We’ve been here long enough now for me to need a refill on my prescription. It’s a three month prescription. I’ve had to clip my fingernails frequently; we must be eating well and I take that as a sign of health and wellness, which is true. We are well and healthy. We are lucky to be in this beautiful mountain community, where the weather changes daily and the temperatures fluctuate between cold and less-cold, though there are days when the sun comes out, and the sky is bluebird blue, and the earth seems to warm from the inside out. You can feel it on your feet.
I’ve been walking every day with my wonderful friend. We have a six-mile out-and-back along the Common Road, an expansive vista of mountains, meadows, rolling hills, sugaring and dairy farms. The road is flat, then hilly, with dips that punctuate the beginning, middle, and end of the road that breaks at the triangle patch of the old town common; hence the name of the road. Our walk is fragrant with hay, early-season fecund fields, and the smells of spring that wave a slow goodbye to winter--which has its own distinct scent of mud and compost; familiar, welcome, and necessary as we inch languidly from one season to the next.
We’ve been watching a calf grow from its small, spindly legs--which lately chase and and toggle between her parents and (we think) an uncle--into something more substantial and solid, worthy of the cow she intends to be. The four of them are in the field together everyday. We’ve observed them wandering in the pasture, chewing sweet grass with baby at the mother’s teat. Sometimes the calf gets too tired to walk the field, and she settles into a soft divet in the field and naps on her own. There’s usually a dog leashed in the barn who howls whenever anyone walks past, and several weeks ago we slipped into the barn to see the sweet-faced ruffian tied to a post, not in punishment, though we saw it that way, but for the farmer to collect hay and distribute supplies to the other small barn and fields. The dog would never stay out of the road, and the farmer wasn’t taking a chance on the dog’s survival, but it hurt to hear him barking with such pleading determination.
The fields along the road and the mountains in the near-distance change color daily. My friend is an artist, and she is keenly aware of the harmonies and tones of blues and greens, brown and yellow, purple palettes tempered by an expansive sky in various shades of white, gray, blue, and pale yellow. Colors change slowly and rapidly here, as if that can be something that happens at once, but it does. Every day the fields look a bit more golden, a touch more green, but last week they were covered again in snow that sat like an over-fed Emperor atop of each living thing. By the next afternoon the snow was gone, the daffodils righting their thin stems, and the tree buds peering timidly into May. Yes: snow, much of it, in May. Spring in the valley is a funny mix of winter and anything else, so each day presents its own unique set of gifts and circumstances, and I’ve loved that lesson. It’s about slowness, and observation; waiting and bearing witness to the small miracles and vagaries of life on the Common Road.
We’ve found that our daily walks are a great way to keep tabs on the world. During what’s usually mud season, there was little mud. The lingering winter chill kept roads cold enough that mountain snows melted over time and with little fanfare. Some mud, nothing bad, no stuck cars or tow trucks necessary. Maybe that’s not good for those who keep the town up and running. The roads here are graded frequently, and the detritus of the material from the road collects on the soles of my shoes and lives equally in my car and the entryway of the house. It sweeps up quickly and returns the next day, as the same routine of walking and picking up elements from the road repeats and replaces the day before. The sweeping is fine, as is the anticipation of the walk the next day.
On a six-mile walk, six days a week repeated over ten weeks, we’ve covered familiar turf and abundant and diverse topics of conversation. We might focus conversation on family: ancient aunts and uncles whose health is dubious and hearts we cherish, foods from childhood, movie and book reviews, dinner plans, and bike routes. We laughed in horror and delight about the opaque, pale green jello molds on every holiday table, and later, the fashionable tomato aspics served on a wedge of cold, maybe even half-frozen, iceberg lettuce. We talk about The Best Breakfast sandwich. Often, we talk about art: color, painting, perspective, shading, clouds, dimension. Sometimes we talk about our children; sometimes we wax poetic about shades of lipstick against a sallow complexion. Neither of us wear make-up, but we both admire how others look fantastic in Violet Passion lip stain and a touch of Just Plum on the cheek. In all the miles we covered these last few months, we’ve never run out of conversation. I’m not sure how people run out of things to talk about, but I know it happens.
We have little been off the Common Road as most natural recreation areas have been closed. Bike trails, hiking paths, waterways and nature paths were shut down for protection against COVID-19, so the Common Road has provided access and egress for runners, walkers, bikers, strollers, and amblers. We are at least two of the three. Just before the turn-around point of the walk is a nursery in full-market bloom. Geranium baskets line the greenhouse like flags on the Fourth of July, bright red and proud, announcing the arrival of the great patriots of summer, warmth and sunlight. This will happen soon, and when it does I will be only a visitor to this beautiful valley, my COVID-free winter days having drawn to a close.
I will miss my walk and my friend. I will miss seeing the small reveals of change that mark the turn of the earth on its axis. And when I return, as I will during the summer months, it will not be a long enough stay; I will be a visitor to a place I have come to call home. The calf should be big by July, and the colors in the meadows ecstatic. We can hike the mountains then without the urgent concern of running into a mother bear and her cubs. They’ll be up there for sure, but by that time they’ll have plenty of food, and the cubs, like our calf, they will be more independent, and stronger. In the summer, we’ll talk about the winter, and set our hopes on deep snow and plenty of it. We’ll talk about the trails and woods we want to explore, and we’ll plan Thanksgiving dinner.
Now it’s time to pack the car, clean the house, launder the linens, and restock the paper goods--more challenging than it was one year ago! But we’re leaving a set of masks procured today at the local hardware store, and we’ll put some fresh brew in the fridge as a welcome home gift. Our landlords have been in Florida all winter, and they’re coming home to the mountains and so much more. For now, goodbye to the mountains I wake to in the morning, the Common Road I travel each day, my Wonderful Friend whom I have come to call my sister, and the paths of ancient rock and land forged so very long ago. For all who tread on sacred paths, we will meet again along the Common Road.
of the Mad River