As Buddha peaks through the snow to see what March will bring, we feel the stirring of new life beneath the melting snow and in the air. Soon the crocuses will pop their colorful heads through the snow as well, and the birds at our feeders will be scared off by a hungry black bear, annoyed with the contraption that separates him from a healthy snack.
Elder College Course: “Writing from a Sense of Place”
On April 8th and April 15th at 10 AM -11:30 AM, I will be teaching anElder College course in Middlebury called “Writing from a Sense of Place.” We will explore how narrative and character are enhanced by the natural and social environments in which they exist. We are all familiar with how “terroir” affects the quality and flavor of what we grow and eat. Similarly our natural and community environments have a powerful influence on the narrative of our poems and stories. Imagine Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” relocated to Times Square or Howard Frank Mosher’s “Where the Rivers Flows North” relocated to the Badlands of North Dakota.
This year, as every year, a few of us assemble to eat haggis, drink Scotch, recite poetry, discourse, and celebrate the life of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet whose short life began in 1759 and ended 37 years later. In that short time he garnered legendary status throughout Europe, the New World, and was the second most popular poet in Russia behind Pushkin. It was his elevation to poetic artform of the commonplace –the ploughmen, a field mouse –that endeared him to the masses, along with his storied lust for life and lassies.
Vermont Writer Book Recommendation
I just finished Sonja Hakala’s The Road Unsalted and thoroughly enjoyed it. The novel is rife with characters from the mythical town of Carding and eschews the native Vermonter trope. Hakala weaves this panoply of town folk into the local history of the town and their development into a slow-release exposition of local history of the town. Unlike in genre fiction where dark characters are the norm, Hakala is comfortable developing and portraying thoroughly unredeemable characters and consigning them to their fates. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend to readers who understand that communities are complex and that Vermonters are a rich melange of characters…not all of whom were born here. Really well done.
What I’m Reading Now
A Christmas gift from my oldest son, I delved into this rich collection of related stories not knowing what the title conveyed or what to expect and I’ve been glued to its pages for several nights. Richard Powers’ The Overstory is a collection of diverse but related tales in which several generations are woven together in subsequent plots. The “overstory” refers to the sheltering canopy of trees and the narrative follows the plight of our great natural forests and man-made orchards. The principal characters are Chinese mulberry trees, American elms, long-lost chestnut forests, beeches, ash, sequoias, and white pines, among others. I’m only half-way through, but look forward every evening to picking up Powers’ book and delving deeper into his forest of characters.
What I’m Writing Now: The Alligo
The Alligo is an illustrated novella updating Dante Alighieri’s 700-year-old classic The Inferno. Our guide however is not Virgil but Walt Whitman and Dante’s fire pits are succeeded by modern brutalist architecture. Many of the sins of Dante’s time persist today, but mankind has added new ones. Invention, technology, economics, and politics have nuanced and scaled our concept of evil. This exploration raises troubling questions about the influence of class, religion, politics, and scientific discovery on the commission of sin. More to come…
What is this Tool?
It’s maple sugaring season again and the smell of boiling sap is in the air. I remember our family being pulled on a sledge behind two Percheron draft horses deep into the woods in Wolcott to spend the afternoon overdosing on snow-hardened maple syrup and being only given a sour pickle or black coffee to prepare ourselves to eat more of the stuff. Grammie Couture would arrive with a basket of pre-rolled, uncooked doughnuts and would lower a few on a cake cooling rack into the boiling sap near the end spigot where the sap was thickest and leave them their until they were crisp and thoroughly flavored with maple. She’d then carry a tray outside where we were all gobbling up chewy maple candy. The tool you see is a sugar mold widely used in the cane sugar harvests in the Caribbean but also used to mold maple sugar cones in New England. In early times, sugar was sold by the cone.