Creative Nonfiction, Mary Elizabeth McClellan

My New World Without a Car

by Mary Elizabeth McClellan

It’s a Ruby Red 2003 Subaru Legacy station wagon with 53,000 miles on it, NH Moose Plates for conservation, and scrapes on the front and rear fenders, hopefully not caused by me.

At eighty-seven, with two years to go on my driver’s license, I’m losing my driving edge. I don’t drive enough, only locally and never at night. Older, less “with it” colleagues still don’t want to lose their independence, but I feel like an event waiting to happen. In an accident, I’d be blamed because of my age, even if I collided with a reckless driver on a mission. Besides I can’t think that fast any more. A college friend had a heart attack in her car, not a preferred way to leave. Finally, I can’t open my gas tank at the gas pump, and I have to ask a male customer to rescue me.

It’s time to move on. Decision in hand, I find the best of all worlds: my son needs a newer car. Money changes hands. Siblings benefit. Mom and Dad’s last car now sports a Maine Lobster plate.

I live in RiverMead, a Continuing Care Retirement Community, in the Monadnock Region. During last winter’s snow days, I checked out how the van transportation schedule could work for me. The van does medical appointments on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; shopping loops as far afield as Rindge, for Hannaford’s, Walmart, and Market Basket; to Jaffrey, for a dentist and Coll’s Farm Market, and to Peterborough, for food, drugs, and sundries. The van holds fourteen passengers and is wheelchair accessible.

My first foray is Friday, Labor Day weekend. There are six of us, three in their nineties and three in our eighties, doing “the loop” in Peterborough. We cover the full range from picking up mending, banking, checking out the Toadstool for books, to shopping for stationery supplies, food, drugs, and wine, to advice on mailing family pearls. One woman is really only along for the ride, a chance to see who’s who and what’s what in the world outside in this two hour excursion. The river is low. Will Hurricane Earl bring us good rain? I hope so.

Seven errands are on my list. First, an ATM stop at the bank. “No mon. No fun,” my mother used to say. My roll of pennies will buy a copy of Monadnock Ledger-Transcript with the Steve Pelkey story. (Impresario of the Atlas Fireworks extravaganza held each summer, Steve grew up in Jaffrey with a friend of mine, now retired to Virginia, who will love the details.)

The next bank stop is heralded by Priscilla: “I’ll be a while,” which gives us pause. Is she teasing, or serious? Teasing, thank goodness. On around to Rite Aid for two flavors of Altoids (of British origin), Ginger and Liquorice. Copies & More for possibility of laminating dried pansies into bookmarks. (Presents from grandmother for an upcoming family reunion.) Three of us get out at Rite Aid. No one notices that only two of us come back…

The van proceeds to Ocean State Job Lot, a kind of discount department store of odds and ends of all sorts. Our only gentleman shopper, a joker, goes inside. His name is Cornwall. Call me “Cornball,” he says. This sets the tone. Idling, we read the come-ons in the windows: “Men and Women’s Dorm Pants.” A former dean of a women’s college wonders out loud what dorm pants might be. I offer to run in and ask and also check on “Cornball.” Dorm pants turn out to pajama bottoms.

Back in the van we laugh at the marketing ploy. Probably they are just sweat pants. Or maybe in coed dorms these days there really is a fashion parade showcasing the best-dressed in dorm pants.

Heading out for Roy’s Market, an upscale corner grocery downtown, Richard, the driver, wonders if we have left someone at Rite Aid. Doesn’t he have a list of us? We begin to joke and tease, “You’ll find out soon when your beeper goes off.” But, lo and behold, Priscilla, the teaser at the bank, spies Penny, sitting on a stone bench outside of Rite Aid. Richard pledges us not to tell her we forgot her, but then, he, himself, blurts out the truth, and she doesn’t know whether we did or didn’t. We are bonded now.

On to Roy’s: Irish oatmeal, Seriously Sharp Grated Cheese for cheese biscuits that I make for cocktail time, a half a dozen eggs, two kinds of ice cream, and…I realize I have left the freezer packs in the van. And finally a six pack of Coke. Moving the Coke from cart to counter, the plastic slips, a can escapes, and not only that, explodes right there on the counter, spurting all over everything—the cashier, me, the magazines and the windows across the way, an incredible mess. It will be sticky, too. How did she stop it? An immediate fistful of paper towels for mopping up. A fistful for her, a fistful for me, and red-coated clerks on the run to deal with the damage to the merchandise. The cashier is apologizing, and I’m apologizing, and neither of us quite knows what happened. But we complete our business sanely. She charges me for only five. I write a check.

Senses of humor are alive and well, and I am being dubbed a Teeny Bopper because I am bopping in and out of all these stores, still moving on my own, quite agile as it goes for eighty-seven. When I stopped at the bank at the beginning of this adventure, Richard tossed out the idea of picking up a lollypop. At the jeweler’s, there is a candy dish and one lone lollypop. Yes, it had Richard’s name on it. At Toadstool, I pick up Frederick Buechner’s Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany. In his eighties, too, he is sharing a lifetime of memorable moments and persons. One is his last drive with his mother.

