Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

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the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

U.S. Route 16 // Sunday, 2.30pm

This was a weekend long overdue. It seems a strange thing to say about someone else's wedding weekend, but it's no less true. fern hill, vermont

JoAnn and Walter have been inviting me to come to their cabin in Vermont ever since I met them, and every year I said I would have to do that, and every year I went back to San Diego, instead.

maia's hair, barnet, vermont

But this weekend Maia celebrated her marriage to Neil (which legally took place on a whim, last January, in Connecticut) at the cabin, with a lot of their friends from college and from long beyond.

And I, finally made it there, after sleeping overnight the first night in a church parking lot because it was dark and I couldn't find the road.

sleeping in the car, vermont

It turns out I was practically spitting distance from their place, across the dam and another two or three miles up the road.

But it had already been twelve hours--the eight expected, plus another four swallowed by the New Jersey Turnpike and the Foreman Grill of 91 North, and I was suffering from the bacterial festering of doubt and infirmity of purpose, so after wandering back and forth on the unlit byways of Route 5, I was fed up with it, and pulled into the back gravel lot of the Northeast Kingdom United Pentecostal Church (James Tremblay, pastor) and prayed that they didn't have a security guard or a dog or something, and curled up in the trunk.

I actually slept a decent nine hours.

walter mattson, barnet, vermont

I've met so many people that have offered hope and absolution from the doubt I'm suffering, whether they meant to or not, that I can hardly begin to remember their names. I'm bad with names, anyway.

But the best in a long time came from Walter, whom I respect as a professional and as a father and husband more than nearly anyone I know from either arena. He bought and began building on the Fern Hill property when he was 21. And yesterday, on our way up Interstate 89 to Glover to see the Bread and Puppet theatre, he told me how great he thinks what I'm doing is.

(And, being Walter, he didn't say "I think what you're doing is great" but really explained his position, as only Walter can do.)

And to think I almost didn't go.

soren, fern hill, vermont

My camera battery died during the wedding yesterday, and my iPod died just as I was returning from a long run this morning (during which my lungs expanded with joyful gratitude they haven't felt in ages, and I could actually hear the churning of my reinvigorated stomach). Without a camera, a part of me felt like what was the point of going? Even if it's life-changing, I'll have no hope of retaining the impressions properly, and I'll feel like more of a failure than ever, spending a whole weekend away from the possibility of work makes me feel.

As it is, I can't offer any photographs of what I saw today. Which is a shame, since Bread and Puppet pretty well defies description.

eir, fern hill, vermont

It's homespun and patchwork and papier-mâché, without being at all precious; highly political and disarmingly honest; emotional and idealistic and free of charge.

It's done in a bowl-shaped field anchored by a couple of old yellow school buses painted up in gentle psychedelics. The acoustics are supernatural; the women yodeling from one end across to the other were are audible as the brass band that was set up right beside where we sat.

It's performed by a great number of sunburned people, mostly Caucasian, mostly young with a few hoary exceptions, all dressed in tarnished thrift store whites, who dance on stilts and recite lines in French, Italian and English, and played "By the Waters of Babylon" while others of their number pantomimed the 16,000+ Afghan deaths resultant from Operation Enduring Freedom. (I didn't figure this out by myself, bt dubs. Another white-costumed figure was holding a cardboard sign to let folks know.)

race, fern hill, vermont

I got hauled up into the ring of players by a woman, who was wearing a chicken head made of papier-mâché; she put what I think was a matching rat mask onto my head and prompted me to dance with her, until someone recited a line from Emily Dickinson; then I sat down, and didn't know what had happened at all.

Then came the second part; the whole troupe led the whole crowd over the hill to another, larger sprawling meadow.

Marika and Jonathan's daughter whispered, "It looks like something from a war," and she was right.

Far, far across the meadow, as a shadow fell blessedly but somberly over the hillside, the actors brandished puppets of men in suits, and made them dance, and then made them die, while another lot of them paraded across with white flags, accompanied by a girl playing washboard percussion.

fern hill wedding, vermont

They strode forward in silence, offering only outstretched arms and forced exhalations, which we could hear in yet another miracle of acoustics, and then they sang that bit from the St. Matthew Passion while presenting a tableau of painted trees signifying the 800,000 Palestinian deaths. (Again, another painted sign to preclude misinterpretation.)

And then everyone lined up to eat the bread the actors made.

It dripped with oil and raw garlic.

corrin, fern hill, vermont

Things like this make me so sad that you, whoever you are, are not with me.

I try to tell it as if you were; and of course I know you can go to Bread & Puppet whenever you want. It's been around since 1963, I'm sure it'll continue.

But I felt that way last night, while we were passing a bottle of Maker's Mark around the biggest bonfire I've ever seen in my life, and while I was washing my hair beside a stash of beer kegs in a stream of water so cold it makes you dizzy, and getting my eyes pried open by a square of sunlight cast into the cubby under the stairs where I was sleeping, and singing Gillian Welch songs on the lawn with a guitar and a banjo and a fiddle while Neil and Maia made out under the same tree where JoAnn was knitting.

And so on, and so on.

bonfire, fern hill, vermont

When will you come with me, anyway?

When will I not have to worry quite as much that I haven't got my cameras with me?

When will you be there to relieve my memory from its singlehanded burden of holding all the impressions?

What's so important right now, wherever you are, that you can't get up and join me?