Monthly Archives: December 2008

Instant New England – Just Add Chestnuts

You know what I was thinking about today? I miss the old Metro buses. The white electric ones with the hard, raised seats that were more like streetcars. I miss their clackity chorus, the shiver of acceleration, the quiet open-air ride they offered that made me dream of San Francisco, a city to which I’ve never been. I miss, also, the distinct lack of motion sickness they caused.

The first time I took the 43 from downtown to my new job at UW, I perched on the high brown bench, wide-eyed at the open window. We climbed Pike St., crowned Capitol Hill, and hurtled down the other side. Lurching onto 23rd, the startling view took my breath away. All mountains and water, all green and misty sunshine. I sent a postcard back East: “My commute is like a scenic tour of another country – but it’s our country. And I live here.”

People take it for granted – how beautiful Seattle is. Or maybe, if they’ve never lived elsewhere, they have nothing to compare it to.

I thought about that a lot over Thanksgiving, when I was transported to the eternal land of Martha Stewart, antique shoppes, and colonials with single white candles in each window. Connecticut – which boasts its own quiet beauty. A different brand altogether.

I never realized how storybook my childhood stomping grounds were. When you turn the pages of Living Magazine and see rosy cheeked children wrapped in nubby oatmeal scarves, picking pumpkins from autumnal, windswept fields – that was my life. And I thought everyone lived in a stolid colonial with a sprawling, snowy lawn and a barn out back. Cranberry bogs, winter beach lighthouses, thick lipped stoneware mugs overflowing with mulled cider, maple syrup taps hammered into trees.

My sister the High Priestess lives in one of the myriad Burys – Woodbury – in an enormous house made of flint and flagstone with burnished oak floors. French doors open into a kitchen larger than my apartment, with a soapstone slab sink, a glossy granite counter and a window seat overlooking several rolling acres. In warmer weather, wisteria scales the trellises. The barn out back is nearly visible through the maples.

I landed at my sister’s villa for the holiday, two days before my parents were to arrive. I enjoyed having her to myself for a spell. She chauffeured me to Trader Joe’s, CVS and Dunkin’ Donuts, where I got a real bagel.

On Monday, while the High Priestess was in Oxford schooling her pupils, I was left to my own adventures in the wilds of rural Connecticut. The day was bright and cold, the mercury registering a hair above twenty degrees. The slumbering fireplace was begging for warmth and wood, so I buttoned up and ventured forth into the frosty fields to collect firewood.

I didn’t have too much work cut out for me; the old barn was filled pillar to post with dry logs chopped into bite size chunks. I carried them by the armload and stacked them at the front door on the slate patio. After a few trips back and forth, the exercise and the fresh frigid air left me high, and I stopped in the middle to let the sunshine bask on my face. Actual sunshine. I felt drugged.

The Page was designated fire warden, and teased a trembling spark into a robust, roaring fire where I promptly parked my butt for several hours. I was intent on recovering fully from hovering near the breaking point just prior to vacation. Multiple deadlines on multiple projects, underpaid and overcommitted. Tearing out my hair and tossing in my sleep. Trying to hold it all together for just one more day.

Then came Thanksgiving, and for an entire week, my calendar was booked with a whole lotta nothin’. I intended to do every ounce of nothing expected of me.

Each precious day, I slept til I was done, read stacks of periodicals, watched undemanding blockbuster movies, drank chilled San Pellegrino, took long, hot showers in the slate tub with heated towels, ate giant bowls of clementines, and played clever word games with the High Priestess and the Page.

On Thanksgiving Eve, I awoke in the master bedroom to a surreal landscape of fog and ice. Smoke billowed from the chimney of the Tudor across the field, the thin grass threaded with silver, the whole world cast iron and aluminum. Low clouds hung in the leafless trees, the windows framing each panoramic view like a charcoal sketch on the wall. I was the only one awake, so I made hazelnut coffee, sat at the little round table in the toasty kitchen and wrote thirty pages of exquisite longhand brain dump.

My parents later arrived from points South in their Mac-daddy Grand Marquis, complete with bitchin’ ragtop and white wall tires. They promptly surrendered the keys, and the Page and I set out in search of bagels, a certain package store and my childhood homestead.

We drove through an endless stream of Burys with covered bridges, antiquing festivals, and pious white Protestant churches. I was at the wheel of the Boca Raton pimp-mobile, my vat of Dunkin Donuts iced coffee wedged in the cup holder, blasting the parental fave – Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits. The sky was hesitant and gray above the hillsides that rolled by in cinematic wonder. I glanced over at the passenger’s seat, where the Page was belting out “Downeaster Alexa” with guts that put ol’ BJ to shame. I smiled with the kind of deep down bliss that leaves perfect Polaroids etched in your memory forever.

In 2003, the Page hiked the Appalachian Trail beginning to end – over 2,000 miles. This is a remarkable undertaking that I can’t quite wrap my head around. Cornwall Package Store in Connecticut is likewise amazed. The Trail passes close by the package store, and as they put it, “If you walked all the way here from Georgia, you deserve a free beer.”

Cornwall Package Store keeps a guest log book for thru-hikers doing the Appalachian Trail. Much of their store is devoted to Trail memorabilia, photographs and maps. The Page was awarded a free beer on his pass through town five years ago, and said he’d come back and patronize the store if he ever had the chance again.

So here was that chance. The woman running the place was welcoming and generous, and pulled out the log book for 2003. The Page found his entry in the book and ignited a few memories reading other entries from fellow hikers. He was able to fulfill his promise by splurging on a few bottles of good wine for Thanksgiving dinner. We were even given Cornwall Package Store bottle openers as souvenirs.

Upon our triumphant return to the master Bury, there were fireside chats with the parental units, more long hot showers, meandering walks through the neighborhood, befriending of neighborhood dogs; there was baking of bread in the gargantuan cast iron oven, naps wrapped in cozy fleece throws, and the consumption of entirely too much home cooked food. We even procured chestnuts and — yes — roasted them over the open fire.

I have returned to the moist Pacific Northwest December, fattened and sated, relaxed and bagel-fed, ready to hit the snooze button until another holiday.

Hope you all fared as well on your day of thanks – turkey, New England or not.