Inasmuch as needs were concerned, for those three days that I spent in the Green Mountains of Vermont, I was a perfectly content man.
As far as I could see there were green trees poured over never-ending folds of mountains dissolving into cool blue-gray shape-shifting clouds. A wooden cabin filled with musty old books, hidden passages leading to even better hidden nooks, the nostalgic smells of a moisture laden wooden almirah and a dog with an impeccable literary taste rounded off the picture.
In summer, during our annual two month sojourn with my maternal relatives, as a kid, I had complete run of the house during the afternoons. In the very corner of the then rambling house, there were two rooms that held the most delectable suprises that I rediscovered every sleepy afternoon. One was the store room, the other a cobweb ridden corner with a creaking old book case. It was my grandfather’s, and apparently my uncles’ bookshelf. There, growing increasingly tattered and moth eaten with unuse, were the discarded literary purchases of my ancestors.
The cabin in the woods: Vermont
They were mostly stacks of pulp novel. I discovered Ellery Queen, James Bond (yes, I read him before I knew his movies), Mickey Spillane and James Hadley Chase. Then there were the westerns of Zane Gray and Sudden, the swashbuckling adventures of the American Midwest, read and appreciated by a father of six children in tropical Kerala in the 50s. If the children did not read what the father read, how would they know what flights of fancies he had when juggling fatherhood and grand-fatherhood? They might have known the patriarch, but I doubt they knew the man.
Then there were the Perry Masons.
Like the row of Perry Masons that stared at me from the Vermont book shelf.
The Vermont inn was that kind of a house. A whirling quicksand of smells and artifacts that could pull you into an eddy of thoughts, all belonging to the “good ol’ days”. If I was not careful I might end up spending all my time in the corner curled up on the floor, breathing the tales of the house.
But I Dont Want You To Wait For Me
It was in a couple of hours, when I was walking the top of Mt Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont, that I was struck by an epiphany.
I had been sweating and puffing my way through the precious arctic tundra vegetation for 2 hours by then. I had passed many climbers determined to reach the “chin” of the mountain. Technically it was the highest point. Not so technically it was just a higher point.
When suddenly I heard a gangly daughter sagely say “But I don’t want you to wait for me Dad”.
The dad looked a sporting man. Judging from his tanned body, charismatic face with character adding wrinkles around his eyes, well worn hiking boots and the ease with which he was carrying his evidently heavy backpack, he was a born climber. This expedition I suspected was to show his little girl the wonders of his passion. But the daughter enjoyed it differently.
I slowed down and strained my ears to give me some time to listen to the conversation.
The father, turned, propped his sunglasses over his forehead and walked back to where the independent daughter was starting to sit down. “I’ll catch you back here then?”
With an easy nod and smile of understanding and camaraderie that would make even Atticus Finch envious, they had arrived at a respectable conclusion.
I kept walking.
I started noticing the number of seated people on the trail who had decided that this was how far they wanted to go. Then there were some who seemed intent on conquering the peak. Then there were the groups seemingly oblivious to the location. Put them anywhere and they would walk the same way.
Summitting Mt. Mansfield, Vermont
I eventually did reach the chin, walking through alternating mist and sun.
It was worth it. It was worth as much as it was worth any of those who were behind or in front of me.
Sophie was the resident golden retriever. She also doubled up, like any good canine, as a foot warmer, moocher, philosopher and confidante to the weary inn-dwellers.
The child hood home was full of stray cats. They were not pets though. They would materialize when there was fish for lunch, or during the rains. You could hear their meows from the wooden roof beams and the very soft padded thump as they jump off the height and wander off to their cat-hideout.
Sophie was like a cat in many ways. A dog that always knew what books were best to read. When was the best time to step out with a stick, a ball and when the time augurs to just rest. Maybe the cats were impatient and inscrutable masters too. I never know.
But don’t they say the best lessons are those that you can keep revisiting? The cats sure did teach me a lot.
I was just being a bad student dashing off heedlessly at the most important parts of the lesson.
Today, as I sit sipping coffee, watching a particularly energetic ruby-throated humming bird weaving up and down, forward and backward, dipping and diving effortlessly, the one indelible image I have of my time in the childhood summer house is that of swirling, dancing motes of dust in a stream of slanting late afternoon sunlight, from a palm sized single glass pane among the rest of the clay-tiled roof, with the sound track of slowly creaking Orient ceiling fans.