Hometown news

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Vermont, my hometown. Dutton lake 116 blog

The one-room preschool celebrated their Stone Soup festival just before Thanksgiving. It’s a great communal luncheon where the preschool families gather together to be thankful for peace, love, and food. The children each donated a vegetable and Linda* made her usual marvelous soupy creations: spicy blended vegetable and creamy apple-onion-garlic. The children prepared for the event by churning cream into butter and making little rolls.

We sang the usual songs: “Food tastes better if you pass it around, pass it around, pass it around. Food tastes better if you pass it around; it always seems like more. Love feels better if you pass it around, pass it around, pass it around. Love feels better if you pass it around; it always seems like more.” And so on through the repertoire. The children and parents and siblings and grandparents all held hands and looked into each others’ eyes to feel the love and peace in the room. We ate and talked and connected and the world was a gorgeous place.

Deer hunting season ended around Thanksgiving with no deer for my next-door-neighbor, Belmont, and his buddies because all anyone saw this year were does. However, it didn’t matter much. They likely have some venison in the freezer from the last one. Anyway, his wife, Jane, doesn’t really like venison. She’ll cook it up for him but is always a bit relieved when he returns with just a mess of laundry and some good stories. The weather was so balmy that the two of them went up to camp on the day after the season ended to have a picnic on the tarp in the meadow with some sandwiches.

The day after Thanksgiving, Jenny and Dan Adamson began selling Christmas trees for the season: cut-your-own or pre-cut. They sold a 14-footer on the very first day! The ecstatic customers found it in the back row and Jenny cut it down. It hung way off the back of the couple’s truck, but they knew it would look perfect in their 2-story foyer. It was an exciting opening day and Jenny is hoping for a good season because good news is always welcome at their house. Dan is in a recovery phase from his chronic illness and life is rosey for the time being. Another downturn would break their hearts. Again.

Speaking of Christmas trees, the Drew family was the first in the neighborhood to have their tree up and shining in their front picture window, as usual. There’s no beating them to it and the rest of us were silently reminded that we’d better get with it. It’s always a beautiful tree with colored lights. The community has taken the hint and beautiful lights are up on the huge spruce on the town green, the Middlebury Inn has every street-level window outlined in white lights, and each lamp post in the center of town has a lit wreath on it. Additionally, the houses on East Main Street are slowly showing their Christmas spirit as individual expressions of bright and shining hope appear up and down the street.

snow wagon ride blogOn the first Saturday in December, the town had horse-drawn wagon rides, an appearance by Santa, graham-cracker-gingerbread-house-making at the library, free gift-wrapping for anything purchased in Middlebury, and a 25ยข Hot Cocoa Hut, among other activities. There was the annual festival of wreaths where local businesses create and donate beautiful wreaths (often with gift certificates attached) and each one is bid on by community members with proceeds going to one of the local children’s care centers. This year, for some inexplicable reason, there was an entry from The Late Show with David Letterman, including t-shirts and tickets to the show in New York. That guy sure gets around and his charity is unbounded. Once again we also have a wonderful gingerbread house exhibit at the Folklife Center. Creativity + sugar = lots of fun.

Wreath festival 2012Letterman wreathccc





Middlebury snow christmas 2012 sm











My friend, Charlotte, is one of the local creative types in the neighborhood; she doesn’t make gingerbread houses, but she does spend a lot of time in her kitchen. She has decided to quit her job as one of the village water system supervisors. Her home business of making all-natural balms and salves is doing so well now that she is dedicating herself to it full-time. Making a dream come true is not easy and requires years of patience but taking that step into the unknown and trusting yourself is a great feeling. Congratulations.

Other folks have not been so lucky this year. Quietly, there have been several job losses that I know of but these are Vermonters and they manage to remain stable in the face of uncertainty. They have seen worse, as Christopher Kimball reminded us in the Vermont Creed. Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t, but they know it won’t do any good to complain about it; just move on to what you can do. Vermonters are nothing if not resourceful.

snowflakes1 2012 smWe had the first snowfall this week. It began to come down about 7pm on Thursday which sent every kid in the house on a panicked mission to find his or her snowpants. They ran around looking for the other boot, sorting out the ownership of the waterproof gloves and finally ran outside, making flat angel prints of their bundled angel forms in the shallow covering of snow. Large stashes of snowballs were made, some of them even thrown at siblings, and the outdoor colored lights I had put up just that morning took on the most festive appearance. There was even enough snow for some sledding down the hill behind the barn. They all came rushing in when their cheeks were the color of apples and they dutifully carried their soggy gear upstairs to the dryer so they could wear it in the morning. It was a perfect night.

