Tuesday, September 22, 2009


"Talitha cumi" - Vermont, to my wife.

Liberty really came alive in Vermont on our recent two-week vacation to see her sister. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen her this happy. Dominique came down to Columbus with her husband and two children to see Eric and Zoe get married a few months back, and shortly after their return, Liberty pined for her lost Vermont very strongly, and I consented to drive up there with her and Scout in order to answer what was clearly a question of importance to her.

Liberty, and me, and Scout. And not Stacey. Middle school had already started for her when OSU's break between quarters started. To say that I was upset about leaving Stacey behind would be an understatement; I was, rather, beside myself with disappointment and fear of further pushing my steadily-growing-up daughter away from me. However, to miss this chance to help Liberty stay connected to her family and revisit the state that gave her the most happiness would have been unconscionable. Unforgivable. And so we went, I leaving my misgivings behind.

Vermont is a cold place, and as the sign here suggests, you should be wary of winter itself there. We caught the tail end of the sunny time, and had mainly warm days to go out on hikes and such, but cold nights. Most days I woke up in need of a hot bath to warm back up, and we left on the day that was supposed to bring the first hard freeze that night.

Yes, they take winter seriously up north, as shown by the lack of Barbie and Superman fishing poles in the local general store, but instead the following:

"Tell me the story of the step-girl trapped in the cave, and the guy wouldn't let her leave."

What struck me in the early days of the trip is how much extra time Scout and I had alone to play together. In the mornings Liberty tends to sleep in when she can, and Dominique's kids had school, and she and her husband worked intermittently (trying to take some time off to hang with us, but not able to completely vacation, sadly). And so, it was me and Scout from about 7:30 - 9 every morning, and we played.

One day we played dinosaurs...

Unfortunately, my joke that a rotary phone is the kind of phone dinosaurs would use was lost on little Scout. I suspect over time she'll learn from me a healthy sarcastic smartassery that will serve her well with bad puns like this in the future. Not today, sadly, but soon.

The day after we played dinosaur, we played "Story time with Batman", where Batman told cautionary tales to all the animals. This is where Scout request the story of the trapped stepgirl, which I think is a mashup of her growing understanding of what "stepdaughter" means, and the story of Jaycee Dugard. Rest assured, Batman's story was short on specifics, long on helpful fairies.

"Daddy, I'd like to listen to some Bob Dylan"

This is what Scout spontaneously said during a long car drive back to Dominique's house from an outing to a local college and its associated hip shops. How many 4 year olds do you know who ever request Dylan? I know 1. This was the day before our return trip would start, and Liberty and I had gone out with just Scout for the day, and we were both in a good mental place, at peace, happy with each other's company, and chatting about various unrelated things as they popped into our head.

We put on Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" CD and "Tangled up in Blue" started playing. I asked Liberty about photography, a subject she has some expertise on, and in particular how you could take a good action shot in an outdoor soccer game.

"You have to have a good camera, good film, and know what you're doing," was her initial answer. That's a great response when someone asks you an open ended question about something you "speak" but they do not, to which you have to ask yourself, dude, where do I even start? It's like someone asking me "what do I need to learn to get a good computer job?" (Self control and curiosity. After that, keep drilling down until you can see the bits on the wire.)

After some prodding and reminding her of a soccer dad who had a fancy-looking camera at a few of Stacey's games who she shook her head at and said to me "Those will never turn out", we got into some of the details of film speed, shutter speed, aperture, timing, and why it's not appropriate for a man with a camera to be flirty with 12 year old girls. (You know who you are.) To get a good action shot in a fast moving game without a flash, you need to set your shutter speed fast, open your aperture wide, and to have a film that can take it... or so I've been told.

From there we meandered to other topics, lost to me now as I didn't write everything down when it was fresh in my mind. The specifics, though, aren't as important as the nature of our idle chatter. We were back to 2 years ago, dating for the first time, both in love with everything the other said.

"I'd like to hear some Serena Ryder, please."

Always polite and charming, Scout requested Liberty's and my new favorite artist. Scout herself particularly likes to sing along to her favorite track, "Little Bit of Red" ("What I Wanna Know" for myself, "Dark as the Black" for the missus).

Serena was the opening act for The Wallflowers when they came to Columbus recently, and Liberty and I met Eric, Zoe, and Eric's sister at the show. Serena was fantastic - partially because the Wallflowers really didn't "bring it" that night, partially because I had just downed the largest beer I have ever drunk, but mainly because she really was fantastic. I enjoy going out to events with my wife, as neither of us got many nights on the town in our old lives - she because of funding, I because of a lack of friends who were into nightlife. We've gone to see a couple of dance shows (the Dracula ballet, Riverdance), the "Les Miserables" musical when we were vacationing in Philadelphia, a Magnetic Fields concert last year, and now Wallflowers.

Good times, all, but I feel I don't drag her to as many things as I should. My current plan is to draw from my Christmas fund and see a couple more shows with her this year, and set aside some cash from next April's bonus check for wife outings.

But I digress.

We went out early in our visit to see Liberty's cabin that she used to live in. We shot some pictures of it and the surrounding woods, bridge, and stream which are fantastic. They're all on her camera, though, so I'll coax her to get them uploaded somewhere soon so everyone can take a look at them. The cabin sits off the beaten path, has electricity but no running water, and is near a stream running under a bridge made from the trailer portion of an 18 wheeler and wood planks that, shall we say, have seen better days. I liked the primitive feel of the cabin and surrounding area, and liked even more than my wife lived up there employing her MacGyver skills and sheer stubbornness to get by.

Vermont is an artsy area, and there was an occasional spot of graffiti. This wasn't gang markings or giant bubble letters, or anything you associate with New York walls or vandalism of train cars. This was mainly political graffiti, with a few exceptions that were more artistic.

