Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Honest Injun

     West Danville is a small town on a major road connecting Montpelier to Saint Johnsbury. Situated on a body of water known as Joe's Pond. While the name and the pond are nothing overly impressive, it is a pleasant enough location, and back in the 1950s, when America started traveling through Northern New England with their families, Motor Courts with cottages big enough for a budding small group of travelers could stay for a few nights or even weeks if they chose.

I went looking for alternative accommodations, after the Highland Lodge checkout. At $165 a night, and no more vacancies for me to extend my stay there, I decided to look into options that would save me money, still be close to Greensboro and my Writers Conference taking place that evening. I also had to be in Brattleboro the next afternoon to teach rock music to some kids, and West Danville shaved about 20 minutes off of my drive in the morning. In between West Danville and Greensboro is the town of Hardwick, which is home to a VPR signal, and a few more progressive shops, coops and denizens. West Danville is the polar opposite - you get limited selections of everything, and it is as basic and plain as Maxwell House is to Coffee.

      Such is still the case for Injun Joe's - a place named after Indian Joe, a historic native of these parts who has been immortalized everywhere you go in this tiny town. Despite the slurred nature of the name, nobody seems offended, or at least they don't talk about it. I certainly didn't  bother when I drove up the hill to inquire about of cottage for the night... and was greeted by a pleasant old French Canadian woman, who promptly took my reservation, and my crisp $100 bill.

Because I was the first arrival on an early Monday afternoon, and I didn't need a kitchen, I was given the cottage with the nicest view. Set up on a hill with a porch overlooking Joe's Pond, and the Vermont hills.



     While the near constant flow of traffic was slightly distracting, the birds in the trees and the loons in the water paid no mind and went on their business.

    In Greensboro, a gathering of writers, poets and cultural enthusiasts was taking place... but as I pulled up my car to where I thought it was taking place... I seemed to be at the wrong location. Greensboro is a small town, and luckily, I still had a cel phone signal, and was able to check my e-mail, to discover the new location was at the Lakeview Inn - a historic landmark in town, that was only open to large groups of people for functions, and to insiders.

Finding the revised location, I was greeted by two pleasant women at a front table. I was given the honor of coming from the furthest distance, although one couple was from Belmont, but they were summering  there like every year, and apparently that doesn't count. I asked them "Does that come with an award? Like maybe a gas card?"

As the rest of us drank wine and listened to conversation about all of the great writers, artists and historians who live in the area, I realized how far out of my profession I was getting myself into. None of it seemed to matter to these people, as they eagerly listened to my tales of journeying to Saskatchewan and back. Turns out they knew less about Wallace Stegner than I expected they might, and I was a valuable provider of certain details they never imagined.

    By the time it was over, it was 10:00PM, and we had been talking for nearly 4 hours. I still have images of the lush grounds in my mind. Those rolling meadows covered with flowers, and the mountains of Vermont in the distance. Not a single other house in view for as far as the eye could see. I hope to come back someday, and just like Eastend... I have an open invitation to do so any time.

Caspian Cottage


There is no TV, no restaurants, no bars (gasp!) and not even a radio in this little "Writers Retreat" where I decided to spend a little time up the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. This was the view from my porch for 24 hours.

     Two years ago, this place was closed. Such a shame, but this time around, though still up for sale, the lodge and it's separate cottages are open for the Summer and part of the Fall. The significance of Caspian Lake is that it was the Summer Home of Wallace Stegner, and two of his Fiction Novels were written at his own "Writers Retreat" overlooking the placid waters. I think if he were alive today (he would be 102) he would probably be satisfied with the lack of development that has taken place.

      I Left around 9AM: With the car packed with two guitars and a laptop. Summer temperatures in Northern New England can fluctuate. Today it went from the lows 70s in the morning in Northampton, to 56F in Hardwick at Noon. My arrival in Greensboro greeted me.

Glad I brought a sweatshirt.

      But just as soon as the weather looked as bad as it could get... the sun came out at the same time I found the beach. I grabbed one of the lodges complimentary canoes, flicked a few snails off of it... shoved into the pristine waters, and paddled onto Caspian Lake. While it is not a large body of water, and there are plenty of houses dotting the shore, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon in mid August, and only a handful of kayak boaters were out enjoying themselves on the water. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and with the sun sparkling off of the water, I started to paddle the canoe toward the center of the lake, and see some of the mountains in the distance. The Loons I could hear earlier had vanished from sight, and I hoped I would hear them again before nightfall. 

