Category Archives: Vermont
The Winds of Change: Something’s Coming, Something Good?
When I left Vermont for Massachusetts six years ago, it seemed that I’d relocated to a wicked windy state. The winds would positively howl at night in my Boston-adjacent neighborhood, a kinetic metal sculpture outside gonging like a buoy.
But when I moved back to Vermont two years ago, I realized the entire northeast had in fact gotten windier. As has much of our country in the last 10 years. New England has something called a “jet streak” nearby, a part of the jet stream where winds are stronger, but the west has been getting clobbered, too. The whole planet has become mysteriously windier.
While of great benefit to wind farms, our newly windy climate has less favorable consequences in our area. In winter, power outages are terribly unfun when trees or limbs fall on power lines. In summer, people are fond of burning stuff outside, often unmonitored. With all of our old wooden structures in Vermont, and a recent trend to long weeks without rain, that’s just not a good idea.
Then there’s sports. I was planning on working on my tennis serve this summer, but it’s hard to get any consistency going when 1.) your baseball cap is giving you lift like the Flying Nun, and 2.) you have to guess as you toss your ball high into the air for the serve: (a.) Will there be wind? (b.) How strong will it be? (c.) From which direction will it come? That goes for your lobs in tennis and, frankly, any ball of any kind coming at you or leaving you in any sport. The winds are not only gusting, they’re swirling. Is this affecting pitching? Batting? Basketball? It’s got to be affecting golf. Surely volleyball. Fake sports like pickleball and badminton must now be more like gambling than sports.
Wait what? Did I just denigrate pickle ball? Yes, I did. Badminton never pretended to be a real sport; it knew its place as a charming folly in the wide world of athleticism: a dusty boxed set that lives in the attic for years at a time, trotted out gamely at family reunions, if and when the shuttlecock can be found and its rubber nub hasn’t crackled apart, rendering it useless.
Really, bully for all who dig pickleball, but I gave it several tries and here’s my assessment: a noisy “sport” named after a dog, invented by restless wealthy people, with inscrutable scoring that takes so long to learn that players mostly announce the score in the interrogative, that feels like a fanciful game your little nephew makes up and keeps changing the rules on so that you can’t beat him. Mainly, it screws up my tennis courts, man, with distracting court tapings and heinous net-lowerings that pickleballers don’t bother to fix when they’re done. Tennis is a sensible and courteous game, for civilized people. Play tennis. Before a swirling windy vortex sucks your pickleball, more whiffle than ball, up into the heavens forever (“Hate mail can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org”).
But I digress. Back to the wind. The “winds of change” is an expression signifying a sense that change is in the air. Has Dear Reader ever gotten this? At times I have felt that the wind did in fact portend change, or I at least interpreted it thusly and used it as a catalyst to make my own change. Some of us take unusual winds as a very real sign. And given current world events – and news channels relentlessly covering not only existing problems, but also imagined terrors that may never even come to pass – we can easily panic about what changes may be headed our way.
I’ve said it before, but it never gets old: catastrophizing about an unknown future and all forms of hand-wringing in general serve only to rattle us. It does not serve us to fret over things out of our control. It’s up to us to rein in our worrying — including all who live alone and are unfortunately free to ruminate endlessly, sleeplessly, with no one to talk to or offer comfort. It’s up to each of us to do our best to remain grounded, not like a pickleball sailing off to Mars. It’s up to us to think pleasant thoughts for our selves, each other, and the planet. Otherwise, we won’t feel well, or safe, or loved. What good could come from that?
Truly, it’s entirely possible that what is coming is something very good indeed. Some bad things in the mix, no doubt, but maybe something major and lovely is en route. Consider interpreting the winds this way: that people who think or act upon others with harmful intent in this time and place might soon find themselves powerless, blown far, far away like so many cracked and useless shuttlecocks in strong winds. Then those of us who think and act with love will finally understand the power of love – our love, and that of the entire world.
Okay, I’m not kidding, the wind is howling as we speak. All cosmic musings aside, this should be an interesting summer between tent pitching and anchoring umbrellas at beaches. Beware projectiles. Think positively. Good day.
Ann Aikens has published a darkly comical book of advice, A Young Woman’s Guide to Life: A Cautionary Tale, available in Vermont shops listed at annaikens.com, and on Amazon. She has written her Upper Valley Girl column since 1996.