As we make the final turn off Route 202, Richard says, “Mrs. E. always calls out wheeeee as we come around that turn.” He’s a zippy driver of this lumbering bus. We joke some more and are getting the feeling we might be regulars for the Friday loop. Perhaps we will come up with a chant, like a cheering section coming home from a field trip at school.  Or try: “Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.” Laughing is good, and coming home with the satisfaction of missions accomplished feels great!

“It’s the surprises in life that keep you going,” preached Pop Wicks, in the 1950s, with the image of Fibber Magee and Molly’s opening the front hall closet and a lifetime of everything tumbling out. Surprises abound! Seventy years of driving have memories galore, from life before car seats and seatbelts to my own share of warnings for being a zippy driver in apparently sleepy towns. However, life in your eighties has its own surprises and it turns out to have the full range, from the silly to the sublime. This is My Brave New World.

I know the decision to give up the car is a wise one. Now I know how good: the physical relief of not being the one behind the wheel, or the owner expected to monitor tires, batteries, and such. I won’t miss the gas bills or insurance outlay, either. I also know another kind of freedom. The freedom of choice, choice to show up for the loop, and the possibility of new adventures in the dailiness and magic of it all. One door closes, another opens, yet again.


This essay was previously published in the Northern New England Review, Volume 33, 2011, Franklin Pierce University, New Hampshire.

Creative Nonfiction, Janet Banks

Rocks and Roots

by Janet Banks

I sit in my chair with a stack of unread New Yorker magazines that I’m determined to read or toss, overcome by a sense that life is slipping through my fingers. I’ve no zest, just guilt about feeling as I do—a person who has everything she needs, except…what? Has age crept up so insidiously and ground me to dust, with me unaware? Fear rises like acid at the back of my throat. Am I already a little dead?

By the time my husband, Art returns from the car wash, I’ve booked three nights at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. “We need to get out of Dodge before winter sets in,” I say, relieved to have a plan.

The late October sky threatens more rain, but we’re prepared with rain pants and hiking poles. An AMC guide assures us that the moderate, 3.4-mile trail to the summit of Middle Sugarloaf is well within our capacity as experienced hikers in our early seventies, and that the 270-degree views are worth the effort.

Ours is the only car in the parking lot. We slog through mud to find the trailhead. The Zealand River gushes alongside us until we reach a bridge and cross it. More mud. The forest of balsam fir and yellow and white birch looks primeval, inviting, and intimidating. Art is the navigator. As a former pilot, he’s flown over forests like this one and is confident in his map reading skills, but I’d feel better if we had evidence of other humans on the trail. He points to faded paint blazes on the trees ahead; I stifle my fear of bears.

Golden leaves shimmer in the trees and cover the path that is wet and slippery from early morning showers. I’m grateful for my new waterproof hiking boots and wool socks. “Not so fast,” I say, stumbling over the knotty lump of roots covered by leaves. Up ahead, enormous boulders, big as small cottages, flank the trail. They look out of place, as though an angry god threw them down from the heavens. We climb for a closer look. The ferns and mosses, the lichens that grow on the granite, are every shade of green, from pale to neon.

“Glacial erratics,” Art says, running his palm over the stone. “Erratic, because they were carried and left here by the glaciers more than a hundred thousand years ago.” Rain begins to fall; the temperature drops. We move on.

The trail ascends to a much steeper pitch to a col, a saddle between two peaks. We follow an arrow to steps, a collection of boulders, one atop the next with others placed alongside to prevent hikers from sliding off the edge. Whoever labored over these slabs did not have me, a five foot woman in mind. The rain is letting up, but the wet steps are too steep.

Art reaches back for my hand and helps me stretch up, step by step. “Just take your time,” he warns. He’s worried I’ll fall, but what if he’s the one to slip? Neither of us asks the obvious: Should we be climbing a mountain alone in weather like this? Both of us want to get to the summit. When the sky brightens, the trail flattens out. Birds chatter in the trees.

Sweating, I tie my jacket around my waist just as a teenage boy with a golden Lab bounds down the trail in front of us. He looks as if these woods belong to him; my relief is palpable. I ask how much farther, and he shrugs. “When you see the ladder, climb to the top and you’re there.”

“We’ll make it,” I say, but the incline becomes more challenging. The path, a cascade of rocks and tree roots, is tough to traverse. An iron ladder, hammered into a large boulder at what appears to be an 80-degree angle, has no handrails. “You go first,” I say.

“It’ll be easier going down,” Art says, offering me a hand.

“No, it won’t.” I say, and give him a look.

In only a few short steps, the vista opens before us. We’re standing on a ledge of rock about a quarter-city block square, with jaw-dropping views. The sheer cliffs are dizzying; mica sparkles in the rock floor. A small boulder provides a perfect place to rest and contemplate the majesty of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range far across a deep valley. The simple turkey on rye tastes so good; the scent of pine is delicious. We are in a world of our own, a castle with no walls.

