I’m proud to say that 2013 marks my 20th year in Vermont, but I’m equally embarrassed to admit that this year also marks my first time attending the renown Women’s Film Festival in Brattleboro.
I was afraid. I was afraid of caring too much. I was afraid of paying money to watch something that would make me sad. I didn’t understand what it was all about. I hadn’t really thought about it being a fundraiser. And, most revealing, I didn’t see myself as one of “those” women–the ones who I imagined as angry or righteous and needing “all about women” things.
I was in the dark.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen 3 of the 24 films in the 2013 season, and I only want more. Yes, I’ve teared up a bit, but mostly I’ve been enlightened and invigorated and stirred. What’s even more inspiring is the reason behind the festival which is best described in a VPR interview by Vickie Sterling, the co-director of the Women’s Freedom Center which organizes the festival each year:
Film, like all media, is incredibly influential, and our ideas about how we see ourselves and each other and the world are really shaped by the images and stories we see on screen.
But in the US, most of the films made and seen are done so by men. In fact, 92% of all feature film screen writers are male as are 95% of the directors.
What happens when you have that sort of imbalance is that women’s stories are fairly one-dimensional–we get these characters who are really portrayed as men would like them to be, rather than as they really are; and the message then conveyed is a woman’s value really is in her youth, her beauty and her sexuality.
We think it’s vital for women to tell their own stories.
I hate to admit it, but this sobering truth never occurred to me before. Not in this way. Not with this clarity or weight.
The striking thing is that I’m not new to women’s issues. I’ve long cared about them. I ‘ve spoken up about them. And yet; there is still so much I take for granted or that I swallow without questioning. I can’t afford to do that anymore. The world can’t afford it.
It’s time for privileged women like me to LEAN IN and lead so that other women have a chance too.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
I search on the internet and the find that the only thing new about Richard is my own writing on this blog. What’s happening? It’s been almost half a year. Wouldn’t it be convenient to imagine Richard never existed?
But then I think about the Martins. How are they moving forward? How important is the trial to them? When is the trial?
(I was just called for jury duty; but not for a criminal case–Thank God.)
Yesterday, I came upon a poem about being in prison. My son was home sick and asked if I’d read to him while he ate his soup. I picked up the book that I found at the Marlboro Book Swap last year, and blew off the dust. I had intended to read excerpts from A Call to Character on a regular basis, but the practice died long ago.
“Let’s find something about kindness,”I say.
My son smirks with embarrassment. Just a moment earlier he snapped at me in that sardonic “tween-age” fashion. In my best NVC, I let him know it stung. With his big heart, it pains him to know that he’s hurt me, even if he can’t help himself.
“Darn, there’s no section on Kindness, only Compassion” I say. “But you’ve got plenty of that.”
“Read anything,” he says, delighted to have me seated beside him all day.
I flip through the stories and plays and fables, and a poem catches my eye in the Self-discipline category. I begin reading… to myself.
“Read aloud,” my son begs.
“This one is about being in jail; I don’t think you’ll like it.”
...To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
and for spring nights,
and always remember
to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
ten or fifteen years inside
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!
Kelly Salasin, January 2012
ps. My apologies to those of you who clicked the link to MacArthur Rd above. I couldn’t help myself. That song won’t leave my mind today, especially as it rains on top of our long-awaited snow.
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.
On the morning after she hit our unsuspecting mountaintop town, I ran down my driveway toward Neringa Pond. There I found clusters of neighbors in sober conversation, and passed them without a word, continuing toward the mangled dock that crossed the pond where I discovered that the dam was surprisingly holding steady.
I continued down the road alone until I came to the bridge that crossed over to Camp Neringa and saw that in its place was a gaping span of… nothing.
“We’re stranded,” called a young woman from the other side over the rushing water, “There are a hundred of us.”
“I know,” I called back, “I’m so sorry this happened while you were here.”
These wedding guests had flown in from Toronto, and others from California, while one had come from as far as Lithuania. We shouted some more across the roar of the Whetstone–about food and generators and water (all of which they had)–before turning our backs on one another on opposite sides of what had once been connected.
I held back tears as I continued down MacArthur Road where I came across more neighbors helping one another over the gaping pits where sections of our road once stood.
At the bottom of the hill, the underbelly of MacArthur was completely exposed–revealing gravel and dirt and a culvert many times my size.
With hesitation, I leaped over it to make my way toward the Route 9.
Typically teaming with travelers, Route 9 was barren this morning, and eerily so; so clear of traffic that I could lie down in the middle of the highway and have a photo snapped of me there.
Instead I continued up it, past the hill where young Kayla died, and without any specific destination in mind.
I’d never walked along Route 9 before, at least not with such an unsettling sense of safety, and I couldn’t stop. For awhile, it was only me and the butterflies up a road where vehicles fly by at 50 or 60 miles an hour. At the crest of another hill, I passed a man coming the other way with a wax bag in his hand.