We found Reagan here on a wall, sporting Mickey ears. He was clearly a cut-out template spray-painted over quickly, as was this one, which makes less sense to me, being a non-local:

What does CP2 mean? What's with the pot leaf? The bomb? I'm at a loss.

Some of the bridges had hand-drawn work, such as this simple metaphorical declaration. There is a second line that seems to have either worn away or been washed off which may have made it more poetic. Or offensive. Either way I feel I've lost out for not seeing the full original.

In my youth, the weather fetish was "Old man river", but I suppose New Englanders have a different outlook on things. Anyway, I particularly liked this work, and seeing this one was what sparked me to run around Montpelier looking for graffiti in the first place.

This one was on a wall in the back alley of a shop. It appears to be a plastic tarp or some sort of fabric glued to the brick that has partially been taken down. One of the shopkeepers came out and scolded me for "encouraging them" when I was taking the picture, so in my hurry to get the shot and leave before I stirred up anything, I failed to notice her hands. I believe they are supposed to say "We have so much", but I didn't get the right hand fully in frame. Maybe telling the shopkeeper to mind his own business would have been the thing to do, but I was trying to be less... Ohio.

I couldn't quite get the whole mural in the same shot (did I mention I'm not really a photographer?). We saw this one on a wall near some shops at Burlington (near the University of Vermont). This clearly isn't graffiti, but it makes a nice segue into our trip out shopping, the "Bob Dylan" trip from above, and my favorite day of the vacation.

These winged monkeys are currently on Burlington's former train station, Union Station. They were originally designed for a waterbed store named "The Emerald City of Oz". Strange, but infinitely more interesting than "Waterbeds and Stuff" (the "stuff" of course being Zeppelin T-shirts, incense, handcuffs, blacklights, and "postal scales" ...wink wink)

In Burlington, we found a real live Ben & Jerry's store...


...and then Liberty went clothes and doo-dads shopping while I took pictures of Scout scampering through various stores...

...and headed back, where Scout finally zonked out after running around all day.

One of the bookstores we stopped into had a children's section, and we thumbed through a couple things that irritated me a little. The first is the newer Madeline books. The old ones by Ludwig Bemelmans were top notch, as was the cartoon TV series from 2001 and the "Lost in Paris" movie from 1999. Now Ludwig's grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, is capitalizing on his grandfather's success by writing more Madeline books. The poetry doesn't flow from the new stuff. It's forced.

See what I mean? If not, here's the opening from a book from Ludwig. Here Pepito, the son of the Spanish ambassador, moves to London, and pines for his friends back in Paris:

"I'm glad," said the cat."
"There goes that bad hat.
Let him annoy some other kitten
At the Embassy in Great Britain."
The little girls all cried: "Boo-hoo--
We'd like to go to London Too."

In London Pipito just picked at his dinner,
Soon he grew then and then he grew thinner
And when he began to look like a stick
His mama said, "My, this boy looks sick.
I think Pepito is lonely for
Madeline and the little girls next door."

No, it's not Emily Dickinson, but it flows, it's readable. Kid's perk up when they hear it, eager to follow the story and the rhymes. John's work isn't bad, really, it's more that it's just another kid's book. And if I say to someone with a toddler girl "Go buy anything that says Madeline," the end result might be a letdown.

We found another example of modernization of kid's fiction gone awry:

Yes, now Nancy Drew has gone from girl detective to sexy action hero, comic book style. The horror... the horror.

On another outing, we stumbled across some protesters urging us to cling desperately to Nixon-era health insurance standards, paying more for health care than other first-world countries, and getting worse results. The voice of the modern conservative is apparently "Obama wants to kill your babies!!" It's "Birth of a Nation" in disguise, with the white sheets replaced by scowls and disapproving shakes of the head. And signs.

This last kid makes me sad, with his politics as much as his outfit. In Vermont, most people dress better than this; even the teens.

On the last day of our trip, we visited the "Bread and Puppet" museum, which was just phenomenal. The above is a random sampling of the political attitude of the place. I have a bunch of shots of artwork and masks from old puppet shows, and it really deserves it's own entry, so I'll save the rest for later, and instead close with the following:

"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said, "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"

"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
"I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove."

And now we're all back to wonderful Ohio. I'm back at my job with it's H1N1 alerts and varied facial expressions from coworkers including nervous glances, suppressed frowns, and pointedly not looking at each other as they pass in the halls. And the roads, with their drivers both aggressively tailgating and weaving past each other, and timidly inching their way through the world.

After trips to a peaceful place, I always feel bad about Ohio, but in my beloved Virginia and North Carolina, I always feel somehow that I don't belong, and in the end I am glad to be back. After visiting Vermont, I am not glad to be back, and I don't think I'll feel happy about Ohio for a long time. For a short while, I felt like I was home, with people I could relate to. And I feel now that Vermont is the place I want to end up at. Maybe after Stacey heads off to college, after I update and sell my house, after I find a way to make money that doesn't tie me to Columbus... after, after, after.

I miss it. And I miss my brother and sister in-law, despite having shown less than perfect politesse to them (or more simply, having been myself) and ending on a more reserved pat-on-the-back way rather than a tearful embrace. I miss them, and I love them, and I want to bring my wife back to them.


  1. With the attitude and groove of a south going Zax yet desiring to go to the north I bid you:
    Look what we found in the park, in the dark
    We will take him home
    We will call him Clark.

    He will live at our house,
    He will grow and grow,
    Will our mother like it?
    We don't know...

  2. Go north, Miss! We hope to move there somewhere around 4 years from now. Look for us. I'll be the tall guy with the huge mane and thin, hippy wife... wait, that only distinguishes us down here.

    Anyway, go North!