When dark clouds roll in, we suit up quickly. The descent in the rain is painstakingly slow—I doubt I’ll be able to walk tomorrow. More rain; more rocks and roots. Still only one car in the lot: ours.

Back at the lodge, we store our muddy boots, then collapse, hand in hand for a rest on the bed before dinner. I am totally spent and totally alive.


Creative Nonfiction, Tom Sheehan

Talk from the Back of Tim’s Barn

by Tom Sheehan

These were more than echoes, the soft sounds I was hearing from the rear of the barn sitting back from Route 182 in Franklin, Maine, half a dozen fat pigs to one side, corn as deep as Iowa on the other side, and the terrain across the road flush with blueberry bushes until a slow rise tipped the landscape in its favor…and in mine. In my son Tim’s favor, too. He lives by this barn. Perhaps I had lived waiting for its sassy voices.

There, in his barn, I was a listener as well as a watcher. Maine mornings, even on summer days, are placid and huge as glaciers, and crawl into the mind through more than one sense. But there you have it: Maine mornings are also like Maine barns, always having something to say to you, shaking you awake as if the scruff of your neck is in their hands, leaving a bit of dust for memory’s sake. These wooden memorials to sweat and old time crept into my notes years ago, promising poetry. Now they creep out again, reasserting their observations, touching memory as I look at old journals of trips through Maine.

I’ve seen northern barns announced by Bull Durham signs, or knotted, vertical boards twisting their long signatures, saying how long they’ve been at the job. At another glance, usually from some rise in the road, a ridgepole shows its tendency to sag, to bend under duress. A ridgepole draws down into itself in the manner of implosion. Maine barns have their own signatures. They leap at me from Kittery to Fort Kent, from Eastport to Westford, from Calais to Kezar Falls.

My son Tim’s barn was once a schoolhouse. In fact, it was once the schoolhouse in Franklin; and was called the Ryefield School. Is that name so simply conceived? Can I really see the waving grain? I would grant that it is, and after one final graduation of sorts, and gentled by the slow, steady, plodding rough draft of 100 oxen, it was dragged from its first setting to the land he now farms there, just below the Little League Field. Now it houses a home-made 50-gallon-drum stove, a tractor for all purposes, a Harley motorcycle past its prime, tools an inveterate collector would love because the labor expended with them is almost visible to a keen eye. And leather goods have hung so long on one wall their legends are inscribed like vertical signboards. On one wide-planked bench taking up one wall, sits a Jonsered chainsaw I used for twenty years in the Topsfield State Forest fighting the cost of oil; my gift to Maine winters and a warm hearth. Tim says it still operates with a vengeance. I’ve passed my former strengths on to him.

One would also be keen to know how many McGuffey Readers had passed through this old barn on the way to intelligence, awareness, imagination, above and beyond ‘ritin, and ‘rithmetic. That revelation would take the highest art of contemplation.

Yet it is not the only barn he has. Here, they come in twins. Just across the yard, closer to the road, over a slab board fence we erected one day a few years ago to keep the corn in and the horses out, past the 40-50 foot long, 4-foot high walls of logs set for the next winter, sits another barn. Which one predates the other, I have no idea, but this second barn has housed Tony the pony, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and mice to be sure, and perhaps a small army of termites, dust beetles, unusual mandible-carrying critters intent on destruction. It is sure that such creatures come the same way and at the same speed that erosion hits Mother Earth herself, a slow onslaught and assault you may not be able to see, but you sure have to fix, “once the weather gits good enough for toolin’,” as Tim might now say in adoptive speech.

From its stalls, its storage bins, its freezer against one wall standing like a foreign icon, has often come the entire meal at his table. Squash stuffed with sausage, sweet and regular Maine spuds, green beans so thick they could choke you, tomatoes red as Old Glory, ham in slices so sweet and so thick they seem without end, and salty enough to have been dragged through the surf a few miles away. I think now of rhubarb pie, apple pie, blueberry pie or blueberry muffins with a thickly spun heavy cream taking your breath away. If there was one thing that exists now and one thing existing back when the Ryefield School was first built, the meals are the same; “They stick,” as my mother used to say about oatmeal, “to the very backbone that carries your day.”

Some barns know how to kneel in their slow absorption; Tim’s barns do, looking over their shoulders, sighing and whispering in these Maine-gray mornings. They tolerate what is happening to them, host squadrons gnawing at time, creatures busy as downtown Saturday nights, ceding fathoms to dark hungers. The twist of checked timbers sit silent as skulls and implant another night of survival upon the landscape. It is why I love old Maine barns.

Even in the summer lofts, there are dreams to rediscover, re-awake. Barns have a right to keep their odors, their signatures, and silence in the mows.

