Sign of Spring remembered

Sign of Spring remembered

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

I miss the Reading Lady on Williston–that tiny road on the back side of town.
She was my favorite sign of spring.
Appearing there on the porch of her aging Victorian.
Layers shed beneath gingerbread lattice
While the season unfolded into summer.
First a cup of tea and a blanket.
Then a glass of lemonade and a sun hat.
And always a book (and reading glasses.)
Well into autumn.
Right there on the corner as I drove by.
Did she move away or worse–pass away?
I like to imagine her on the coast of Maine.
Overlooking the ocean or perhaps beside a quiet bay.
Waves lapping at the dock
Where she reads
And reads
And reads
While the world
Spins
A bit slower
Around her.

~

more on the gift of a woman’s presence in Vermont:
The Flower Lady

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PLaYing with DaVid

PLaYing with DaVid

I think my parents suggested fiddle because there was this insane teacher named David Tasgal. He was kind of nuts, but he had an amazing ability to communicate music to little kids…. He was definitely an inspiring figure for me, not only musically, but also because he had this slightly cracked sense of humor.
He had this deadpan vibe that I thought was hilarious.
~Sam Amidon

CCI16102015

play |plā|
verb

  • engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose
    • amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense
    • (play with) fiddle or tamper with: has somebody been playing with the thermostat?

I never thought about David’s age before, but if I had to guess, I’d say early sixties, which is why I dismissed the news that a 72-year-old man was struck on his bike on Bernardston Road in Greenfield, Monday afternoon.

David has been a part of the Marlboro Elementary School family in Southern Vermont for over a decade. His quirky, fun-loving approach makes this classical instrument accessible to all kinds of kids; and his death this week leaves our school family aching–especially as I imagine all those young children–with their tiny violins–waiting for him on Tuesday morning, ready to play (and I mean play.)

A list of David’s original compositions for the violin lends insight into his heart for children, while revealing his characteristic playfulness:

David's books
David’s collection of music instruction books.

Blast Off,
Marching to the Practice Room,
The Tough Cat,
Goldfish Variations,

Cha Cha Cha Cha,
The Rabbi Dances with his Dog
and
Bingo Suddenly Meets Mozart

My youngest son, Aidan, who studied with David from 1st through 8th grade, believes that one tune in particular had a handful of title changes over the years: Song for a Pet Who Died became Song for a Pet Who Ran Away became Sad Clown Fish became The Lonely Fiddle–all in attempt to make the children less sad.

Aidan also marveled that David could compose a tune such as The Duck Song–from a single note–and still make it “interesting and satisfying.” As a parent and a teacher, it was particularly pleasurable to see so many children, of all ages and skill levels, play together, and David’s unique approach made that possible.

David swept in for school events wild hair and wild shirts, and then began without fanfare, keeping the focus on the violinists, while enthusiastically accompanying them on piano. In fact, it’s at the piano that I remember David best. I loved the mornings when he’d arrive a bit early for lessons–at the tail end of All School Sing–and then slide his way onto the piano to add pizzaz to our last song.

On the evening after David died, I entered the school auditorium to teach yoga, but felt his presence so strongly that I could barely begin my class. To soothe myself before I left, I placed a small light on the piano to sit shiva with David’s spirit through the night.

We lit a candle at home that night too. Our older son, Lloyd, 20, who was in David’s very first class at Marlboro recalls how perfectly David tailored lessons to engage him and his more sports-oriented peers:  “At one point, he gave us percentages so that we’d compete with each other,” Lloyd recalled.

Aidan was uncharacteristically quiet as his brother reminisced. Aidan graduated from Marlboro in June, and on that night he tucked a small gift aside–a bar of soap–his favorite because of its crazy colors and textures and how he gets to slice it to size–and especially because of its name: Dragon’s Blood. He thought David would like it too.

Aidan gave himself whole-heartedly to music during his years at Marlboro and has continued on at the  highschool just as enthusiastically; while Lloyd just about gave up on the violin in Junior High.  At the time, I drafted a parenting piece entitled: The Violin Wars, which alas, I never finished, until now…

Our boys playing together, many moons ago.
Our boys practicing together, many, many moons ago.

The Violin Wars

My 13 year old sits slumped behind me in an arm chair in my office while I blare Dave Matthews, Ants Marching and then Last of the Mohicans–two “cool” songs with engaging strings that I hope will entice him to play along and reignite his lost passion.

The violin sits on his lap.

Things between them almost ended–abruptly–two weeks ago, though truthfully, they’ve been on the rocks since Lloyd was about 10–the time of the First Violin War–an apocalyptic parenting moment–complete with yelling and threats and stalemates–followed by the stark realization that I had crossed the beginning of the end of my role as commander and chief.

