Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The fun zone

Photo by Lee Timmons Photography
I grew up wandering more or less alone around the forests and fields that surround our home in Vermont. During the summers I had a friend, my cousin Christopher who is now a professional ultimate fighter. We collected water guns and Berenstein Bear books and those things kept us content, if not wildly entertained, but he went back to Boston at the end of August every year. My sister was around, too, but one day even she left to go to college, which was really terrible of her.
These days, the other three houses on the land are inhabited year-round by my aunts and uncles, but when I was younger they were still just summer homes, empty except for on the holidays. I did have friends over, and we always had a good time (sledding parties, no parents around, Aretha Franklin on the turntable, we were of the industrially squeaky clean variety of teenagers) but my house is so far away from town, from anybody else at all, that these gatherings were pretty rare.

For the most part it was just me, reading Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County in the tree house, drawing maps of the trails and old logging roads that I'd stumble across, and fantasizing about having neighbors- maybe a nice family with kids my age, or with a baby I could play with. Or anybody. I remember so well those wide open summers of exploring, those frozen winters where the fields were dead and it felt like each gray, dull day would stretch on forever.
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So it felt completely surreal when our friends began to arrive a few days before the wedding, all the way from Asheville, Seattle, Durham, Oregon, Boston, and all the much older cousins who used to spend Christmases on the farm but have long since scattered. To see them pitching tents in Sugar House Hill and drifting around in the pond chatting with one another was a bizarre and ecstatic thing.

How many times have I walked through those fields, at times unbearably grateful for the solitude, other times so lonely that I made a sport of earnestly searching for signs of other people (I once found a pair of car keys half buried in the ground, and twice scared the pants off early-season through hikers on the Appalachian trail, which crosses through our woods.) For thirty years, no one really came around to this place except for a tight group of us, and now all at once, everybody is here.
Photo by Lee Timmons Photography
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That's why people have weddings, you know. It's not to get married, you could do that for a lot less money at the court house. It's to bring everyone together so that you can stand back and watch your old high school science teacher having a long talk with your recluse cousin, while your mom's best friend since she was four dances to"Get Low" with the captain of your college ultimate team. It happens once in your life, it's weird and glorious and sometimes concerning, and just as you're wrapping your mind around it, the thing is over and everybody packs up and leaves.
Photo by Lee Timmons Photography
For one whole week we had friends staying with us on our farm, the busiest and most exhausting week of my life. By the end of it, I was too tired to speak. David and I felt so happy about everything, about each other and about getting to be around all of these people, we felt so overcome with our own good fortune and the task of keeping everyone fed that sometimes at night, when we were finally in our own bed, we'd both cry ourselves to sleep. 

That's right.
Photo by Lee Timmons Photography
Of course, I say all of this as if we didn't have any help. Really it was my family that kept everyone fed, Anna and Brooks up in the morning making pancakes, dad drifting from room to room with a box of wine, mom and doing everything else.

David and I were mostly pulled away doing the last agonizing tasks, the ones we saved till the last moment because they're so awful. Seating charts, alphabetizing, the license, the toasts, the lists, the last minute cancellations. We even waited till the day before to write the ceremony, sitting on a picnic table outside Jake's Quechee Market with Charles, our officiant whose brilliant blond mullet falls all the way down his back. It took us an hour.

We had a very simple event. We dropped every single detail and custom and tradition that we possible could and still call it a wedding. And yet, the last few days we were locked in my room for hours pulling it together, making sure no one's name was spelled incorrectly and that some of the cakes were gluten free and the photographer's schedule was the same as the DJ's schedule and the florist knew that our bridesmaid's husband was sick, she couldn't make it and didn't need the bouquet. Outside people splashed around, screamed and drank beer and played badminton.
Photo by Lee Timmons Photography
Photo by Lee Timmons Photography
Dave had set up the badminton next to the pond and the fire pit a few days prior, an area we referred to as "the fun zone" that became the center of the party. On the night before the wedding, we came home late from the rehearsal dinner to find everybody gathered around the fire with music playing from an old pair of speakers someone had rigged up. A dozen more friends had arrived while we were at dinner. Our flower girl Charli was paddling around in the pond, blue in the lips, teeth chattering, refusing to come in. She'd dash onto the beach to light a handful of sparklers, then run back into the water to watch their light reflecting off the still water.  
My friend Ryan was there with his fiance, they'd flown in from Seattle for a 36 hour visit, and I walked them to the upper field so they could see the land, starlit and quiet. I could see the Fun Zone from up there, black figures around the camp fire, those terrifying hot-air lanterns wobbling into the sky and drifting out of range. And there was Charli, nine years old and swimming alone the way I used to, a tiny fizzing speck of orange light gliding around the dark pond.    

