until then, we’ll cope with the darkness by soaking up all the light we can, and we’ll keep an eye on the gunmetal gray sky as we make our way to the same yearly  destination.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall Foliage Wrap-up

It’s been raining hard here for almost twenty-four hours, and many of the leaves that remained have been stripped from the trees. It’s also been bizarrely warm, creating a weird combination of shortening days and short-sleeved weather. It’s officially stick season. And that’s not a bad thing, because it gives us a chance to look back over the busy fall foliage tourist season and reckon a few things:

* Our guests were as diverse as ever. There was a strong Kansas City-Wisconsin theme this year. Our marketing dollars must be going far in the midwest, because we had more guests from those two places than anywhere else, except maybe New York or Connecticut, and they don’t count because they’re always up here. It’s also curious because next summer I’ll be traveling to Kansas City for the Advanced Placement English Language reading. I was briefed in detail by the Kansans about the best barbecue and jazz joints, so I feel like I’ll be prepared. And the Royals are headed to the world series, making the Kansas City theme even curiouser.

* The weather was warm and sunny. Wicked warm. And wicked sunny. As I write this, in mid-October, it’s over 70 outside. But the whole autumn was balmy. We had one hard freeze near the end of September that propelled the leaves into...well, read the next paragraph.

* The foliage was spectacular. Really spectacular. Maybe it arrived a little early, because I heard some folks wonder aloud where all the color was in early October. The early yellows of the birches and poplars was a little slow to get going, but they filled in nicely at the tail end. Oh, and the color was everywhere.

* My Aunt Marylou died. I won’t say she passed away, because that’s one of those euphemisms that drives me--and my pal George Carlin--crazy. She didn’t pass anything, especially not at the end of her life. She died. And I loved her, even though I hadn’t really had much contact with her. She was kind and sweet to me when I was little, and I’ll never forget that, or the way she called all us cousins “honey,” or her laugh, bulbous and sincere, like her.

* I got a tractor. It’s just a little Kubota, but it should help with the snow removal around here in the winter, as well as mowing in the summer, and general property maintenance up at our spread in Montgomery Center. It’s taking me a while to figure out all the levers and buttons on it, but I’ll get there. Look for me this winter, wearing my old FedEx winter ramp gear, as I putter around the Auberge picking up snow and dumping it with my front loader. (Insert Lowland Silverback Gorilla sounds here.)

* I turned fifty. It’s a hell of thing, a man turning fifty. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have...oops, sorry about that. I was channeling Clint Eastwood there for a moment. And why not? He’s done fairly well after turning fifty. It’s not a bad thing to aim for. Chantal put on this big party for me, which was over the top, but I loved it. I got a knife from my brother, which is about the coolest thing you can get from your brother. And I got several bottles of whisk(e)y, whose cumulative age is well over 500.

So now it’s stick season. Time to think about heading into the woods for some partridge hunting, putting the snow tires on the car, and if it ever cools down, wearing sweaters. Did someone say snow?