Sunday, January 2, 2011
Essay on Everything (1)
[Thirteen years later, tape decks are obsolete, and I don't feel so young]
[as I used to]
[although they tell me I still look quite the same]
The weather became unseasonably warm after Christmas passed, but still the land lay quiet under two feet of snow. As I steered the car out of one small New England town and into another, a powdery mist hovered above the snow and held there in the last of the light. The road cut through swaths of pale fields, past glowing white house fronts and their adjacent darkened barns. Occasionally the headlights would fall onto a more significant structure, like the tall windows of church, but it being neither Sunday nor Christmas, the building stood vacant and the wreathed door was shut. The panes of stained glass reflected back as dark and thick as river ice.
In the passenger seat, at my right elbow, sat Nate, five years older than myself. He is, and others would agree, a person of tremendous importance.
If any two people alive could have fully appreciated the deep, superlative power of the surrounding landscape, it was the two of us. We were both raised here in Pomfret, a town in South-Central Vermont whose meager population of 970 is widespread over 35 square miles. I could have given the names of one hundred different people who would have provided excellent companionship on the road out to Grace and Evan's house, who would have gazed out the window and remarked on the exquisite, tranquil beauty of the country gliding by. But the true nature of a Vermont winter is as paradoxical as it is paradisaical. Like wind against earth or dropping water on stone, it slowly shapes the person that you grow to become. Cold, dry memories form inside you like hoar ice, and they never leave.
To be intimately familiar with the frozen world, you must understand its two sides. Imagine examining a stretch of ice on a lake from above, where you can breathe, and from beneath the water, where you can't. Winter is idyllic and joyful, but also tedious and punishing. The polish of new snow and days spent hurdling downhill on ski and sled under a bright sun were matched by week upon week of grueling dark, steel grey skies spitting mouthfuls of snow in hard little points. For months, we trudged pale under the humming light of our high school hallways; numbers and languages, equations and Shakespeare were all made more difficult to comprehend under the crush of heavy clouds and the sting of subzero temperatures. We drove back and forth on dangerous roads in ice-laden cars whose windshield took forever to scrape off.
Seventeen, eighteen winters. And then we got to leave. But I wouldn't say it leaves us, exactly.
Winter is depression pressed upon ecstasy. This dichotomy has been the bone structure for the most prominent (and exhausting) pattern of my life, since as far back as I can remember. I've never been a level person. Never learned to average things out and proceed slowly, evenly.
We drove Northwest on the road that splits Pomfret from Bethel, swooped beneath railroad bridges on narrow, one lane underpasses, swung around tight corners. Neither one of us had ever been to Grace and Evan's new house, and I kept my eyes fixed on the car in front of me: Nate's twin brother Shane and his wife Emma. High school sweethearts who somehow- since the time I last saw them- got married and had three babies. A little girl and twin boys whose names were those of famous Green Mountain Boys.
I remember being with Nate in the car when I was thirteen years old. It was late March but certainly not spring. We'd been out in Brownsville recording a Speak Chorus- some performance thing we used to do all around New England- and our director let us out after midnight. Because we were neighbors, Nate drove me back to his house where my father was waiting for me. I remember listening to a tape deck, the whirring sound it made when the tape turned over, and resting my head against the cold window, half asleep. Potholes throughout the frost-heaved road kept rattling me awake.
I don't feel like such a little kid anymore. Time has a way of evening things out.
Although our paths had rarely crossed after we both moved out of town (I remember only one instance, in New York) Nate has been a role model to me my whole life. I was just a kid and he was always older and so talented. Excruciatingly talented. His theatrics and writing abilities are indescribable.
Nate ought to be famous by now, and I'm sure very soon he will be.
And being with him now, really for the first time since I left all of childhood behind, I felt keenly aware of my surroundings, present in a way I hardly ever felt. I found it comforting. It was the same content, connected feeling you can get when you walk into the forest and pay attention to the trees. They already know everything. For once, there is little left for you to explain about yourself.