Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Excesses and Successes of Summer

It’s Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means, don’t you?

It’s time to tote up all the things you failed to do this summer.

But if your list starts with, “I failed to grow any tomatoes,” tear that one up and start over again. Nobody in the entire state of Vermont managed to grow tomatoes this summer --thanks to the same blight that turned the entire island of Ireland into one large launching pad for America, back when the blight was doing to Irish potatoes what the Yankees have lately been doing to the Red Sox.

Among the things I failed to do this summer were:

Go hiking in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, which, though they are as close as Montpelier, might as well be in Kansas as far as my hiking habits are concerned. Gaze longingly at the peaks every day? Yep, I did that. Set foot in them? Negatory.

Go sailing on Lake Champlain. What can I say? The sailing stinks when it’s raining. Which, in case the recent weather has dried out your brain, is what it did for 80 days and 80 nights from Memorial Day through July.

Go hear Jackson Browne at Shelburne Farms. I bypassed this concert as a money-saving measure and have been regretting it ever since. I first saw Jackson perform in Vermont in Burlington on St. Patrick’s’ Day in 1975. David Lindley’s rousing fiddle reels, played in between songs from Jackson’s “Late for the Sky” LP, are still echoing out there somewhere in the Green Mountains. And the next time Jackson comes to Vermont, both of us will probably be in wheelchairs.

But I did manage to undertake several other activities this summer, thanks to the company of a couple of energetic friends with free time on their hands. Among those activities:

We camped at Maidstone, one of Vermont’s nice little state parks. Maidstone is known for it loons and is halfway to the Arctic Circle, so it take some getting to. But get there we did. Just in time to put up the tent, sleep fitfully on foam mats approximately the “thickness” of a sheet of paper, and take down the tents the next morning.

I swam in the Atlantic Ocean. Like every self-respecting Vermonter, I went to Maine this summer because it is a lovely state with a world-famous coastline -- and summer is the only conceivable season that anyone other than a lobster would actually want to go there.
My swimming experience confirmed that, compared to the coastal waters of Maine, the New Haven River is a hot tub.
I managed to eat out a few nights this summer, despite a household budget weighted down by the recession. Mary’s at Baldwin Creek continues to provide a stellar evening, especially when a close friend is in town to treat you to chef Doug Mack’s take on local venison, accompanied by a glass of Lincoln Peak red.

Other culinary highlights: Mussels on the deck at the Storm Café are always a treat on a sultry summer’s eve. The Park Squeeze in Vergennes should franchise its “Be the Bowl” formula, which someone on Chowhound.com aptly describes as “design-your-own-soup.” And just to make it a memorable summer for the gustatory arts, American Flatbread has decided to stay open not just Friday and Saturday nights, but every Tuesday through Saturday – my definition of pizza heaven.

On my to-do list before the official end of summer are sandwiches from Almost Home in Bristol; another trip to A Starry Night in Ferrisburg; and the Farmer’s Diner and the new tea shop in Middlebury’s Marble Works.

I moved, yet again. That makes it five houses in little more than four years. I’m so sick of moving that I’ve vowed to never do it again. They’re gonna have to carry me out of my current digs in a police car, or a hearse.

Memo to the Obama Administration: forget all those torture techniques the Bushies developed at Guantanamo. They’re so 2003. Just take those alleged terrorists, give them the average American’s 30 years of personal possessions, and make them move their household every week until they tell you where Osama bin Laden is hiding. We’ll know by Halloween.

I finally made it up to the Bread Loaf Campus, to see a play put on by the acting troupe that is in residence there every summer. The play was “The Changeling,” by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, written in about 1622.

From that evening’s experience I concluded it is in fact possible to combine good set design, skillful direction and decent acting and, if the play is as bizarre as this one, turn it all into a truly hideous night at the theater.

Let’s just say that the people sitting next to me left after Act One, and I spent Act Two envying them.

Like everybody else in Addison County, I had a steady stream of houseguests this summer. Tom and Susie and Eva arrived Memorial Day weekend, two days after my latest move, and joined 10 others and me for dinner at my new house the next night. We dined on barbequed local goat sausage, which we ate while sitting on moving boxes.

Ross and Barbara came up from D.C. so Ross could again demonstrate that he’s a far better fisherman than I. Dan got here twice from San Francisco, which was further evidence of his ability to maintain friendships across continents and decades, and helps explain why it takes 17 smart phones to hold the complete list of everyone he knows.

Even my ex-girlfriend -- who lives in Brooklyn and was visiting friends in Middlebury apparently for the express purpose of ignoring me while she was in town -- made it over for dinner one night in June.

I believe the chill is finally coming off the place on the couch where she sat. But it’s hard to tell, now that the nighttime temperatures are getting down into the 30s.