Lloyd with his first set of strings
Lloyd with his first set of strings

But a deeper truth is that Lloyd and the violin have been together forever, into their ninth year, and they courted even before that. As a toddler, Lloyd offered rapt attention to any string music he came across–live or recorded–contemporary or classical; and as a preschooler, he brought the same toy guitar to show and tell every Friday, while truly longing for a violin.

When we finally found a toy one to match the guitar, he was at first delighted, and then quickly disappointed with its inferior sound. He insisted he needed a “real one,” but as neither my husband or I were musicians, we didn’t know how to go about that for such a small child.

One afternoon, while walking down Elliot Street in Brattleboro, however, Lloyd pointed to a sign above the sidewalk–with a picture of a violin–and said: “Let’s go up there.”

We climbed a set of steep stairs, and entered a small shop where violins–of all sizes–hung from the ceiling. I felt like a fish out of water, but Lloyd looked up in wonder. Reverent. Riveted.

The shopkeeper came around the counter, took out a tape measure from his apron, and sized Lloyd up.

Lloyd in kindergarten
Lloyd with his first “real” violin.

“Come back in a year,” he said.

Lloyd was devastated.

But when he entered kindergarten that fall, something magical happened: the school instituted a pilot program with the Brattleboro Music Center and Lloyd came home carrying a case with the real thing inside.

Despite his passion, Lloyd was not a virtuoso, but he stuck with it, year after year, and so did the school–deciding to continue the program until the fourth grade when children could begin traditional band instruments.

Many of Lloyd’s peers gave up the violin in favor of a flute or a trumpet or a drum, but not Lloyd; he kept playing until he was the only one holding a violin, which is where we find him now, at the beginning of 8th grade:

“I want to quit,” he says. “I can’t take it anymore.”

But he isn’t resolute. He is miserable. Torn. Angry and frustrated. Feeling betrayed, by himself.

I’m not sure how to help.

Our tempers mount.

With so much at stake, I feel the Second Violin War coming on, but now I am a wiser or at least less foolish parent, so I suggest we reach out for support. I quickly compose an email to dispatch to family members–cousins and grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and regular ones too.

The replies flood in.

Do what you want, says one. You can always pick it up again.
Stick with it, says another. You’ll never pick it up again.

With each response, Lloyd feels tossed about–first one way; then the other. In the end he does. Stick with it. But half-heartedly. And once in high school, he leaves it behind, while watching his little brother, 5 years his junior, follow in his footsteps, sticking with violin, through the 8th grade, but so whole-heartedly that it inspires Lloyd to pick it up now and again… “just to see how it sounds” (and to see if he can still play better than his younger brother.)

Lloyd is grown now, a man of 20, and to our surprise, he recently called to say: “I think I want to start playing again.”

We don’t know what will come of this spark, but it warms us, particularly in its timing.

We attended David’s funeral together. No one even balked at the suggestion. Not Lloyd who was leaving that afternoon on the train for Burlington. Not my husband who had to arrange coverage for his classes. Not Aidan who was… well… 15.

The music was exquisite. The service solemn and playful and irreverent. At one point, a handful of children came forward to play some of David’s pieces for beginners. I nudged a reluctant Aidan to join them. He sat firm in his seat until he saw another same-age peer, across the room, move toward the altar.

Aidan playing at the last concert with David at Marlboro Elementary.
Aidan playing beside a younger peer at the last concert with David at MES.

Aidan swiftly brought the violin case, hidden between his knees, to his lap, and as he did, I felt the collective attention of all those who shared the private mourning space around us.

We watched transfixed as he opened each latch, and carefully lifted the instrument from its bed, and then there was a palpable embrace as he approached the altar on our behalf.

When the children began the last of three pieces, we were invited to hum along, after which we accidentally broke into the applause we had held inside for the soloists who had so stirred us earlier.

As Aidan rejoined us at the end of the pew, I turned toward him to mouth the words: “Thank you,” just as he locked eyes with mine, nodding his head, offering the same, not once or twice, but a handful of times: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you…”

The sky was a stunning blue as we exited the temple doors that afternoon; the surrounding streets lined with the cars of those who came to grieve David’s departure–students, colleagues, family, friends.

As we walked, Lloyd spoke to me of the music–of the viola solos–played by loved ones.

“I could barely breathe,” he said. “I couldn’t remember how.”

Temple sky over David's Send-Off
Temple sky over David’s “Blast-Off”

David Tasgal
1942-2015

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To find out more about David’s approach to teaching violin, or to purchase his curriculum, see his website: Strings Fun and Easy.

