We’ve had a few weeks of frigid temperatures and, after a few years of almost no snow – a return to a normal Vermont winter. This morning greeted me with perfect pink skies that can only come from the promise of a perfect sunny day. Even though I should know better, I couldn’t help thinking it’s almost spring, and as I navigated the mud pit that is our road, I starting humming something from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Pretty sappy, right?
It gets sappier. I’d gotten up early, escaping to our favorite diner for uninterrupted writing before the Big Guy and Thing1 and Thing2 woke up. The guys met me for breakfast a few hours later. Thing1 and Thing2 argued over who’s turn it was to sit with Mom, and, still euphoric from hours of typing, I basked in the glow of being with my guys. But it was going to get even sappier.
The Big Guy took the little guys to find a part for vacuum, and I headed back towards our neck of the woods in my car. On my way back, I noticed a few pickup trucks parked up on a hill. There was a group of men – some young, some old – congregated around a blue cistern next to a tree. Still feeling sappy, I thought didn’t notice the blue tube connecting the tank to the tree and thought, instead, how nice it was to see teenagers not too embarrassed to spend time with their fathers.
It wasn’t until I turned onto the last paved road on the way to our house that I had the sappiest moment of the day. Then, there he was. An older man standing in the bed of his pickup sorting a pile of tin buckets with tent shaped lids on them. I drove on and noticed he had already driven in the taps for at least a dozen trees.
I turned onto our road feeling extremely sappy and sentimental (and suddenly craving something maple). Even the mud didn’t bother me on my way back up our hill because even though there’s still a good eight inches of snow in our yard today and single digits forecast for a few nights next week, I know spring is here. I saw it on the way home from the Diner, clear as day.
Last Sunday we took a much-needed family stay-cation to Brattleboro for a ski jump competition. We chose the destination because it’s been a stopping point for many Olympians, and, in the forties, for the Big Guy’s dad.
The temperature was brisk, and the sun was out. Food vendors and tailgaiters created delicious grilled odors that bouyed the four of us on our climb up the 150+ snowy steps that lined the jump hill.
Twenty feet of snow-covered hillside and path separated the top of the stairs from the wall that bordered the jump area. We staked out a spot just below the jump-off just as the first round of jumpers whooshed past us.
Seven-year-old Thing2 watched a few jumpers and then, his awe subsiding, focused on the consistency of the snow and it’s suitability for sliding and ammunition.
The first round ended, and he began begging for permission to slide down the massive hill next to the steps. Noting the abundant opportunities the hill afforded for an impromptu ambulance ride, I naturally said, ‘No’. Thing2 pouted, but kept his silence.
The loudspeaker announced a break in the action, and we decided to move to a lower part of the hill for a different view of the action. The Big Guy and I began navigating down the hill towards the stairs. Half-way down, I turned around to offer a hand to Thing2. Still standing at the wall, he grinned at me.
“Mom, I want to slide down here!”
I hesitated for a minute and scanned his intended course for any objet d’injury. Noting the incline leveled enough near the bottom for him to stop himself, gave my permission. Thing2 sat on his snowpant-covered butt and slid.
“You are a true Vermonter,” I told him as he coasted to a stop at my feet. He is.
Despite the Big Guy’s deep roots in Vermont (from his father back to a time before “Vermont” existed) and Thing1’s maple syrup-steeped childhood, Thing2 is the only “real” Vermonter among us (I’m a recovering nomad). Local tradition confers the label only on those born in-state. The smile on his face as he sat in the snow, however, proved his status better than any birth certificate.
The path had been packed down, and Thing2 decided it was another slower sliding opportunity. I inched along behind him, keenly aware of the aging tread on my boot.
Finally, the eternal adventurer in me decided that since we were in Vermont, I should do as my native-Vermonter had just done. The slippery path was much more easily negotiated on my butt. The path from nomad to settled Vermonter is one Thing2 will be showing me how to navigate for some time.
We live well away from the madding crowd – such as it exists in rural Vermont (no, it’s not redundant). While we try to be as energy and resource independent as possible, the plot where our slice of life plays out is definitely a homestead – not a farm.
During summer months, we grow a fair amount of food, but my garden is as much about pleasure as it is necessity. We’ve had chickens for eggs, but also for company in the garden. When the fox raided our coop, we were sad but not scared – we knew there were fresh brown eggs for sale in the cooler at the end of our neighor’s driveway. We’ve made our own maple syrup, but most of the time we buy it from friends who are trying to build a working family farm.
Most days we’re so wrapped up in middle-class mundaneity that the solar panels and hot water on the roof and the amish wood cookstove that heat and power our life seem completely mainstream.