To my west, I could see some large, dark clouds and although I was only a few hundred yards from shore, I thought it would be a good idea to stay closer, otherwise risk getting caught in a shower. I'm not a fisherman, after all. It turned out to be a good call, because no sooner that I pulled the canoe back on to the shore, than I saw drops hitting the water. By the time I made it back to the cottage it was a full on summer shower. 

My quarters are not equipped with a kitchen, but there is a fireplace. A small fridge that makes a loud noise, a microwave oven that I unplugged so I could write this on my laptop. The other outlet has my cel phone plugged in, because ti has gone critically low taking pictures of the sunset here over Caspian Lake. The combination of sky, clouds, water and trees is as brilliant and intense as any Super Moon could imagine.

     Shrubs close to the cottage had overgrown to the point that branches are pressed against the glass - half of the porch has been replaced, with the boards not finished. I stare at the mismatched completion. Old boards of battleship blue stain that are halfway through their life expectancy, but still hanging on because of their protection from the overhang on the porch. The rest of it looks like a last ditch attempt to make the places worth staying in at all... and it works. I was enjoying the peace and quiet. Crows in the woods, and the cries of Loons on the water. A symphony of them briefly fired off as the sky grey dark. 

Next morning, I went to make coffee only to find that the refrigerator that was rattling all night had managed to freeze my carton of milk almost solid. After shaking it around a bit, I managed to coax enough out to color my first cup. Fog hung over the lake, and it was a cool misty day. Lake Willoughby was to my north about 20 miles, and I had an interest to see it before the writers conference which did not take place until the early evening, so I had plenty of time to fit whatever it was I wanted to do. Not that there is a whole lot to do up here!

The Greensboro Free Library is in town, and I found a hard cover copy of The Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner for sale. $2.00

How Fitting!

I eventually caved in to the temptation and started a fire in the fireplace.

Glad I did.

I really should have brought a radio. 

My laptop has only two artists on iTunes. A couple of Frank Sinatra collections, and every record by The Beatles. The Sinatra is for the old folks I play for at retirement homes (although I enjoy it as well) and the Beatles is for me. Something about hearing the young, lovesick lads in the early '60s become dour and resigned less than 10 years later is both moving and sad. To go from giddy laughter to near tears reminds me once again how much the band plays a part in the background of my life. They were the first band I recognized as a child.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Double Crossing

Two years ago, I stumbled upon Greensboro, Vermont. Summer Home of Pulitzer Prize winning author Wallace Stegner.

Little more than a 3 & 1/2 hour drive from where I live. It is certainly a lot easier to get to than the 3 day trek I needed to embark on for a week inside the childhood home of Stegner, lost in the badlands of Southwestern Saskatchewan. That adventure took two trains from Springfield to Montana VIA Chicago. This was merely a day trip's investigation in my car, to see what might be revealed among those remote mountains near the Canadian border.

I discovered that these hills have some serious mojo going on.

I would have enjoyed an overnight stay... if I could have found a place right on Caspian Lake, where the Pulitzer Prize winning writer spent some 30+ Summers starting in 1947-1987. Stegner seemed to make the scenery he described jump out of the page into your mind and back out on to the page like a mental picture book. Only Robert Frost or perhaps Wallace Stevens was able to make such vivid descriptions of nature flow so naturally and beautifully. But they were poets only. A streak of the poet ran through all of Stegner's loosely-based Fiction novels. "Second Growth" was written about the town in 1947. "Crossing To Safety" came out in 1987. Small details were changed here and there, but both books were closely tied to what the author experienced during his time in the Northeast Kingdom.

Since I took that first trip to Greensboro, a recent search of the area revealed that an old lakeside lodge with summer cottage cabins , which had previously been closed and up for sale, was now reopened for the summer. I could live on the same side of the lake where his onetime vacation home is still tucked into the nearby woods. The hills behind have walking trails, and it was on Baker Hill where his ashes were scattered in the early '90s.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to spend some extended time by the same lake where Stegner would write "Crossing To Safety" in the late '80s. With the sound of loons and the sun setting over the Vermont scenery, I can take a little artist's sabbatical, in hopes that I can (in his words) "write to make sense of it all".

It just so happens that there is a Writers Forum happening while I am there, and so I will be attending the evening's event in support of the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency. The event is open mic, and I might be able to share the tale of my visit to "Big Rock Candy Mountain". That should blow a mind or two.

And I can sit in a chair overlooking the lake, write some songs, and think of what new stories I can tell when I get back.