Remembering the Things that Matter
Delivering a eulogy for someone you’ve known for decades isn’t easy. There’s a bottomless treasure trove of memories, so it’s hard to select the right ones. The ones that will matter to most of the funeral attendees — or that might matter the most to one person? Or maybe that matter most to you, as a speaker? Without the eulogy going on for like two hours. I bet someone, somewhere has set a record for the longest eulogy. Maybe in other countries or galaxies they are very long indeed.
Recently we held a service for sacred Aunt Natalie. Natalie was not technically our aunt, she was our cousin once removed, the cousin of our father. She grew up in Vermont, became a teacher, married a state trooper, and had my two cousins—I mean second cousins. They were the reason my family visited Vermont, and came to love Vermont for more than just her natural beauty.
O, her seasons, all distinct! The fifth season called Mud Season. Stick Season, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, revealing magnificent textural backdrops – and awful housepaint jobs. Grit Season (when winter’s road-sand blows around after the snow’s gone) and Manure Season (when the entire state is fertilized, to our vegetably anticipation and olfactory dismay). Surely there are sub-seasons involving flora or fauna that Dear Reader relishes. Not Black Fly Season.
Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of one season and flash forward into another season entirely. Do you do this? It’s mind-blowing because Vermont is like a different planet in each. I time-travel to the alternate season and think, “Wow, winter: white!” Or: “Summer…wow.”
As with the seasons, I flash back to years gone by. Younger versions of us, the now-gone people still alive — all laughing — us kids up to some mischief. Feels like yesterday. It blindsides me when I’m driving. I cry. As friend Lee says, “It always seems to happen in the car.”
Back to the cousins. We visited Vermont because our Scottish great-great-great grandparents, blacksmiths, had settled there. The introduction of the automobile caused my dad’s father to pursue other work, in Ohio, where he met his bride. Their summer trips back to Vermont got my dad hooked on ‘mont. Once a parent himself, he got us kids hooked. Back then, kids didn’t get to choose family vacations (as if!). Thank God our parents chose Vermont.
You visit a place not just for her physical characteristics, but for her people. Think of places you’ve been (Maine, the south, islands, Italy) and the locals there with qualities different from people at home, lending that place its particular flava.
When even one person leaves the planet, the flava of Earth changes, no? Most of you have lost someone close to you. In my (second) cousins’ vernacular, it’s wicked hard.
My Aunt Natalie was born with a spark. Neighbors, hairdressers, toll booth operators … she left an impression on each. You know how some relatives were old your entire life? Natalie always looked to be 50 years old, even at 80. She always wore shorts. But mostly I recall her sparkle and humor and a kind of innocence that seemed like it was from another era. Because it was.
Swimming with Natalie by moonlight in Silver Lake! As my sister said, she had a way of making the everyday magical. She was a true lover of children. Whether you were you pounding out Grand Old Flag on the piano or had sketched an inscrutable picture of nothingness, she’d exclaim, “BeaUtiful!” She made children feel valuable, which I think many children did not feel in decades past.
Ah, cousins: the gift of noisy fun. Those classic Thanksgivings, Memorial and Labor Days, and of course The Fourth. Something called “bull beans.” Treks via inner tubes to the Barnard General Store for penny candy. Making a game of anything at all. The parents sending us to Richardson’s with returnable bottles to get them “supplies.” We got candy.
Countless holidays over countless years, always with music, always with laughter. Ever effusive, Natalie would tell my mother, “You make the BEST salads!” My dad would howl, because what’s really involved in a salad? When it was time for my family to leave Vermont, I would cry and my brother would hide, so that leaving became – briefly – impossible.
Natalie passed bit by bit from our lives. But these memories remain forever indelible, of an energetic and vivacious woman so greatly loved. As Dear Reader knows, we never forget those we adored. Our pain at our loss is a beautiful pain. An honoring. As sad as it makes us.
Thank you, Aunt Natalie, for years and years of fun and art and music and jubilance and adventures and hilarity … and most of all, most of all, for your smile and voice and laugh.
If Dear Reader knows what I’m talking about, maybe today at some point: look up! Say Hello to your people gone by. Tell them you remember, you remember all of it. That you just know you’ll see them again. Good remembering, and good day.