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wimp. Writing Links.

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If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I burnt up and died. Whenever it gets above 85 degrees I declare a personal state of emergency. I know 85 is not actually all that hot, what can I say, I'm sensitive. I'm a wimp. We all have areas in our lives where we wimp out, and mine are heat, shopping for pants (won't do it) and, as per our previous discussion, noise. (And elevators!) (And planning social gatherings!) Hey, what are yours? You can tell me in private if you'd like.

I've spent the majority of time since I've been home from our honeymoon sitting in my underwear next to the fan, working away. Getting up to refill my glass of ice, sitting down again. Some of my friends are absolute maniacs, just really off of the deep end, and they'll call me every now and again to ask if I'd like to go running, which is just absurd.  Of course not. Call again in October. 

Anyway, here are a few of the things I've been working on. I thought some of you might enjoy looking through a few of them, especially if you're local to the Blue Ridge Mountains, or even if you're not. If you really like any of them, share them! That helps me a lot. Otherwise, I'll be back very soon with the wedding photos. Stay cool! No running! 

Kenny Lex

Some eye candy. Obscenely beautiful mountains, ridges and waterfalls.  

Nick Page

Free or really cheap ways to get outside with your kids. Orchards, splash parks, butterfly houses, and more. I'm paying attention to this one myself.

Steven Reinhold

I chose these hikes because they're not going to cause you to whither and die of heat. All of these hikes are shaded, alongside a river, or up high where the temps are cooler. 


If you want to do something eerie, check out these ghost towns and abandoned places and odd attractions. But buyer beware- I visited the haunted tunnel and now lights go on and off in my house spontaneously and I am not joking, lying or exaggerating. 

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Swimmable waterfalls. SWIMMABLE WATERFALLS.

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I don't mean to boast, but I know a little something about drinking beers after an adventure. As a matter of fact, as I get older, I'm paying more attention to the beer than I am the adventure; this is easy to do when the bar down the street has chocolate peanut butter cup porter on tap, plus 59 other beers. (And I'm not joking, lying or exaggerating.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015


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I cannot believe how happy I am to be home, how completely mesmerized I am by my surroundings. Every day I run through town on a pitiful two mile loop that makes me feel inordinately accomplished and strong. I somehow manage to run slower than I walk, but still, it's something. It's a routine. Afterwards, I swim underneath the bridge on main street, then change clothes and go to Mont Vert Cafe to drink iced coffee and try to work out wedding details, but I never know where to start. I mostly just read my book. My friend Sam from high school owns the place, and the brief but warm conversations we have as I place my order is what constitutes my social interaction for the day. It's perfect. 
The weather is completely weird- chilly and wet, like early fall. It's my favorite weather. Sometimes, when I'm passing through those small-town streets that are so familiar I barely notice them, a feeling of joy and expansion washes through me with such force that I feel almost deranged. As if I've taken a great deal of opiates. 

I remember feeling that way when I was a kid, especially around the holidays, or in the summer when whole weeks would breeze by with nothing but swimming in the river and watching rented movies in the evenings. But as an adult, the experience of pure happiness is rare. There's always something, some glitch, some burden, some knowledge of a future obligation that weighs you down. To catch a little bit of that joy again makes me feel as if I'm time traveling. 
When we arrived back in Vermont after driving all night, Dave immediately hopped in the car with four kayakers from North Carolina who were waiting for us at my parent's house, and together they drove another 30 hours to Labrador, Canada. Dave later told me they survived by listening to Harry Potter on tape. 

The rivers they are on have never been run before. The boys found them on Google Earth. Every couple of days I get a SPOT device signal sent to my phone: Still alive! Love U!
I drive all around my home state: to Burlington, Waterbury, Stowe, Ascutney. I visit with Kerry, my English teacher from Adventure Quest, and have a sleepover in her basement with the one other girl who attended that high school with me. Alex lives in Kenya now, she's the head of some farming non-profit and her life sounds wild. "Do you feel safe there?" I implore, sitting across from her at a tiny bakery in Waterbury.