But everything in life has its opposite. The next day, I was in the kitchen with my 4 year old. We were trying to make gingerbread cookies. I had all the ingredients out and had begun to boil the molasses with the shortening. I stepped away from the stove just a bit too long and burned it into a horrid-smelling black goo. Ugh. I took it outside to cool, then opened a few back windows to rid the house of the acrid smell. I had just begun scrubbing the charred pot when suddenly I heard a massive glass-shattering crashing sound from the living room. What in the world…?!!

My first thought was, “What do I have on a bookshelf that would make that sound when it fell off?” Slowly, I peered around the dining room corner to see what could possibly make that terrifying noise. I could see splintered, shining, broken glass everywhere. I followed the trail of reflective disaster to the window above the leather couch and then… what in the world??… through the front porch to the exterior window facing the street. Dumbfounded, I scanned the room for the cause of such a mess. I saw a cabbage-sized ball of… feathers?? What WAS that thing? I could not reason out what had just happened, so my initial, irrational thought was: Someone just threw a frozen bird at our house from a passing car. That made no sense and even I, in my shocked state, could tell.

I called my native Vermont next-door-neighbors (as if I had some other kind). Jane answered. I asked if Belmont was home and if she could please send him over as quickly as possible. She asked if I was okay, and, honestly, I couldn’t say because I didn’t know. I hung up, then stood motionless as I watched the ball of feathers slowly unfurl itself. Was it an owl? It was a rather large bird, that much was certain. It looked at me sideways, then slowly stood up. I opened my dining room window to yell out to Belmont, “Hey! I’ve got a partridge in my living room! It just crashed through TWO windows!!” This made him stop in his tracks, reverse direction, and go looking for his fishing net.

He entered our house, took off his shoes, and went sock-footed into the shard-strewn living room. With obvious skill, he netted the bird on the first try. But this foul-navigating fowl had other ideas and escaped the fish net, took flight at top speed, brushed past my child, past me, and out the open dining room window before any of us could catch our breath. We all stood looking at each other for a minute before Belmont went rushing outside to see where he might have gone. I grabbed my good camera (which had been on the other side of the living room) and joined him and my son.

The bold brown intruder now stood very still next to the sage bush in my herb garden. I told Belmont that if the bird was injured, he could have it for supper. He went over to it and nudged it with the net to see if it was. It rearranged its left wing, spread its gorgeous striped tail feathers, and took off flying like a shot from a gun up over the barn and into the woods, leaving the three of us stupefied once again.

Ruffed grouse vermont blog

Incredulously, we (now including Jane) reentered the house and began the damage assessment, pausing every 30 seconds to exclaim our utter shock. Belmont conjured up Edward, another old-time neighbor, who concurred that he, just like the rest of us, had NEVER seen a bird go through TWO windows- especially if they are 8 feet (2.4 m) apart. One storm door, yes. But nothing like this. They poked around in the glass for a while, then Belmont went to get a second-hand window he had recently acquired to replace a broken one in his shed. It fit the interior width perfectly, so we stuffed a blanket around the gap at the top. With most of the fun already spent, I thanked them all profusely and they walked home, shaking their heads.

broken window blog

Most of the glass pieces were easy to clean up but little specks will continue to appear now and then for a long time. Simple, single-pane glass from the 1940’s explodes into a zillion smithereens when pierced by a sharp-nosed, hard-headed, deranged and lost game bird, apparently. After the room was back to some semblance of normal, I looked up the bird in David Sibley’s guidebook. It turned out to be a gray Ruffed grouse, not a partridge. Well, I was close. Joe, the glassier, came on Monday, removed the two frames, took them back to the shop, and returned them to their places by 3 pm. It was as if nothing had happened.

Yet it had and, being a human, I looked for meaning in the bizarre event of that day. All I could come up with was this: you simply do not know what will happen next in your life. You might think you do, and you might be right most of the time, but sometimes you are going to be completely and totally wrong. Life can be surprising. Sometimes that surprise is going to be wonderful. Sometimes it will be the realization of your darkest and deepest fears. In this case, it was relatively neutral: just plain shocking. So much so that I had to sit down often on Friday and just deal with the residual feelings of surprise.

The story of the grouse in the house will live on, seared into the memory of the three witnesses to the event. Belmont loves a good story and he will tell this one with gusto for the rest of his life. We did finally remake the gingerbread cookies and they were very tasty indeed. And the children have been informed that- this year only- they are not allowed to sing The Twelve Days of Christmas. The many bird references set Mom on edge.

And that’s the news from Middlebury, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking (or at least bearded), and all the children are above average.


*Names have been changed but all events actually happened. Credit and thanks to Garrison Keillor, the master story-teller.

4 thoughts on “Hometown news

  1. Pingback: Heart Conditions | Thirty Marens Agree

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