Middlebury

Frost's Sunset

This evening, I went out to the cabin at which Robert Frost spent at least forty summers and took a brief look around (it's tiny) with some other folks, after which we sat on the grass out front as the sun set and read or recited Frost's poems, some of which were written on the spot.

It's fun to imagine that somehow Frost's writing place is imbued with his magic, that by some osmotic process, I might absorb a little genius.

Or I might just have accrued some no-see-um bites. I'll let you know how the genius part works out.



If you've never seen Robert Frost's kitchen, well, there it is on the left. According to the caretakers, those are the same dishes he left behind when he died. Not pictured: Frost's muffin tin. No kidding.

Right is Frost's bathroom. What weighty contemplation took place in this space, I wonder?

At this point, I'm feeling voyeuristic. That hasn't stopped me, but it was worth mentioning. Again, these items are said to be Frost's very own.


This painting hangs in the hallway. It's surely a reference to "Birches."
















When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


Perhaps Frost's poetry might be a better thing to include than his toothpaste.

"Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I suppose it's a sunrise poem in some ways, but I think it's apropos to a sunset too, right?



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Creatures of the Night, Brought to Light


Step right up folks. This is Vermont, where wingèd creatures of fear roam the empty plains as the harrowing winds strip all but darkness from the soul. The eerie cries of lost spirits echo in the lonely reaches, and beasts spawned by the hatred of evil for all that is good and pure leap steaming and smoking from the cracks of doom.

This beast staked out the entrance to my house, unmoving for two days straight, calling out taunts like "Nevermore!" and "Catch up on your reading!" each time I entered.

By the time it left, there was a large pile of gnawed chipmunk bones beneath its cursèd perch.

If Pandas were evil moths of darkness instead of large, gassy ursids, this is what they'd look like.


I think it was chewing its way into the building so it could feed on the blood of the sleepy innocents within. Or else it was trying to take the whole damn house back with it to the smelly darkness from whence it came.

Really hard to identify this crazy critter. My best guess is that it's a Twin-spotted Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus jamaicensis). Objections are welcome.


On Friday afternoon, I attended a barbecue at Gus and Cameron's amazing new home in eastern Vermont. On the way home, around dusk, I found this young moose on the roadside.

Though my first instinct was to befriend him as St. Francis would have, he was clearly unnerved by the fact that I got out of the car. His nervousness, however, did not cause him to retreat. Instead, he blew aggressively out of his nose and gave me the hairy eyeball, which he's doing here.

Now, I don't speak moose as fluently as some folks, but I understand that one.

Here's an even worse picture. Nothing like darkness, a tiny camera, and a running car for a tripod.

Obeying the second law of thermodynamics, the clearest picture was also the worst pose.


In my closest and clearest shot, however, you can see that this creature was no moose at all. He was, instead, a diabolical yeti masquerading as a moose, periodically holding up his grisly trophy of real moose antlers. This technique would fool anybody lacking the sufficient derring-do to get out of his car and approach a huffing, uncomfortable bull moose.

The photo and diagrams, I think, are unobjectionably clear in proving the species of the animal in question.

Perhaps you've heard that Vermont is for lovers. I hope you now realize it is chock full of diabolical, creeping creatures of violence and despair. Tune in next week when I catch the yetis and the moths on film, battling for ultimate supremacy of this shadowy wasteland.



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Patriotism


I don't usually take the time to involve myself in any kind of political commentary in any of my journals, private or otherwise, but the day does invite the occasion to think about the country and what it ought to be.

I'll admit that I've never liked the president and never voted for him. I'm certainly far enough away from him politically, and I've always been worried that there's some truth to the sense of corruption, cronyism, and profiteering in Washington these days.

Well, now that the president has commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, the fears that I've always hoped against hope were untrue are spectacularly confirmed. I am dismayed, disappointed, and wholly outraged that all the things I was taught about the nobility of democracy, of checks and balances are apparently untrue.


Maybe there's hope, somehow. I have to believe that a country so beautiful and founded on such noble ideals could resist being run into ground by a group of tyrants.

This is the view from the back of the Bread Loaf Inn, the main building around here, and the one I'm usually in when I post these updates (it's only one of three buildings that have wireless internet). The sun is setting over my left shoulder, and it lit up the rising hills and mountains in colors that the camera does a good job at failing to capture.

It's amazing when the clouds turn pink in a blue sky and the trees go red-gold.

Frankly, I haven't learned the names of all the buildings yet, so I can't tell you what this one is called. I'm sure I'll learn at some point, but I can't be bothered to look it up right now.

Did you think you were going to get away without any bird pictures? Hardly. The American Robin abounds on the Bread Loaf lawns. I think this is an immature fellow.

The robins may be commonplace, but they intrigue me. This is a gorgeous bird, but hardly notable. What is it about its abundance that robs it of the ability to excite and inform? This is hardly economics folks: robin supply shouldn't have a meaningful effect on demand.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


I haven't had much time or, frankly, motivation to write in the last few days. My arrival at Bread Loaf was punctuated with a number of irritating inconveniences and unpleasant surprises, so I haven't exactly been eager to shout my story from the rooftops.

First, it was appallingly hot and humid up here on Tuesday and Wednesday, my first two days here. You can see the haze off over the low hills in this picture.

Second, my living quarters are no prize. I'm around 1/4 of a mile down the road from the central campus, and though the ground floor appears to feature air conditioning, my bedroom upstairs felt a few degrees hotter than the already oppressive outdoors, and was stifling to boot. I think I slept around four hours.

These rustic accomodations also lack any kind of internet connection, so free voice conversations are basically out the window. The walls do, in fact, feature ethernet jacks, but I'm told those are ornamental at this point (the jacks, not the walls). The founding fathers of Bread Loaf, back in 1915, installed them with great foresight, envisioning a day when fiber optic cable would be rolled up the mountain. The only places, in fact, to get online are the central building, called the "Bread Loaf Inn," and the Library. The computer lab, where I'm sitting and typing, isn't near enough to the wireless router for my laptop to pick up a consistent signal. I haven't yet tried floating about the lab with the laptop, checking signal strength, because I don't know all that many people yet, and I'd rather not be labled "that insane guy that dowses with his laptop."

But enough complaining. I'm supposed to be posting pictures of lovely landscapes and woodland creatures. To wit, here's a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the eponymous critter of this particular journal entry.

Once again, I challenge anybody to get better bird pictures with a 3x zoom. One day, my friends, I will purchase a camera with spectacular image resolution and a telephoto, and you'll be counting their nosehairs.

That is, if birds had noses. Or hair, for that matter.

In all seriousness, you have to be about 10 feet away from the bird or less to get even images as grainy as this.

One of my classes is "Romantic Poetry: Discourses of the Sublime in Poetry by Men and Women." Yesterday we spoke a bit about Edmund Burke's theories on the sublime and that which inspires terror, and today was Blake's "The Tyger" and "The Lamb." So while perhaps these courses won't insist on as much of a connection to nature as "Searching for Wildness" did last year, there's certainly no stretch in regarding the dipping flight of an elusive sapsucker as revelatory. If you haven't participated in this kind of low-speed chase before, I highly recommend you power down or fold up your computer and hit the back yard.

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