It all started when I met a charming banjo player with stringy blond hair and a boyish smile. We were at a concert in a drafty old church in Burlington, Vermont. He invited me to join him on a vintage river boat for dinner the next night. My friend and host on that visit ixnayed the idea because we wouldn’t have much time together on this precious visit. She’d recently moved to Vermont to open a cooking school and learn to make artisan cheese. I told him that I couldn’t make it, and we exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.
I loved flying to that part of the world. The tiny plane on the last leg of the trip sent us through a portal to a more romantic era. It promised freshly roasted coffee with clotted cream, tawny liquids, bacon from the pigs next door, and fresh milks from various creatures. A land of stellar musicians who spent a lot of time honing their skills during long dark days. Vermont also offered hardy companions who helped me challenge my idea of what cold is, and the capabilities of my body in the winter.
When we landed, a kind businessman I’d been chatting with on the plane offered to drive me to into town. I accepted because it was my birthday and I felt safe and ensconced in that happy feeling of a special day.
When he left I picked up the local paper as I waited for my friend and host to come and get me. The front page headline read “Moose Loose In Winooski.” My urban brain was scrambled for a moment with that combination of consonants and concepts. The article instructed townsfolk to leave a wandering moose alone as he traversed their town, and trust that he’d eventually head back into the hinterlands where he lived. After all, humans had settled on his turf. There was no reason to drive him away. I found this deeply touching and humane and also hoped I would not run into him.
My friend arrived in her Subaru wagon and whisked us away. The rest of the visit was storybook stuff—brunch at Shelburne Farms housed around a Vanderbilt mansion on Lake Champlain and wood fired pizza at American Flatbread situated in the valley of the Mad River on a farm in Waitsfield. We sat on Adirondack chairs around a crackling fire pit in the crisp cold air, dodging embers and gazing at the brightly starlit sky.
When the trip was over and I got back home, the banjo picker and I stayed in touch. We grew close during daily hours-long phone calls. He came to Chicago to visit me and we were smitten.
Soon after his visit I’d lined up a job interview in a town close to his, and not far from my Chicago chef friend. I headed back on a jumper plane with the possibility of a sultry life replete with cigars and sitting around fires full of hand-chopped wood from the always bountiful pile just outside the door.
The story didn’t go as planned. Banjo strummer’s decidedly un-feminist ways rubbed me wrong. We found that the only thing we really had in common was a mutual desire to kiss each other a lot. We made the best of the trip but by the end it had fallen apart so badly that one night I just booked a flight to New York. In the morning I asked him to drive me to the local gas station where I had a cab pick me up. When I got to the warmth and comfort of real friends in NY the running joke was how I’d had to post-hole out of town.
One night before things went south Banjo and I were at a restaurant with red checkered tablecloths and candles on each table. A live band played and Banjo’s friends packed into the round red vinyl booth with us. We were all hoping that this meal would christen a new member into their friend group. One of the guys was a dark haired logger. When he got up and said goodbye the table went nuts with whoops and hollers once he out of earshot. “Caren!” they said. “We have never seen him stay awake for so long! We need you here!” They explained that he has a serious case of narcolepsy and generally falls asleep several times when he’s out with them. I was so excited about my new friends I guess the animated stories I regaled him with kept him awake.
All I could think was “a narcoleptic logger?” Did anyone else think his job might be a little dangerous? If so, no one mentioned it. Sometimes I wonder how he’s doing; how they are all doing. Many people have come and gone in my life on my journeys and we’ve made each other’s lives richer.
How odd it is to think about what travel and meeting strangers will look like—or not look like—in my new reality. Lately I am realizing how stories of the past help me see and feel the meaning of my life as it was, and inform the direction I aim to go in my “one wild and precious life,” in the hopeful words of poet Mary Oliver.