Last month I bought a combination film and photo scanner. For the price, it does a pretty good job with negatives, its technical abilities in reproduction of old photographs being just slightly better than taking new pictures of these pictures with my digital camera, my previous method. If my aim were to restore and conserve historical documents or images in the best possible condition for posterity, I’d be in big trouble. Fortunately, I am an artist, not an archivist, and my stake in the preservation of historical materials is highly personal and more concerned with authenticity of content than accuracy of presentation. Also, I tend to look upon technical flaws as happy accidents adding character to the appearance of an image, and enabling new possibilities for the meanings it might convey to the viewer.
Country Road : A Second Life
Today I am preparing for a weekend away in the place I consider my second home, Vermont. Followers of this space, new and old, will know that I grip my loyalty to my native New York City with the tenacity and passion of a street dog with a juicy bone. I have been tempted by many other cities, here in the United States and overseas, and none has compelled me to let go this loyalty. I am a city girl, and the look and feel and life of cities will always quicken my pulse. But the Green Mountain state has always been there throughout my life to soothe and restore me, slow me down, and set me on the right path whenever I lose my way, and for that, Vermont will always have my heart, and make me wonder if perhaps in another life I was a country girl.
Manhattan Slugger (Gabriella at 10)
Vermont was there for me in the 1970s when my family spent summers at the Bread Loaf School of English, a program connected to Middlebury College, where my father taught literature for many years. I can still recall the sensation of driving north in June, leaving behind the faces and places of the school year in Manhattan, watching the landscape slowly turn from shades of gray to greens so varied and deep they seemed unreal. As the landscape opened, so did my senses; as the tall buildings were replaced by even taller mountains I would find myself feeling both smaller and larger, put into perspective as a mere human dwarfed by such majesty, and yet absorbing it and being enlarged by it, as if the whole universe and all its secrets could now be understood and held in my heart and mind. Then there were weeks of running barefoot through grass, hiking on mountain trails, fishing in streams, or simply sitting on a porch after sunset in an Adirondack chair watching shadows lengthen across a lawn while the insects sang their night songs.
Porch View (Gabriella at 14)
Always too soon, we were driving back south to the city in August, and the reverse would happen. Color drained away; everything appeared crowded, gray, confined, the tension returning to my body, and my eyes narrowing as my heart shrank a little inside my chest. Back to the city, back to school, goodbye joys of summer. And after the last summer when my father stopped teaching at Bread Loaf, it took 16 years for me to visit again, this time as a student at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Those intervening years had not been happy ones, seeing me through a difficult college experience and a long confused search for whatever it was I was supposed to be and do as an adult in the working world. My frustrations with my desk job and my desire to do something closer to who I really was, an artist, a poet, led to my investigating nearby writers’ conferences, and Bread Loaf seemed the obvious choice, the only choice. It was 1993 and I was not a kid anymore. But one of the reasons I love Vermont, is that the day I set foot on the same campus I had last haunted as a kid, 16 years vanished as if they had never happened, and I knew I was home.
It should not have surprised me that 7 years later, the next time I found myself sitting in an office wondering what I was doing with my life, Vermont should come to the rescue again. This time, I had applied to two graduate programs in New York, studying for and doing remarkably well on the required standardized tests that meant overcoming my lifelong aversion to anything involving testing, requirements or standards. I submitted what I thought was a pretty impressive application with a resume full of past publications, a well-written essay, recommendations from some prestigious poets, and good new work. I was convinced that not one but both schools would surely accept me, but instead, both turned me down. I was almost 40 at the time, and didn’t even consider that my age and experience might work against me, until I researched the faculty and student demographics of both these institutions and discovered that I would have not only been older than most of my classmates but quite a few of the professors and administrators as well. I can now see why they would not have wanted someone like me, but at the time it was a shock, like hitting rapids when all you expected was smooth sailing ahead. What next?
Vermont to the rescue. Within days of my double rejection, I was applying to the writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, and for the next two years, twice a year, I rode north and experienced that same sensation of the world getting more colorful, more open, more serene and expansive. Being engaged in a graduate program saved my life, and it could not have happened anywhere but in Vermont. Vermont was where I learned that being a shy awkward kid was okay, because it gave me more time to appreciate the world around me as only a solitary introvert can. It was where I first learned that I could call myself a poet and work and play side by side with other poets of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and feel I was finally where I belonged. But Vermont had one more surprise in store for me.
The Long View
In the summer of 2009, I was once again on a Vermont Transit bus, this time bound for Burlington, to visit Brian for the first time. Two years later, after relocating him down here to Boston, we often wonder why I did not move up to Vermont instead to join him! He has known many cities and still declares Vermont is the most beautiful place he has ever lived. This weekend we are going together to our favorite place for a much needed break from what have lately been some very challenging, but on the whole happy, times both personally and professionally. I know the second we cross the state border, and the billboards disappear from the side of the road (it’s the law in Vermont), and the cows begin to outnumber the people, and the air starts to smell like perfume, it will feel like home. Who knows that Vermont may not have some future surprises in store? Stay tuned.
With the exception of the panorama landscape, all photos in this blog post were scanned from my old original photographs, ca. 1973 - 1993 and presented with minimal correction. I’m bringing my cameras with me this weekend, so the next photographs you see here of Vermont will be all new!