Wrong Way Closed

While poor California is burning, Vermont is flooded.

Driving to Burlington to meet my older daughter at the airport, my younger and I are suddenly stopped on Route 15. Road closed. I pull into a gas station and run up to a young man and ask him for intel. He’s from somewhere else and tells me Wrong Way Bridge is closed. That’s all he knows. The Lamoille is impassable at this point — the river, I’ve already seen, has risen wildly above its banks.

I stand there, thinking, unwilling to follow his advice to cut back through the mountains. I’m driving my older daughter’s car, which has — naturally — no paper map.

I approach a man who’s just bought a six-pack of tiny Coke cans, and ask for advice. He’s much taller than me, and bends down to look at my face, putting us at eye-level, then takes me to the edge of the parking lot and tells me where to turn, which roads to follow. It’s beautiful country, he says, where I’m sending you.

He tells me to turn left at the Y, but he’s gesturing right. I ask for clarification, and then he has me repeat the directions back to him, so he’s sure I know where I’m going.

We drive along the western side of Mount Mansfield, through farms with their cornfields shorn to stubble. November. His breath had a vague scent of whiskey, but the directions were spot-on, and countryside? Enchanting.

I think these days when there is so little to believe in — when the old loyalties — God, country, and the hope of Heaven — aren’t very real, we are more dependent than we should be on our friends.

— William Carlos Williams

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Burlington, Vermont

By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.

9 comments

  1. What? No ‘waze’? I’m completely dependent on my phone to get me places now. Paper map? I miss them.
    That encounter sounded almost romantic (as I think you know, my taste in men is suspect) – the way he worded that – sending you – and it was enchanting! (But yes – a little scary) Glad you made it home safe and sound.

  2. No paper map, the need to mentally recall directions (and you to learn them spatially from a stranger), reminds me of that interesting functional “real time” brain MRI study of London cab drivers (the pre-ride sharing ones who had to memorize legion maps and then pass an exam w/o GPS, phones etc.). The live MRIs actually showed the cab drivers had a massively enlarged and active small area of spatial memory in the hippocampus. So, even with your angst about picking up a daughter at an airport, and despite perhaps a stranger’s tendency to libations- both of you all still possess a “kick butt” spatial hippocampus region! Congrats! I hear this will be the new “6 pack abs” to brag about..haha. GT

    1. That’s the best news I’ve heard all day! Something to brag about! I’ll have to look up that London cab driver study — mental maps are a particular interest of mine. Jon Krakauer credits his habit of mentally mapping as he hiked with saving his life on Mt. Everest.

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