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an afternoon with… cheese

an afternoon with… cheese

Against my better judgement, I signed up to work the cheese “stroll” following the annual Heifer Parade, thereby prolonging the mayhem of Brattleboro–instead of making the mad dash out of town right after Bernie waves–which is when the crowd cheers and moves en masse toward the fair upon the “Retreat” Grounds–which I might have to check into after today.

When I descend the steep hill from the Town Green to the fields below, and find my way to the Co-op’s tent, I am surprised to discover that I won’t be standing right behind the platters of cheese like I’ve seen workers in aprons do in years past. Instead, the role that my husband and I are assigned to is: behind the lines to cut the cheese. (I never noticed those people before.)

Champlain Valley Creamery’s beautiful soft ripened triple crème cheese with a bloomy white rind

I’ve never cut the cheese either, and as I attempt to learn the varieties in front of me, I wonder why the coordinator doesn’t just rely on member workers from her own department. It would make her job simpler; but she says that she likes to spread the wealth. And spread, we do; because Casey and I are assigned to the spreading table.

Olive and herb goat cheese.

Camembrie.

Triple Cream.

Bijou.

Ash.

After an hour, I find myself in a rhythm of cutting and spreading, discreetly placing the broken rice things dipped in cheese aside for my own covert snacking; and carefully wiping the leftover cheese crumbles from the cutting board onto my salad for the lunch I will eat when  this two hour shift is done.

I’ve never realized how sensual a cheese can be; and despite the heat and the crowds, I am happy.  I don’t care how much cheese people eat, and whether they appreciate it, or whether they consider visiting the Co-op to buy it, because I am one with the cheese, and its virtue transcends consumerism.

I am so happy (and a bit delirious) that when it is finally time for me and cheese to part, that I decide to stick around at the fair, and listen to music, and dance, and eat my salad with the assorted cheese crumbles.

Somehow cutting the cheese made the difference between fleeing from–and floating through–this afternoon in Brattleboro.

I am still on the grounds when the day closes, licking brie from my fingers.

It’s not that cheese is new to me. I’ve visited France. And I’ve always appreciated the cheese department of the Brattleboro Co-op–back to the days when Henry cut the cheese.

But now I have a greater intimacy with this craft. It’s become personal–and local–made right here in the Green Mountain State– by small farms with names I know~

Jasper Hill Creamery.

Champlain Valley Creamery.

Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery.

Blythedale Farm…

Now when I’m shopping, I pause even longer at the cheese counter… My husband and I pick up one familiar soft friend after another, and gently caress it like a lover. We consider signing up for the same shift next year, and in the meantime, we decide to make a date with a baguette, a bottle of wine, and some artisanal cheeses from around our state.

Kelly Salasin, June 2011

ps. Casey & I did sign up to work the cheese stroll in 2012–and cheerfully reported to duty–even in the pouring rain.

for more on the Brattleboro Co-op:

Farewell Brattleboro Co-op

Blogging for Food, a tribute to my Co-op, Blog Action Day

Open for Business in Brattleboro!

2012 Vermont State Ultimate Championships

2012 Vermont State Ultimate Championships

Lyndon Institute, Northeast Kingdom

Okay, I was wrong. Frisbee players aren’t all pot-smoking loafers. In fact, when the family and I took the long drive up to the Northeast Kingdom to check out the Vermont State Championships, we were delighted by the positive energy on the field.

Ultimate Tournament Staff delivering water

Actually, there were surprisingly several fields–upon which several teams played at once–each with its own entourage of tents and coolers and water jugs and nomadic fans–who packed up the belongings and moved at the end of each game , like a caravan through the desert, though this was the lush, green hills of the northernmost part of the state, approaching the Canadien border.

Who knew there were so many highschool Ultimate Frisbee teams in Vermont–28 represented today!  What struck me most about this spectacularly coordinated event was the air of festivity–as evidenced in the joviality of the players–with cheers and antics and most notably–song. Teams actually sang to one another. It was a bit like Monty Python meets Morris Ale meets the pasture–rolling hills and fence posts and the like.

That said, the team playing against our own Brattleboro Honey Badgers was–intense–with several highschool-aged coaches & the like about to burst an artery–while screaming at their own players. Not only did they lose, by quite a bit, but they got a zero from our team for “Spirit”–on a scale of 1 to 5.

Honey Badger Spirit

Yes, there was actually a score for “Spirit,” which provided yet another facet to appreciate about this sport that I had once pooh-poohed. In fact, each team was to assign a “Spirit Captain” who was provided a special cap to identify him to others, as he was to receive “amnesty from coach-wrath when correcting a coach or team’s actions.”