A poet friend says his barn accepts the graces of early October evening. He swears that miniature shadows stroll cautious as kittens out of hay-golden eaves. The mow is night itself, a spectral darkness inflated against hazardous roofing where a dozen knot holes pinpoint a constellation and long against morning light reveal the truth of north. Wall nails and spikes are crucial with their evidence. Old leather traces, bridles, other gear that bays or roans sweat into, hang limp as bookmarks marking a thousand journeys one man has taken into town and back.

Friend says his father’s great gray horse, Humboldt by name, froze standing up in ’38. That magnificent creature, leg broken, heart-heaving, brought the gentleman safely to his final bed. Only the barn remains, October light fissuring through checked walls. Even the photographs are gone. Fire, pasture and old age have captured everything, except the barn that revolved axially above his father’s eyes, stabs of light drifting through this dark planetarium. Oh, how I envy his memories, the tales he might have spilled if they were his calling.

For all the standing still, there’s action, warming, aging, the bowing of an old Maine barn, the ultimate genuflection we might miss if we don’t pause on the road, take a breath, smell the old barn itself beside beds of roses.

You can bet those barns talk to me, their voices thick, hoarse, Scot and Irish in the making, wind-blown off mountains, lonely for the listening.


Creative Nonfiction, Tina Rapp

The Scent of Cinnamon Roses

by Tina Rapp

I bought my first home at 26, romantic, wide-eyed, and ridiculously ecstatic. My husband and I had looked for months for a place in the rapidly gentrifying farmlands around Nashua, New Hampshire, a city that was considered one of the best places to live in the country, and one we couldn’t wait to leave.

We found our love cottage (yes, that is actually what we called it) in Lyndeborough, a gateway from the suburban Nashua sprawl to the Monadnock Region of southwestern New Hampshire. The property had everything we’d coveted: an apple orchard and ten acres for my husband to putter around in and an unspoiled antique cape with a beehive oven and wainscoting that I adored.

What we didn’t know when we bought the house could fill a notebook, of course. A spring stream gushed through the basement, resident porcupines munched on our barn sills, and a rutted, one-lane dirt road sharpened my driving skills during mud season.

Not all of the surprises were unhappy ones. We bought the 1830s cape with its three-story shingled barn built into a sloping hillside in November and moved in January, so we had no idea that it was home to riotous perennials. They started cropping up in April like small sentinels. I didn’t know what they were at first. I couldn’t tell the difference between lilies of the valley and daylilies, bearded iris and Siberian iris, rose geranium and flowering sedum. They all announced themselves like old friends that first spring, happily taking whatever our land had to offer, while reaching straight up to the sun.

Our rich soil on Mountain Road grew nearly any plant or tree: raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, cherries, grapes, peaches, and, of course, apples. The orchard consisted primarily of McIntosh trees with a smattering of Cortland and Baldwin trees, and a Northern Spy, whose pear-tinged flavor was my favorite.

I was most captivated by the flowers though, those hardy New England perennials and their changing palette of colors. Over time, I learned how to work with them. I transplanted them to shade or sun, and paired their tones and textures, penciling them in against stone walls, white clapboards, and weathered shingles.

The growth flourished everywhere. There was a flower bed beyond the breezeway filled with tiger lilies, black-eyed Susan, and daylilies in lemon and burnt orange. Our front garden pivoted on purples, pinks, and whites with phlox, irises, rose campion, and daisies. The snowy hydrangea and lilac bushes occupied large swaths all their own.

Wild Roses
Photograph by Tina Rapp

But it was the flower patch out back, behind the house, which was my favorite. Turns out that our outdated (yet grandfathered) septic runoff fed a cloud of wild roses in varying shades of pink. Those flowers were so fragrant that when I threw open my kitchen windows, their scent did more than waft in, it settled in our bones.

Those brambly roses grew with the abandon of an unschooled toddler. I liked their princess colors, but it was their spicy-sweet fragrance I loved best. The creamy rose scent seemed laced with cinnamon. I couldn’t wait until they blossomed each year, starting at the end of June.

When the first buds popped, I’d gather all my vases on our picnic table and fill them with the thorny goods, bringing their silky fragrance into every room of the house. I didn’t care that the blooms lasted only a day or two. I’d throw the old ones out, gather new ones, and make the season linger as long as I could. There were ten days or maybe two weeks of luscious rose blossoms.

Today, I live thirty minutes and a lifetime away from Lyndeborough. I find myself in another sweet cottage, this time on my own. This spring, my yard was filled with lavender wisteria, scarlet and white peonies, ice blue Siberian iris. In the last week of June, I was surprised by four curving strands of wild roses within sniffing distance of my screen porch. I found myself gathering rose blooms again and filling small vases: one for the kitchen, one for the dining room, one for my bedroom.

