Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sleigh Riding, Ice Skating & Snowshoeing, Oh My!

What a glorious day! The Village of Johnson Winter Festival was today, and so I went to my studio early this morning to write, then after lunch joined the fun. There was a sleigh ride through the forest and along the Gihon River (a REAL sleigh--no wheels), ice skating near the elementary school, then snowshoeing up on the Prindle Property: a gorgeous piece of land (24 acres)in the hills near the village. I got to hang out with two great dogs: Cody, a black lab, who was one of the wrangler's dogs; and Philomena, a yellow lab mix who went on the snowshoeing trek with us and leapt through the more than three feet of snow with pure joy. To top it off, I had a cup of coffee at the cafe with a new friend before heading back to my studio to write before dinner.

Enjoy the photos!

Photos include: Inside of Kowalsky House (my residence for the month); looking at ALL our wine choices; sunset view from my bedroom window; sleigh ride, draft horses and Percherons; ice skating; and snowshoeing, roadside views, horses and barns.

P.S. I finally wore my thermal underwear for the first time today, and boy did I need it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sunshine, Ghosts, & Giddyup

Today we're having a high of 16 degrees in the village of Johnson. The sun is out, blindingly bright and reflecting off the snow. I woke up to the sounds of two men on the roof of the house next door, shoveling snow into a truck bed below. It seems odd to me--even though it makes perfect sense--that snow must be hauled off like dirt. I mean, snow melts, disappearing eventually, while dirt just stays somewhere in a pile. Yet the huge amount of snow on the roofs of these houses (more than two feet) could do serious damage. It's an interesting cycle.

From my window the sky is blue above the evergreens, and it seems like it could be disarmingly comfortable outside: the perfect day to take a hike or walk. But it's downright freezing, and the wind chill is ridiculous, and I'm attempting to squelch that outdoor lover's guilt I can never shake. Besides, I need to write.

But before I do I'd like to discuss the subject of ghosts. I'm possessed of a fairly healthy imagination, and grew up in and out of old houses and dark, mysterious places like forests and mountains. I also am the daughter of a ghost-telling father who himself is the grandson of a ghost-telling grandfather, so the thrill that comes with being scared may just be genetic. However, a few incidents have happened lately in the house where I'm living this month that have me a little bit rattled.

I'm staying with several other people--men and women--in the Kowalski House, here on the campus of the Vermont Studio Center. It's an old Victorian home, and has wood floors, thin walls, several sets of stairs and random odd crooks and crannies, corners and even uninhabited closets, rooms and sections. I'm sleeping on the third floor, in one of the attic rooms at the tip top of the house.

A few nights ago I awoke to the sounds of two young girls (perhaps middle school or high school age) talking and laughing. At first I assumed that despite the late hour--maybe after midnight--they were out on the street, even though it felt like the sound was in the air around my room. When it didn't stop I got up, looked out my window to the street below: nothing. The sound stopped. I laid back down, but later, it began again, so I got up, looking out the window again, and was so disconcerted I walked downstairs to the bottom floor, opened the front door and went out onto the front porch to check. I couldn't believe that I couldn't find them: I knew I heard them nearby, but as soon as I got downstairs the sounds had stopped.

The next evening I was having a conversation with Mac, another resident and new friend, down in the living room of the Kowalski House. Several of us were sitting around visiting. As soon as we got to talking, Mac's mouth dropped. He had heard the exact same thing: the sound of two young girls talking and giggling! And he hadn't been able to figure out where he heard it, either.

The next night, the girl in the room next to me, Amy, said she heard it. She said it bothered her so much she lay in her bed with her eyes clenched shut. She said she almost came into my room, she was so scared.

There have been two other incidents: Mac has heard music in the middle of the night, a sound like it was spinning around his bed. I have heard heavy footsteps outside my door, that stop right at my door. This happened at about 3 a.m. last night. I'm thirty years old--a grown woman, for God's sake--but I was too chicken to get out of the bed and check to see who it was. There are a ton of people living in our house, and the sound of footsteps on this creaky old wood is a normal thing. But this was super-late at night, and I've grown accustomed to the noise the girls on my hall make when they go to use the bathroom--and this, unfortunately, sounded nothing like that.

