Gold and Gray

In Vermont, November is knitting season, time to pull out your stash and see what might make a decent hat. This purple paired up with that long-ago blue from a child’s vest?

November is also the season of pulling the house finally tight against the winter, an odds and ends Sunday of mulching garlic and wrapping a glassed-in upstairs porch against the cold.

My 18-year-old and I left the younger girls crafting tissue paper flowers today and drove north up gray Route 16, flanked by patches of those golden tamarack torches. On a tip from Ben Hewitt, we were in search of doors, passing Crystal Lake, white-capped and as cold-looking as the Maine Atlantic.

Following directions, I stopped at the place with the dozer and knocked on a metal door. A man opened the door and said, Well, that’s a first, no one ever knocks.

I told my daughter, Bear that in mind. Don’t knock here again.

He was extremely genial and somehow in our conversation we went all over the place, from Vermont to the post office to Michigan, to a mother-in-law. Following him in a cavernous shop, against the back wall, he showed us gorgeous wooden doors, far better than I had imagined, with double panes, solid against the cold, and yet the kind of door that would let in streams of sunlight.

He asked how many doors we wanted, and while I said two, what I really wanted was to wander through that shop and see what-all was there. The doors, I had the sense, were just the beginning.

Outside, my daughter asked to go to Willoughby, just a few miles more. On this November day, time was suspended – somewhere in the not-yet-dark spectrum. The last time we had been here was a fine day of hiking and swimming with the cousins.

My mother recently remarked that it’s hard to believe my oldest is all grown up now – or nearly so. Sixteen years ago, I was driving around in an old blue Volvo, delivering syrup, while she chattered in the backseat and pretended to read the atlas. On one of my longest delivery trips, hopelessly lost in a tangle of dirt roads in Waitsfield, I pulled over, grabbed a handful of pebbles from the roadside, and she dropped them one by one into a plastic water bottle, emptied the small stones in her lap, and did it again, all the way home. Not so, now.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope.

– E. B. White


Lake Willoughby, Vermont

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