I noticed, this time, when the petals curled up and started their hasty decay, their fragrance deepened with a final intense push. I picked the rumpled petals off all the surfaces they touched: tabletops and dressers and floors. I hated to throw them away. Instead, I collected them in handfuls and tossed them out the back door like wedding rice. They were still tissue soft and stained with cotton candy colors when they hit my stone patio. Sometimes I waited to watch a breeze take them on a rambling trip across the lawn. Most times, it was enough to send them gently into the summer air and walk away.



Ann Robinson, Creative Nonfiction


by Ann Robinson

In 2006, as we prepared to move from our 1863 farmhouse in Swanzey to a much smaller house seven miles away in the city of Keene, I began to experience a profound sadness. The house had been our home for thirty years, and although I sensed, realistically, that it was time for us to scale down, I also knew how much we would miss the home that had sheltered us through our many stages of growth and development as a family. In a moment of reflection, I imagined our house as a nurturing parent, and created this portrait as a tribute.

In spring my doors begin to swell, shoots poke through the earth in the garden beds around my porch, and skunks emboldened by the cover of night do a lumbering dance to the high-pitched clamor of peepers. In summer squirrels tickle my roof with their toes, bats sleep behind my shutters, rabbits and woodchucks and stray cats live beneath my barn, birds nest in the corners of my porches, spiders spin their webs inside and out. In autumn mice creep from the barn, using the crawlspace as their conduit, making their nests in the walls and above the ceilings, scurrying from one end of my frame to the other like crazed Lilliputian bowlers. Ladybugs clump in the corners of my windows, seeking refuge from the cold. In winter children slide and ski on my hill, and grownups toboggan there at midnight to usher in the new year. In January I ride the crest of drifted snow, a frigate moored on whipped white seas, facing storms without dread, proud of my ability to survive.

I am House and I revel in my uniqueness: at any time of the year, you can enter my barn and smell horses, although it’s been half a century since any horse lived here.

In 1863 when I was built I saw my owner go to war healthy and whole and come back a sick and broken man. After that I told myself I wouldn’t fear anything, but over the years, daily perils have offered threats: chimney fires have roared and termites have gnawed their way through hefty beams. Winter tests me. Heavy snows have threatened to destroy my roof. After brutal storms, men chip away the ice with axes. I’ve been nicked, but my foundation is made of granite, so I tolerate the insult.

Over the years what’s happened within my walls hasn’t harmed me either, although I’ve felt each tragedy as if it were my own. When one of my women was hit by lightning while standing at the kitchen sink I suffered, my walls scorched from the strike, my air tinged with the faint, acrid odor of burning flesh. On the night a neighbor raised a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger you could hear the keening of the wind through eaves all up and down the street.

In this neighborhood, the ghosts of former owners hover like wood smoke. All I can do is testify to their existence. Thus, when houses change hands, they’re known by the name of the former owners, or known as the place where this or that event occurred. A quarter mile away stands a contemporary of mine now known as the Murder House because a former owner was stabbed to death on the kitchen floor.

Do you think I don’t bleed when branches scratch my panes? My sighs are creaks which frighten the children. Nightlights glow in halls to reassure them there’s nothing to fear; all is well until the next time twigs rake glass.

The years pass. A girl grows into a young woman who brings her sweetheart home. On a porch swing that girl tells a boy she doesn’t love him, then changes her mind; there’ll be a wedding, after all. Father and daughter will walk to the church across my field. The bridesmaids, dressed in pink, will gather in the garden, their golden hair blowing in the gentle summer breeze. I’ll have a new coat of paint that year, white clapboards and black shutters, and everyone who sees me will sigh, How Beautiful, the same words they’ll use to describe the bride, the girl who used to climb my trees and play gypsy in my barn.

The day will come, as it always does, when my current people will talk of moving to a smaller place that’s more energy efficient, a place that doesn’t require much upkeep. As I’ve done so many times before, I’ll do my best to hold them here. I’ll sift the glorious daylight through my panes of glass and hold the paint on my clapboards as long as I can. Why move? You’ll never find a house you’ll like as much as this one, I’ll tell them in a thousand different ways. Stay. I love you.

And they will stay, because we are one, even though I am made of granite and wood and they are made of flesh and bone. We pass through the seasons together, astounded by the stark beauty of a January night, enduring mud season in March, anticipating greening grass and looking for shoots that push up through the still-hardened soil in April. Together we enjoy the longer days. We hang our laundry in the back. Together we stack our wood and rake our leaves and put away the lawn furniture and flower pots. Together we settle down and wait for storms, lighting candles when the power fails. We set up the tree and decorate the rooms and welcome the grandchildren home, and for three days we are all glowing with love and merriment. Face it, I’ll hear them whisper to each other in the softness of their flannel sheets. We like it where we are. We’ll never leave.

But leave they will. Circumstances change and people age, requiring a simple life without a lawn to mow and a driveway to plow. And I, who have sheltered so many since my birth, will become a part of their past, captured in photographs for future generations to see and say, So that’s the house you grew up in.