"Oh, sure," she says. Then she pauses, "Well, no. Actually, no. I mean, it does feel like at any moment, anything could happen."
I drive to Bethel to see my friend Joanna, and we walk into the completely empty, completely silent main street to buy ice cream with her little daughter. The town feels like a movie set. I climb to the bottom of the Quechee Gorge, go off the rope swing, ride my bike, I try and keep up with the torrent of emails coming through from the caterer, the DJ, bakery, florist. It takes me an entire day to order name cards, different colors corresponding with different entrees, everything spelled out correctly. As soon as they're ordered, four people cancel. Three others RSVP yes, out of the blue.
I'm terribly disorganized. I write notes on the back of receipts or magazines and they pile up around my bed and in my car. I'm trying not to eat too much, trying to shrink a little bit, do a daily weight regiment in a last-gasp attempt to tone my arms. At night I study them in the mirror from different angles. I look exactly the same as I always do. 
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One evening, I leave my house to go swimming under the bridge in Quechee, and while I'm out a hurricane blows in. The air is suddenly full of hail and leaves. When I try and drive home, there are trees down everywhere across the road. The farmhouse at the bottom of our driveway has been crushed, the trees smoking and split down the middle by lightning. The farmer is standing out in his yard, hunched shoulders, old flannel, scratching his head. He gives me a ride back home through the forest on his four wheeler. 
The next day, the vice that's been twisting and tightening in my chest the whole time gets so painful, so restrictive, that I give up and go to the hospital. They hook me up with wires, do an EKG, take chest X-rays, monitor my lungs. The doctor is very serious and won't give in to my nervous attempts at humor. He's chewing gum. But he can't say what's going on with me. 

When I get home, I hear from one of my best friends back in Asheville that he's had a similar day. He's been in the hospital with the same symptoms, was put through a battery of the same tests, and went home without any answers. He says the whole thing actually scares him. I tell him it scares me too. 

"But it's obvious to me what's going on with you," I say. "You just broke up with your girlfriend. You're stressed. It's just anxiety."

"Well, it's obvious to me what's going on with you," he replies. "You're about to get married. You're stressed. It's just anxiety."

I put down the phone. I say, "Shit." David's been gone for nearly three weeks. I wanted him to go, but I now realize how completely overwhelmed I feel. In addition to the wedding, we're also hosting most of our friends at my parents house, some for a whole week. It's been raining continuously for the last few days, and cold, and it hits me that we don't have nearly enough blankets. I walk over to the linen closet and count the spare quilts. Then I write David and ask him to come home early. He writes back a few hours later: "Of course."

When he drives up the road just a few days later, all the tightness in my chest evaporates for good.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015


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Part 2.

It took us 19 hours to drive from our home in Asheville to North Pomfret, Vermont, a few hours longer than usual despite only having stopped twice, for diesel and to let the dog trot circles around the parking lot, casting us glances of annoyance for having been woken up. We left in the evening after David finished work, and like idiots we drove through the entire night, something that for the past few years I've considered myself too old for.

In those dark and woozy hours between 1 and 5 in the morning, while David slept open mouthed in the passenger seat, his shoulder jammed up against the window, I may have been driving a tiny bit below the speed limit. Despite the maniacal amount of hours we were spending in an overpacked car whose seats didn't lean back, I was in no hurry.

Our neighbor across the street had recently acquired a set of enormous speakers that he rigged up in his back yard, directly facing our front door. All day he blasted country music radio, even when he wasn't out in the yard himself, and it was grinding me into a sort of depression. During those early summer days in May, when the air was warm and buoyant, I kept the doors and windows sealed shut to keep the sound out. I dragged fans into every room of our small, one level house, and set them on high, so that our home sounded like an airplane right before takeoff, and stale air whipped through the hallway. But it was better than the insidious stream of ads for Home Depot and Lowes, talk DJs and Kenny Chesney coming from across the street.

I couldn't work outside on our screened porch, the one that David and I lived in all spring, eating dinner and playing Monoploy Deal and often just sitting on our goodwill armchairs in companionable silence, because the incessant noise invoked in me a rage that some might say was slightly out of proportion to the stimulus. I'd take my computer into my bedroom and try to write but I'd be too furious, and when a particularly exuberant song reached me even in there, in my own bed, over the din of the fans, I'd put my hands over my ears and start to sob.

This wasn't like in college, where some friends and I had unwittingly wound up renting a place next to the unofficial UW Rugby House. They threw parties each and every Friday and Saturday night during the school year, parties that inevitably burst out of the shitty little rental house and spilled into the street, often becoming a brawl of swinging fists and girls scream crying into their flip phones. The police would eventually show up around 3am and break it up, tipped off by a certain neighbor who spent those nights sitting and watching from her upstairs window, ringing the police's 'nonemergency line' until someone showed up.