And then it snows. And snows. And snows. And we load a few more logs next to the woodstove and think how lovely it all looks. And, as much as I once romanticized the idea of being completely self-sufficient ,I’m glad we’ve picked the battle that lets us wait out the storms we’ve seen this winter without worry.
It is work – I hang every scrap of laundry and we monitor every watt we use – but it’s also a luxury, and we’re grateful for it each time the snow begins to fly.
Tuesday, we were looking forward to another snowy night and day. Like most northern regions, it takes a lot more than 6-12″ to get Vermonters flustered, but, to be perfectly honest, it’s not the snow that rattles my nerves, it’s the snow day.
I work from home. Most of the time it’s a good racket – especially when Thing1 and Thing2 get the unexpected day off. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, however, especially when Thing1 and Thing2 get the unexpected day off. They’re good kids, but, try as I might, I have not found the trick to getting them to sit quietly with their hand folded over their laps while mommy deals with customers online (if you’ve found it online somewhere, send me the link). But, as I found out over Christmas break (almost two weeks of expected days off), silence isn’t always golden.
Seven-year-old Thing2 – already plastered to the ceiling in anticipation of Santa’s visit – had spent the morning migrating from lego projects to torturing his brother. At one point, he managed to combine activities, causing a crescendo of ‘MOM!’ from thirteen-year-old Thing1’s room. Thing1 had ‘accidentally’ knocked Thing2’s lego sculpture out of his hand. The ruins of his engineering masterpiece were strewn about the floor. One of the witnesses to the ‘accident’ was red faced, the other was in tears. I was chatting online with several customers at once and decided there wasn’t time to call in CSI to determine if the destruction was accidental or premeditated, and I ordered Thing2 to the living room for a cool-down on the iPad.
Lips pursed, arms folded over his chest, Thing2 marched to a corner of the couch after retrieving a blanket from his bunk. He stood on the couch, arranging the blanket just so and, when he had created his cave, grabbed the iPad from the table and retreated under the patchwork tent.
Thing2 has loved the iPad since it emerged from its sleek white box. Like most kids, he knows more about it than a seasoned software engineer, and I’m ashamed to admit that it plays babysitter too often on days like this.
The next day, each Thing retreated automatically to his own corner. One was in his room working on a computer project with a friend in Maine. Two was under his tent with headphones borrowed from daddy. For most of the morning, the only sound came from my keyboard.
That night, I finished work on time and, with a small break in the depression that had been amplifying for months, I thought an after dinner post was in order. But as the Big Guy took up residence on the couch for his winter’s nap and I began loading the wood stove to cook dinner, I noticed that it was still very quiet. The dishes clanking were the only noise.
Thing2 was still under the blanket and headphones, his legos and sketchbooks gathering dust. There was no new dance routine to watch and animate. There was no impromptu party waiting in his room. And suddenly I was scrambling for something to write.
Like a nagging housewife driving her husband to the arms of a lover, my quest for quiet had silenced my inspiration with electronic lithium.
Cousins arrived the next day, and neither child was interested in anything electronic as we celebrated Christmas.
The Monday after the family left, the silence was deafening, but the iPad was nowhere to be found. Thing2 emerged late in the morning, dragging his tent. He looked for his digital drug, but, not finding it, deposited his blanket on the couch and padded over to the Christmas tree where his latest Lego project was still sitting, the remaining 500 pieces sorted into empty ice cream buckets.
For the rest of the morning, he delivered a muted monologue of the building of his new starship. Occasionally, frustrated tears punctuated the chatter and interrupted my work. I broke up a few fights, but, when dinner time rolled around my inspirer-in-chief joined me in the kitchen to show me his latest dance moves. And, oddly enough, the noise made the work day better.
I didn’t write that night, but Tuesday morning, that probable snow day got me just rattled enough to get out of bed early and start tapping.
Winter isn’t officially here yet, but the wood stove is going every night just about. I love our wood stove. It’s an Amish made wood cook stove that heats not only our whole house but all of our hot water during the winter. I love it for its practicality, but I also love the romance of it.
Something about managing the hotspots on the large cast-iron cooktop and knowing where in the oven cookies will bake and not burn makes me feel like a real homesteader.
Our house is homestead in a lot of ways. Everything about it’s design was practical, initially. We designed it to be off grid, so that the multiple winter power outages would no longer affect us. We built it to be earth sheltered so that we would not be subject to the whims of the utility companies. We designed it to be a home where we could live if as we age,.
The wood stove was also a practical decision, initially. It was a source of cheap heat. It would do all the things that the woodstove has historically done throughout our nation’s history. It heats our water and our space and cooks our food.
But the pleasure I derive from standing in front of our red-hot practicality as the smell of fresh apple crisp in the oven and black bean stew on the cooktop tickle my nose hairs is anything but practical. And that’s not a bad thing at all.