Another Numéro Cinq What-it’s-like-living-here piece, this time by Shelagh Shapiro, a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate, short story writer, author of that lovely Novel-in-a-Box Contest entry Infinity Falling, and producer/interviewer for her own amazing radio show Write the Book. Listen to her latest show, an interview with Richard Russo here.
What it’s like living here
From Shelagh Shapiro
The View From The Baby’s Room
You moved here – out to the country – nineteen years ago. One-year married and seven months pregnant, you slid the moving boxes around and directed other people where to carry the furniture. The mosquitoes got so bad with doors open all that day, you took to vacuuming them out of the air. When you first looked over the property, you woke up a raccoon in the barn. Groggy and comfortable, he didn’t bother you. That night, you and Jerry slept in the baby’s bedroom at the back of the house, because the water bed wasn’t filled yet in your room. (All the next day, the bed would fill, that sixty-foot hose snaking up through the bathroom window.) The baby’s room faced the pond—as it does still—and the peepers lulled you to sleep.
The Best Thing About Burlington Is That It’s So Close To Vermont
That’s about right, though you’ve heard the adage enough that it gets on your nerves. Ditto the bumper stickers: I ♥ VERMONT. MOONLIGHT IN VERMONT … OR STARVE. It can get old, living in such a cute place all the time. But then you look around at the alternatives, and feel yourself racing back to the barn. If you hang out in Burlington, you’ll eat at a nice restaurant, see the latest movie, stroll the lakeshore, but you might never walk up a mountain trail or taste sugar on snow or see all the stars in their ridiculous glory, the universe like pinpricks of light streaming toward you through punched tin.
You can’t imagine what HERE would be like without them, though some people live that way, you suppose. Gracie, named for Gracie Allen, and Bondi, named for Bondi Beach, where you lived for a time in 2005. Gracie and Bondi are ever-present. They follow you loyally, watch you hopefully. As excited to run out a door as they were to run in it five seconds earlier. They think you are the third in their threesome. They aren’t wrong. Simple love. Clarity.
Foliage is now. It was then. It is next week. Is it peak? You argue with your friends. It peaked. It peaked three weeks ago at least. No, it didn’t. It’s not peak yet. Or it was, just last week, up in the Northeast Kingdom. Down in Rutland. You all want to experience peak and stretch it out, use it to repel winter. As if you could call it: “Now! It’s peaking NOW… Okay, it’s past.”
A few years ago, wildly blocked—unable to write two coherent sentences or understand why—you started volunteering at Vermont Public Radio. Just to feel like you were doing something useful in the arts. Some of the VPR folks volunteered at another station, a much smaller, community station in Burlington: “The Radiator.” They introduced you. You had an idea for a show where you’d interview writers and editors and agents about what they do. Surprise number one: the little station liked the idea and asked you to run with it. Surprise number two: writers and editors and agents liked the idea, and said yes to interviews. You’ve spoken with really famous writers, and completely unknown writers, and they’re all incredibly approachable and fascinating. So you do this. Every week you say, “You’re listening to the Radiator, 105.9 FM, WOMM-LP, Burlington, Vermont.” Your children make fun of you. They’re relentless. But they smile funny little one-sided smiles. They’re secretly proud, which makes you feel like a superstar. And somehow you’re not wildly blocked anymore (though you are wildly busy).
Weather is all. It is ecstasy or hell. You tire of people’s conversations about weather, but you understand, too. You participate. Because you live in a climate where you have to shovel your roof on a semi-regular basis, during more than half the year. Your roof, for heaven’s sake. You and a shovel, on the roof, in a foot of snow. A ridiculous life, some days.
The View From The Baby’s Room
From here, you can see all that’s changed in the time since you came here, pregnant with your first son. Now he’s in his second year of college. No longer the country—this place. A neighborhood has come in, for one thing, sliding between you and the Adirondacks. People ask, “Doesn’t this upset you? Doesn’t it piss you off, 250 houses standing where the mountains used to be?” You wonder if you sound like an idiot, answering, “No.” After all, your house wasn’t set down by God, either. You try to explain how the neighborhood brought in town water, which tastes better than the nasty sulfurous water you used to pump into the house: into the water bed, into glasses for drinking, and pots to make spaghetti. And the new water doesn’t stain everything orange. The neighborhood brought in friends. It created a place for trick-or-treating, back when you did that, holding your sons’ small, mittened hands and encouraging them up to strangers’ doors for candy (bizarre ritual).
You see how people scratch their heads, and know you’ll never be able to convey the comfort of community, pressing along the edges of this private space you call home. To reassure them, you say that it’s all right; living here. The herons haven’t left. The deer wander through. The occasional coyote. And the raccoons, of course, still nap in the barn, when the peepers sing their mad, frenzied lullabies.
—By Shelagh Shapiro