The Captain’s role was to ensure that his own team was “playing fair, keeping language in check, not spiking the disc, and most importantly–not making calls from the sidelines.”

Alas, the Badger’s didn’t have an official coach, just one of their own players, and neither were they sanctioned or supported by their own highschool, though not for lack of trying. The kids did it all on their own under leadership of a couple determined seniors–scheduled practices, arranged fields, ordered uniforms, provided their own transportation to games and tournaments–like this one–a 4 and a half-hour round trip.

While at first the Honey Badgers were frustrated not to receive the same benefits that the football or the baseball or even the tennis players might ultimately, I think, they enjoyed their freedom. There were no eligibility requirements (like grades or behavior), or mandatory practices, and they had fun with their uniforms–choosing odd numbers (like 666) and odder names (like Midnight, Sauerkraut, Cowgirl and Spaghett.)

While the intensity of opposing team blew away any thoughts I had of frisbee as entirely laid-back,  there was a game going on behind us with another team from our neck of the woods–a private school known for independent thinking (and very limited competitiveness)–who could be overheard gently shouting, suggesting really, “Be aggressive,” as if they weren’t sure it was at all necessary (or possible.)

Our own team had a similar friendly edge, for when their game point was contested, they  eagerly acquiesced–just to be able to play a bit longer.  This afternoon in Lyndon, Vermont was the last time on the field for the seniors on the team,  and all of the Honey Badgers were eager to hold on to what they created together, with little acknowledgement to the day of wins.

Kelly Salasin, May 2012

Lyndon Center, Vermont

2012 USA Ultimate Vermont High School Ultimate Championships

The Moon Appears…

The Moon Appears…

Earth Story Calendar

Tonight’s Snow Moon is so spectacular that even after an egregiously long day at work, I must share an excerpt from the equally spectacular 2012 Earth Story Calendar by local creative, Peter Adair.

The February page of his calendar opens with these show stopping words:

Earth Adopts a Child: The Moon Appears

I’ve never met Peter, but I’m studying to be a yoga teacher with a friend of his, who gifted us this calendar.

I’m a gift lover so this was a nice surprise, but it wasn’t until February that the magic of it began to unfold.

While the art of January’s Supernova Event was stunning, it’s February’s Moon that drew me in. Like a ballad, the accompanying text sweeps me up into its story again and again.

According to Peter, it’s inspired by the work of a mathematical cosmologist (Geez, where do they go to school?) who is described as having a heart of a poet.

No kidding:

Soon after Earth’s formation, during a time when asteroids rain upon the fledgling solar system, a sizeable intruder strikes our globe in a sideswipe  collision. From this shuddering meeting, a portion of Earth’s body spews into space. The interloper, its momentum reduced through the encounter, succumbs to Earth’s gravitational embrace and is received into orbit. There, it coalesces with the scattered material of Earth and becomes our Moon.

My gosh! Is it me or does that take your breath away?
But don’t stop there, it continues…

Earth’s daughter gradually slows our planet’s spin to its accustomed twenty-four hour rotation, establishes the axial tilt making possible the four seasons, and produces the caressing tides along shorelines that will become the fecund wombs of evolving life.

Who needs March when February makes you swoon;
and No, I haven’t looked ahead.
That’s taboo!
But how fortunate are we to live in such a place–
with such a daughter shining above us.

It wasn’t until I moved to Vermont that I began to truly notice the moon. Others taught me how. Women mostly. And now Peter, and his “ode to creation” in the Earth Story Calendar.  I kind of feel bad for telling you about it because it looks like they’re sold out.

There’s always next year, and in the meantime, take a drink of that gorgeous daughter in the sky.

Kelly Salasin, Snow Moon, 2012

More from the Earth Story Calendar:

The scientific account of Earth’s formation and development is a story of vibrant creativity and  stunning transformation. The journey begins within the fiery core of a star, and concludes  (for now) with the emergence of a species able  to comprehend its origin. We have learned that the unfolding of the human is interwoven with the unfolding of the planet. This is the theme of Earth Story calendar.

A Tale of One Funeral

A Tale of One Funeral

In the East a funeral for a mother; and in the West a funeral for a father–as if pain was a child–requiring a hand on both sides of our state.

Fires and floods, murders and accidents. How much will Southern Vermont be required to take?  At first I thought the curse was on Brattleboro, but there seems to be a similar infliction on the Deerfield Valley.