Look. The new owners are arriving with all their clutter, and soon every inch of me will be overflowing with happiness. Already a youngster has discovered the huge rock in my back field and is climbing to the top, toeing the footholds that nature has conveniently provided for such a purpose. The mother stands at my front door, smiling. She knows she is home. I am House, and I welcome her.


Creative Nonfiction, Eric Poor


by Eric Poor

One of the things about living in the country is you need a motor vehicle. Everything essential is well spaced out in all directions. You can’t just walk out the door and cross the street to the corner bodega to grab some groceries. Or walk a block or two and buy a new shirt at the haberdashery. Or take the bus to work. Chances are good you’ll need to put a few miles on the old buggy to get much of anything done when you live out in the sticks.

One part of country living I’ve never quite adapted to is the knack of recognizing people by their motor vehicle. People are forever asking me why I didn’t wave back to them the other day out on Route 202 or 119. The answer, of course, is I didn’t see them—maybe because I was looking at the road and where I was going. And maybe I did see them, but failed to recognize their vehicle because it pretty much looks like all the others. Picture me driving down the road thinking: who the hell was that? after seeing an outstretched arm and a handful of twiddling fingers.

I have enough trouble remembering people as it is. Remembering cars, vans and pickups is just a bit much. But I’m trying—because it’s important to all those people who wave at me. Although I do have this sneaking suspicion that there are some people who do this just to perplex other motorists—or maybe it’s because my vehicle resembles someone else’s.

When you always have to drive around to get stuff and get stuff done, you learn to multitask. With the price of gas what it is, there’s nothing more aggravating then to find yourself retracing the same route several times in a single day. Multitasking requires some thinking ahead. So when I go out to library I make it a point to think about what else needs doing or getting that can be done or got along the way.

In my hometown one of the dump days is Tuesday…oh, excuse me—one of the Trash Transfer and Recycling Center days—is Tuesday. Tuesday is also a voting day in all those elections throughout the year. So whenever it’s time to vote I load up the pickup with trash and head for the…er, Trash Transfer and Recycling Center. Because I’m trying to become more adroit at recognizing motor vehicles I’ve noticed that many of the vehicles I see there, I also see minutes later at the elementary school polling place.

Then I see some of them at the post office, and more of them at the grocery store. So it appears to me that this type of multitasking is a rural ethic of some kind.

Is there a point to this, you might ask. Well, you bet there is. Now that I’ve captured your attention I want to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to do their civic duty. Go to the dump and vote.



Creative Nonfiction, Marilyn Weymouth Seguin

A Splash of Water

by Marilyn Weymouth Seguin

Make sure swimming is somewhere in your memoir. Why? I don’t know. It seems a memoir needs a splash of water.
—Natalie Goldberg

The thwack of the wooden screen door. The ping of June bugs hitting the rusty screen trying to get at the porch light. The sounds at my Maine camp are spectacular and symphonic. Nature provides quite a concert, especially in the evenings. Crickets trill and bullfrogs provide the bass to their chorus. In the woods behind the camp, coyotes howl, answering each other’s cries over the swamps and hills that make up the game preserve that surrounds me. The loons provide the vocals, of course, yodeling across the water. Once before dawn I awoke to these sounds and I heard a rooster crow somewhere across the lake. A rooster, mind you, and I have no idea of the location of a nearby farm, but there must be one.

You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of something else. From my childhood at my family summer camp in central Maine, I guess I remember clearest of all the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless. I remember how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and the lake scent that entered through the screen. I remember lying in the bottom of the red wooden rowboat my family owned—floating in the middle of the lake, looking up at the clouds.The best part of being at camp—then and now—has always been engaging with the lake.

A few years ago, I bought a pair of bright orange 1-person kayaks as a birthday present to myself. The opening in my kayak is large enough to carry a medium sized dog as a passenger, and on hot days, my old dog Oliver and I like to go kayaking on our end of the lake. Oliver and I can glide through the water swiftly, but not fast enough to wreck my hair do. Once I tipped us over in deep water and wasn’t able to turn the kayak right again. Oliver and I had to swim back to shore. We both wear life jackets.

A good kayaking excursion is an early morning close circuit of the shoreline, including exploring the coves that are not visible from the middle of the lake. In the early morning the water is still and calm. It is not unusual to spot ducks, loons, cormorants, and ospreys. We see many turtles, and twice, a pair of muskrats. One time, I heard a piercing screech and saw a shadow sweep across the water ahead of me. I looked up to see a bald eagle circling overhead between the sun and water, and suddenly the water boiled with frightened fish.

By afternoon, the water is changeable. Wesley McNair described his pond as bearing “the print of the wind changing its mind, swiftly dimpling the water in one direction, then the opposite.” I’m lucky enough to live on the water, at least during the summer, and I like to engage with the lake as well as the woods. The kayak is the perfect watercraft for me—no engine, no registration needed, and I can practically lift the boat in and out of the water with one hand. I shouldn’t even get started on motor boats (we have two) because it will turn into a rant. Every year it’s the same thing. After we open up and prepare camp for the summer, my husband puts the motor on the fishing boat. Then he goes to the hardware store (again) to get parts to fix the motor that never starts on the first try. But he can fix it himself eventually. Our other boat is delivered straight out of storage to our driveway sometime around the fourth of July. It is named Sunken Treasure, having spent much of its first summer with us under water. Our family fleet of boats has a jinxed nautical history.