“Sweeties isn’t actually open, is it!” I asked, and he nodded his head, and kept walking.
A half-mile later, I stood inside the darkened store, relieved to see Michaela, a graduate of Marlboro College, attempting to make coffee and sandwiches for the community; and Ashleigh, a Brattleboro Highschool student, arriving to work by some heroic effort of her mother; and Rose, a town official, bending over a large map, helping travelers find routes home should any open.
I hadn’t thought to bring any cash with me when I set out this morning, but I was able to create a tab so that I could take home some groceries and a wax-bagged treat of my own while stranded guests from the other wedding across town left with six-packs, and brownie mix (which perplexes me still.)
I passed other explorers on my way back down Route 9, and when I arrived back at the intersection of MacArthur, it was crowded. A mini-van had been abandoned there during the night, atop a pile of rocks and trees, and someone said that it had been a traveler caught up in debris when the Whetstone Brook took the road and turned Route 9 into a grander expression of itself, rushing east toward Brattleboro.
By now, the sun had risen on the day, and although I was overdressed for the coming heat and unprepared for such a trek as I had already taken, I found myself passing MacArthur by, and continuing east on Route 9, to see what others had described as indescribable.
There at the edge of town, about a mile further down the highway, I approached Steve’s Auto Body Shop where half of Route 9 had neatly collapsed, right at the yellow line, into the rushing stream that didn’t used to be there below.
Beside this section of missing highway stood a small sign which politely read, “Sidewalk Closed.”
No sign was needed for what lie just passed Steve’s. It was a destination so awe-inspiring that it had attracted elders and mothers with baby carriages for what was sure the most apocalyptic view of this flood’s devastation.
Route 9 had simply vanished, and the river took its place below. Some said a hundred, others two, and I can’t recall how many feet stood between me and the other side of what was once the highway, but it made me laugh when I recollected the span each time drivers rolled down their windows near MacArthur to ask, “Is it passable up ahead?”
Often these travelers would persist, as if I hadn’t noticed that they had good clearance and four-wheel drive; and then I would have to be firm:
“There IS no road up ahead. It no longer exists.”
And if they still looked dubious, I would explain that even if they could, by some miraculous Evil-Knieval feat, daredevil their way across what many called the Grand Canyon, they would find similar canyons all along Route 9 heading east into Brattleboro–each with ten to twenty-foot pits below.
Then these desperate souls, hoping to get home to work or to pets or to children even, would turn their heads toward MacArthur, asking if there was any chance that way…
“Not even the National Guard, on a rescue mission, with tires bigger than your car, could get through last night.” I’d say.
Similarly, the roads heading West into Wilmington were closed, and those in the north, and in every direction; so that these drivers turned around, one by one, resigned to being stuck like the rest of us. Some slept at the church or at the Inn or inside their cars, I suspect.
By the time I hiked back up to my house, the boys were awake and ready to do some of their own exploring. Their father took them out while I went upstairs to lie down, drifting into the sweetest, exhausted reverie I have ever known until the sound of a helicopter circling my home, not once, but three times, brought me to standing as I heard it land across the pond to sounds of cheers.
I jumped up then and dashed out my door to make my way over the mangled dock, and up the path to Neringa’s field where I came across 100 wedding guests huddled together as the chopper lifted back into the sky.
I caught the last words of an announcement made by a bearded wedding guest from Toronto: “If we have any medical emergencies, they’ll airlift them out, but for now MacArthur Road and the bridge to Neringa are not high on the priority list.”
I stayed on to talk to some of the guests, and drew maps of possible routes out of Marlboro should the backroads be cleared, and someone could come to fetch them. (They would have to leave their cars behind, most of which were rentals.)
And then I returned home once again, and slipped out of my clothes, and into bed, and slept–for the rest of the day–stirring now and again to the sound of more aircraft—the Red Cross, the governor, the National Guard—only to let my head drop heavily back on the pillow in what felt like a drugged stupor.
The air was crisp, the sky beautiful, and my home–and even my steep driveway–uncannily untouched by the devastation that was all around me.
From under my covers, the world was more tranquil than ever. There were no cars passing on MacArthur and no whine of 18 wheelers from Route 9. The house was silent too–absent of the hum of appliances or the ringing of phones.
I couldn’t bear to think about how long we’d be without power or how much it would take to repair these roads or how hard others may have been hit, and so I slept as long as I could.
The sublime quiet brought me back to the days after 9/11–when our skies were as empty as our roads were now.
In my 47 years, I’ve known roads—mud strewn ones and flooded ones—empty ones and crowded ones–worn ones and brand new ones–but I’d never known anything like today.
My soul has grown deep with our roads, deeper than I ever knew.