This morning, friends in the West attended the funeral of not one, but two fathers–both killed in the same tragedy–one by accident, the other by anguish.

I headed East for another two taken–Rita Corbin died 11 days after the collision that also claimed the life of her 17 year-old grandson. But it was love, not loss that echoed in Rita’s absence; just as it had after the fire and the flood and the murder. And so it is, that I offer the echo of love to our friends in the West, in the hope that a sweeter balance can be restored.

A Mother’s Legacy

Is there any greater testimony

to love

than joy?

The Corbins make music

of their mother’s life–

the strumming of strings,

the stretching of chords,

the tender gifts of

rhythm and melody;

The tempo of a life

lived on

in

family.

Kelly Salasin, December 2011

The Blessing of Becky & the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus

The Blessing of Becky & the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus

A few years back, I answered “a call” to SING–by reluctantly joining the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus.  This was a one time thing for me, but the women of BWC have continued for 16 years, including this past weekend’s Thanksgiving concert.  It is in the spirit of Thanksgiving–for the work of chorus director Becky Graber and the board & women of BWC–that I share the piece of writing below.

It was the second or third stop on the Mother’s Day Nursing Home Tour when it hit me.

The Low Middles and I had just patched our way through Que Sera Sera–a song my mother loved–one whose harmony slipped from my memory when it was our time to sing.

I’d been scrambling to learn my part to this and a dozen others for weeks in preparation for our big concert at the Baptist Church. I didn’t like the pressure. I didn’t like being unprepared.

My jewel of revelation was here.

I had long admired the work of the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus, and had even co-opted their music years ago to create a women’s sing-along in my community of Marlboro;  but I had never wanted to perform with them.  I didn’t like the responsibility of it.  My life had been too full with responsibility.

It was my spirit that cajoled me.
Over the years, I had grown accustomed to responding to this inner voice.  It had taken me on a wild ride from an Art and Meditation Class to a Ballet Class to this.  I knew there was a good reason why I was supposed to sing with the chorus, I just didn’t know what it was.

Once I had made the commitment and began rehearsing , I expected some great gift of joy to be released.

It wasn’t.

I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to focus on music for two to three hours at a time, particularly in the evening when I liked to crawl under the covers with a book.  I hadn’t realized just how much all my years at home had ruined me as a student.  I didn’t want to be told where and when to sit or stand.  I didn’t like being part of the herd and I didn’t know how to small-talk like women do on the rides home.

Sitting at a cafe one afternoon, I was approached by a friend whose wife had been singing with the chorus for years. “She loves it,” he told me, complaining that she wouldn’t take a break  no matter how full their plates were.

I told him that I didn’t really want to join and shared how anxious I felt about the performance.  Though it didn’t feel particularly sublime in the moment, his response, like a pebble tossed into a pond, rippled again and again.

“It is all of your voices,”  he said, “Coming together, that made the music so beautiful.”

Little by little, I began to experience just that.

On the day that we came to sing at the nursing homes, I knew it to be true.  It wasn’t the perfection of any one of our voices or parts, that made the music,  it was the mysterious alchemy of coming together–without perfection.

How can I begin to put into words the depth of my experience?  How can I communicate the breadth of its influence in my life?  Not one of us Low Middles knew our part fully.  But each of us offered something to the other–so that together, we made the music.

We made the shades rustle, the faces lift, the eyes brighten.  And for me personally, a profound understanding emerged: that I can be supported, that it is not all about me and my responsibility or my perfection, that it is in our fallibility as well as our competency that we support and uplift others.

On the following Sunday, I stood at the podium on the altar at the Baptist Church and gave VOICE to Julia Ward Howe’s words.  A wind came through me and spread her thoughts resounding through the room. Tears sprung from my eyes eyes and I was swept up in the passion of her voice.  I felt a strength that I have never known.  The strength that comes from vulnerability.

On the fourth floor of Eden Park, I had seen vacant eyes, drooping heads, drooling mouths. This is where we discard our elders, I thought. But when the music began, and we came together in song, the room came to life—not just in front of me, but within me.

I saw a husband tend his wife, wipe her mouth, hold her trembling hands.  I heard a woman, at first talking out a lifetime of troubles, begin to sing, eyes brightening, connecting with ours.  I felt a nurse spread love throughout the room with her caresses.

As we left the floor, I approached a woman who had never opened her eyes or lifted her head to our performance.  I gently squeezed her shoulder, and to my surprise, she moved her head to cradle it against my forearm.

I put down my backpack and gave her a full embrace knowing that she felt everything around her even though I hadn’t seen it.

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

For more about the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus, click here.

For more about Director Becky Graber, click here.