At least that situation had been temporary. Every day brought us closer to the end of the lease, when we could flee the neighborhood and find somewhere quieter, farther away from campus. Someplace where we wouldn't have to fear the weekends and their guaranteed sleeplessness. But David and I own our house in West Asheville, its purchase was a momentous occasion of pride and joy and we couldn't possibly afford to live anywhere else. And our neighbors, at least three generations of them currently live there, are never going to leave. Nor, would it seem, are they turning down the music.

"We're stuck here." I cried to David one evening. "We're going to have to hear that music forever- we'll never be able to go outside!" David was patient with me, comforting if slightly confused, but as I ranted on and became more agitated, burying my tear streaked face into the pillow, he did say, very evenly, "You know, it's a little hard to hear how unhappy you are in this house we've worked so hard on."
Sound can drive me insane. I've been this way my entire life, and even have very early memories of feeling intense anger triggered by some completely innocuous sound. In fact, my very first memory is of sitting on my dad's lap, pushing my two hands into his chest to try to make him stop breathing. I didn't like the sound of it. I was a baby, not talking yet, but I understood when my dad looked over at my mom and said, "I think...she doesn't want me to breathe?"

I didn't want him to breathe, and I don't want anyone around me to breathe, or chew, or clear their throat. It's a condition called misophonia that, understandably, nobody is all that sympathetic about. People have to chew, after all. It's described as a 'neural glitch' and it can transform me into a terrible, mean, and hideously unreasonable person. I guiltily explained my condition to David one day in Nicaragua, after a particularly, how do I put this, noisy dinner. "It's my problem," I said, looking at the ground. "But you, and everyone I love the most- you all have to experience the side effects."
He hadn't seem very concerned, mostly bemused, but not long after we had to develop a certain code in order to deal with it. If a noise triggered me- my hard tiny glint of insanity- instead of throwing my hands over my ears or slamming something down onto the table or telling him sharply to stop it! I would instead say, "Help!" He liked this because it implied the onus was on me- I didn't need anyone else to change, I needed help. And I did.

This made things a little better, although I learned after the fact that he delayed proposing to me for one week because I'd yelped out, "Help!" just as he was pulling the ring from his pocket, on the summit of Bear Wallow mountain. (He had been chewing on a handful of raisins.) This, he said, kind of ruined the mood.
And now I was driving away from it, the radio in the yard, the neighbors that made me uneasy, the constant homesickness that made me feel so horridly ungrateful, unadaptable- I was home. I luxuriated in the air conditioned car, and stayed in the right lane as 18-wheelers trundled past in the left, causing us to swerve slightly in their wake. I listened to an audio book thought about everything that I had to look forward to: the wedding, seeing my parents, seeing my friends, three weeks of being home in Vermont, all the quiet days and still, cool evenings that I could wander through all by myself.

David was continuing up north to Labrador on a whitewater kayaking trip, and while other people balked at the idea- "right before the wedding? for three weeks?" I thought it sounded something akin to opulence. I wanted to be home and I wanted to be alone. For the past few weeks I'd been experiencing an inexplicable tightness in my chest, a searing pain that made breathing a maneuver that required concentration. The doctor, disinterested, wrote me a prescription for Ativan which had proved useless. But I knew that as soon as I reached my house in Vermont, familiar, beloved, safe and so very quiet- I knew that I'd get better. And I was almost there.
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Monday, July 13, 2015


Thank you, Honeybyhive wedding photographers, for being brilliant.

David and I were married two weeks ago in my home town in central Vermont. There were six different flavors of cakes, about which I will go into great detail in further posts. It was a hell of a show, and to be frank, I'm perturbed as to why The Times hasn't run a full spread, cover page, recounting every glamourous detail from the minutia (the bride wore Astral) to the riveting (the festivities came to an abrupt halt at the appearance of an uninvited, prehistoric guest.)

After the wedding, we took off on a honeymoon to Maine which was equal parts breathtaking (the views from Acadia Mountain, bright boats bobbing in the mist of Southwest Harbor) and depressing (meth use at the gas station, seafood.)

We should be home in a few days, and I'll start posting, except I'm going to start at the beginning. Forgive me for being so backlogged, but I was busy wrangling a circus for the last six weeks.