There's a part of me that wants to ask the founders of VSC about the house and who lived there, or even to go to the little library in the village and do some research. It doesn't feel menacing, whatever it is, so I'm not living in fear. It's just downright unsettling. We've all decided that we might have to have a communal slumber party one night, where everyone throws their mattresses on the floor in one room, if this gets any worse.

It's funny: I've been going back and forth in my head, questioning my sanity. Am I doing this to myself? Am I making myself nuts, scaring myself for no reason? And undoubtably, the thought comes back: NO, I DID hear these things; they're real. So... it seems apparently that we have ghosts. And I'm trying to make peace with that.

As for the writing, I'm getting to it today, now that lunch is over and I've settled back into my studio. I slept horribly last night, not falling asleep until well after 3 a.m., and so I didn't get out of bed until 9:45 a.m. today. I'm feeling a little off, to say the least. But I'm trying to muster some gumption, some giddyup and go, so that I can get back to the good work.

It's supposed to snow another 10 inches in the next 36 hours, most of it tomorrow. I've got to write, write, write: the time is NOW.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cross Country Skiing, White Squalls and Quiche

Last night I stayed in my studio until after midnight, and so when I woke today at 7:45 a.m., I was zonked... and nearly reset the alarm. But my little room was all lit up, and I noticed that the sun was out and shining and the sky blue, so I splashed water on my face and headed out.

Another resident had taken off to Montreal for the weekend and offered to let me use her cross country skis while she was away. Since I knew she'd be back tonight, and had checked the weather to see that we were supposed to get a ton of snow later today that would last until tomorrow, I took advantage of the morning and hit the trail. I walked through the quiet Sunday morning streets of the village, said hello to one bleary-eyed college student and made my way down Railroad Rd, crossed a bridge over the Lamoille River and to the rails-to-trails path. It's a multi-use trail, and I'd walked it in the other direction the day before with another resident. Today I decided to head east along the lovely, shallow river, that seems almost like a winding flow of black ink against the blinding ice and snowbanks.

It was wonderful being back on cross country skis again! I'd fallen in love with the sport back in 2000, when my friend Jill and I, my cousin Lindsay, and several of her friends had made a Spring Break journey to Alaska to visit our Aunt Kathleen. It took me the first twenty minutes to get back into the hang of it--but the feel of gliding along in a silent, snow filled forest was like nothing else. For the first hour I was all alone, and then the snow mobliers come out. I just side-stepped for them, and we all waved at each other as they passed. They're smelly and loud, but the drivers were quite friendly to me this morning, and I can see they're having a helluva lot of fun.

I skiied for two hours, and on my way back through town, skis and poles over my shoulders, it began to snow again (the sun had disappeared behind a wall of gray). I returned the skis to my new friend's studio, and jogged to the Red Mill Inn, where I had a fantastic Sunday brunch of vegetable quiche made with goat's cheese (everything should be made with goat's cheese), waffles with Vermont maple syrup, strawberries and juice. All I can hope is that my exercise made up for the caloric intake, because it was delicious and I was starving.

Now I sit at my desk in my studio, watching the churning snow outside fill the air. For a while there's been a complete whiteout, which the weather forecast had warned about. It's called a white squall, or a snow squall, and it's almost like a mini hurricane of snow where all you can see in any direction is white. It's really wild watching it from my safe and warm studio. I'm happy I managed to get out before it hit!

We're supposed to get another 10 plus inches over today and tomorrow. I have a manuscript critique with one of the Visiting Writers--Dave King, author of The Ha-Ha and a super-nice man--this afternoon.

It's just another day at the Vermont Studio Center, and I am reminded once again how lucky and blessed I am to be here.

Enjoy the photos: they're of my hike yesterday with a poet and new friend named Seth (another native Southerner... he's from Alabama), and my cross country ski today.