There are many rocks that lie just beneath the surface of our lake and they are anathema for boaters. Hitting a rock with a motor often results in a lost pricey lower unit that takes the rest of the summer to replace (just one chapter in the jinxed nautical history). But for those who like to fish or snorkel, these rocks harbor perch and eels. Boat owners often throw anchor off the rocks so that swimmers can explore these underwater islands. To those in boats or ashore, it sometimes appears that the swimmers are walking on water.

I like to swim on hot days because I can be both warmed by the sun and cooled by the water. During my childhood summers at camp, my sister and I used to stay in the water until the ends of our fingers wrinkled up like pale prunes. I remember that I used to suck the lake water out of the ends of my braids. A good summer day at camp for us meant spending more time in the water than out of it. Nowadays, I sometimes lie on an air mattress and float on top of the water, but when I was a child, I always needed to be fully immersed. I remember running down the length of our wooden wharf and cannon balling into the lake time after time until I was worn out. Where has that girl gone? Did she leave—or is she still in here, just pushed further down? I liked that girl. I should get in touch with her again.



Creative Nonfiction, Nori Odoi

I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore

by Nori Odoi

When Roger and I moved from Lawrence, Kansas to New Bedford, Massachusetts in the early 80s, New England was just a tangle of lines and labels on the US map to me. The cluster of six tiny states has a total area that is smaller than the size of Kansas itself. I thought of Boston as a center of intellectual life, and I knew Massachusetts was famous for the Pilgrims and the beginning of the American Revolution. The rest of New England existed in my mind as vaguely romantic names, with great fall foliage and white steeples. I imagined it to be like the Midwest, but not as flat, with better views of the ocean.

You take the high road

My first wakeup call was as we drove through the streets of New Bedford—so narrow that they would have been considered alleys in Kansas City. New Bedford was incorporated as a city before the territories that became Kansas were part of the US. We drove by buildings old before Kansas finally became a state. But peeling paint and tilted silhouettes spoke of better days—it was hard to believe that this was once the richest city in the world—back when oil meant whales instead of wells.

That weekend, as we drove along the Cape Cod Canal on our way to explore the Cape’s National Seashore, I saw a sign that said, “Rotary ahead.”

“Wow! Business must be really important here if Rotary Clubs get such big billing!” I said.

“Strange,” Roger said. “This doesn’t look like a very built up area. Why would they—What is that!”

Ahead of us the highway opened into a gigantic asphalt circle packed with two lanes of cars driving round and round at a dizzying rate. We came to a dead stop. Fortunately it was the slow season for tourists, and there was no one behind us.

“Now what?” Roger said. “How do we squeeze in there?”

“I’m just glad you’re doing the driving. Interesting. This loop of road looks round—do you think this is the Rotary?”

Somehow we survived the Sagamore Bridge Rotary after which all other rotaries seemed doable. I felt a twinge of sadness when the gigantic traffic circle was finally replaced with the Sagamore Bridge Flyover in 2006. Instead of dumping the drivers from Route 3 and the drivers from US Highway 6 into one huge congested traffic morass, the Flyover allows Route 3 drivers to continue via overpass directly to the Sagamore bridge and the Cape. US Highway 6 flows smoothly under Route 3, and drivers can take an exit to cross the bridge. The Flyover simplified traffic, reduced gridlock and increased safety, but the Cape lost a place of distinction and high adventure.

When I feel nostalgic though, I can always drive through what my friends call the “Rotary of Death” on Fresh Pond Parkway in West Cambridge. It is a relatively small rotary which nonetheless is heavily travelled, containing two lanes and joining three major roads. Although there are clear rules of the roads regarding who has right of way, many drivers seem not to know them or, worse, follow totally opposing ones. Discussions on the internet have proposed the best way of travelling through this rotary is to take some other route entirely.

Do your own thing

Traffic in New England often has a metaphysical feel rather than a logical, analytical one. In Boston, I was once given directions that included driving down a certain one way street.

” Isn’t that the wrong way on a one way?” I asked, feeling confused.

“Don’t worry,” my guide said. “It’s only for a block. Everybody does it.”

Another time, while driving in the heart of Boston with a friend, I signaled that I was changing into the right lane.

“What are you doing?” he said in horror. He reached over and flipped off my turn signal. “If you signal, other drivers will cut you off! Just get into the lane you want—they’ll get out of your way.”

Then there was the night somewhere in Massachusetts when under the orange glow of a harvest moon, I sat at a stoplight and watched as a driver backed his van quickly and expertly up a highway entrance ramp. Since then, I’ve become quite alert when entering highways.

Signs, Signs

Possibly my most confused moment was when I came to an intersection with a stoplight in a small city in Massachusetts and saw a sign that said, “Obey Traffic Signal.” As I sat in the left lane waiting to turn, I pondered the reason for posting a sign that seemed so unnecessary.

When the signal light facing me turned green, I saw that the lanes of oncoming traffic were packed with cars. Patiently I waited for them to go through the intersection before I made my left turn.

But the cars didn’t move. Instead the cars behind me began to honk. Then the cars facing me began to honk. Red-faced, I made my turn, trying not to see the upright fingers of drivers in the surrounding cars. How was I to know that “Obey Traffic Signal” meant to make an apparently suicidal left turn in front of oncoming traffic when the light turned green?

The “delayed green signal,” where the signal light facing one direction turns green before the signal light facing the other direction does was fairly common in New England, though I had never encountered one in Kansas. I quickly became adept at this, turning left briskly whenever the oncoming traffic remained stopped after my light turned green.

Several years later, I returned to Kansas City for a visit. To my surprise, I was deafened by the screams of my passengers as I turned left in front of an oncoming car. It turned out that the driver had just been dawdling when the light changed. We all survived thanks to a well-applied bit of acceleration, but when I tried explaining the concept of delayed green, none of my passengers were sympathetic.

Another road sign that I found confusingly indirect was inscribed “Thickly Settled.” These signs seemed quaint and poetic until I learned that this actually meant that I would receive a ticket if I drove faster than 30 miles per hour. It indicates houses and other buildings are located on average less than 200 feet apart.

When Roger and I finally drove to Maine for a well-deserved vacation, we found the signs to be refreshingly to the point. In fact, we were surprised to find signs at the entrance to the Maine Turnpike explaining the rules of the road. “Signal when changing lanes,” “Dim lights for oncoming traffic.” We joked that Mainers believed outsiders needed a drivers’ education refresher course.

The Maine Turnpike is the main North/South thoroughfare in the state. It was the second superhighway built in the US when it opened in 1947. It was dubbed The Mile-A-Minute highway, because at that time, Mainers were astounded to be able to drive at 60 miles per hour.

It is quite a revelation after the highways in Kansas, which are often flanked by endless, rolling cornfields.You can literally see for miles on either side—all the way to the horizon. Not so the Maine Turnpike. Here dense walls of tall pines are broken by tiny glimpses of twisting brooks and sunlit ponds. It is a magnificent, scenic road to travel—but for people used to driving in the Midwest, it often feels a bit claustrophobic.

Separated by a common language

The various Massachusetts accents were sometimes difficult for me to understand, but it was in Down East Maine that I met my match. Roger and I had gotten lost wandering the back roads, and he finally agreed to stop for directions if I did the asking. We saw two older gentlemen sitting on a park bench, and I hopped out.

“Excuse me,” I said politely. “We seem to be lost. Which way do we go to reach Bar Harbor?”

One of the two men then went into a long dissertation on the best path, gesticulating emphatically and occasionally joined in by his companion. The sounds were clearly English. I smiled, thanked them, and walked back to the car.

“Well. Which way do we go?” Roger asked.

“I have no idea. I couldn’t understand a word either of them said. Let’s just keep driving. Something will turn up.” I waved and smiled at the two friendly gentlemen.

Home at last

Roger and I finally went our separate ways, but New England and I bonded permanently. Some years later, I moved to New Hampshire. I now live near Peterborough, New Hampshire in a peaceful area, quiet except for the occasional sounds of planes on a flight plan for Manchester Airport. I’m a member of a local CSA, which I explain to my Kansas relatives as being “Community Supported Agriculture.” CSAs allow  people to buy a share of the farm harvest at the beginning of the year so that they are supplied with fresh organic produce throughout the growing season. My home is not far from one of the two original CSAs in the US—the Temple-Wilton Community Farm.  I buy my eggs and milk from a local farm and shop at the nearby Farmers Market.

My car has become stuck in the snow several times—each time people soon stopped, helped me free myself, then drove off, content with a few words of thanks, knowing that they have helped a neighbor they had not previously known.

I’ve grown used to the forested coziness of New Hampshire, and when I travel to the Midwest, I miss the low, ancient mountains that dot the landscape. I like the plain-spoken directness of so many New Hampshire residents, their feisty independence, and determination to make their own way. My Midwestern relatives have started to grumble about the way I pronounce my words.

Still sometimes I miss the vast vistas of the Midwest. When I do, I go to the ocean and look east. I imagine that if the air was only clear enough, I could see all the way to Ireland.

But when I look landward, instead of corn fields, I see deep woods of pine and oak, sometimes white-washed capes and the occasional mansion, sometimes granite outcroppings and glacier carved lakes. I’m not in Kansas anymore.

“Ah,” I sigh as peace fills my heart. “It is good to be home.”