I look past the needles that line my belly, the lowest just above the rise of my pelvis, an inch deep, and further still past the needles at my ankle to the plant circling the room where the walls meet the ceiling, the same ivy-like, heart-shaped-leaf that I have in my house, a plant which was once among several left on a small round kitchen table with the words: “Free,” which despite the absence of a green thumb I brought home after a yoga class or was it a birthing class, both brand new endeavors  after leaving the mid-Atlantic for the Green Mountains in 1993 where I discovered at my first staff meeting at Deerfield Valley Elementary that everyone ate something that I’d I mistakenly pronounced as another word for soil.

A Long Slow Color is Green.

These are the words that were carved into thick medallion of wood that hung above the entrance to a place smack in the middle of Main Street, beside a classic Vermont Inn. The oddly named: Klara Simpla housed the bookstore which is what brought me inside the strange smelling shop filled with something called herbs and homeopathics and tinctures, not to mention the yoga and birthing classes (among other offerings) on the second and third floors. There were also two huge chests filled with household and clothing items that were giveaways. 25 years later, I’m still the plaid blanket that I found in that pile is a family classic when we picnic beside pond and I still wear the black, water resistant wind pants when I snow shoe.

A long slow color is green.

Those words from the wooden medallion which hung above Klara Simpla were spoken out loud to me once by the founder herself, the woman who offered her plants to women like me just beginning to find our way on the path to wholeness.

“There is so much to know. How do I begin?” I asked Faye, at the end of an interview she’d surprisingly granted me when I’d first began writing for the Cracker Barrel.

But what really brought my attention to the plant circling the ceiling in the acupuncturist’s office, beyond the fact that the old period building with its hissing radiators reminded me of my husband’s grandmother’s place in the nearby Berkshires (which is how we ended up leaving the southern New Jersey for New England), and beyond the surprise that my surname was all over the building because in addition to housing the acupuncturist’s office, it housed an organization called the Salasin Center (so named for a distant relative that I found on Facebook) was that its dead leaves were left hanging among its healthy ones, and if not a shouting sign of neglect then some kind of statement which I had plenty of time to ponder as I lay on the table week after week for an hour at a time–from sandals to long pants to scarves to wool socks and hats.

With nothing to do but remain still so that the needles in my belly (or eye socket) wouldn’t move, the story–my story–about the neglected ivy-like plant–began to shift, somewhere beneath my personal anxiety around neglect.

When the acupuncturist returned to the room to remove the needles of which there were a total of 8 on this particular visit–including one at the top of my skull, and one at each of my temples, as well as one between my toes and another placed between my bottom two ribs, I finally said aloud what I’d been thinking for so many weeks in a row (hoping to silence it in my head):

“Has anyone ever said that those–(I pointed toward a particularly long line of decaying leaves)–look like a chrysalis?” (I wish I knew then the plural.)

Surprisingly Dan said, “No,” and nothing more.

But my therapist picked up the thread, the very same week, which is something I try to avoid–more than one appointment in the same week–but which has been unavoidable during this health crisis that has so depleted me (while serving as a boot-camp for letting go.)

“This is a very inward time for you, more so than ever,” Carolyn said, as I sat across from her in a room perched above the Connecticut River in downtown Brattleboro; something I had been doing about once a month or so ever since my mother’s death, a span of time easily measured by the age of my youngest son, 18.

“It’s time to retreat, to be unseen, to rest under the covers,” she said, “To let your work deepen inside like the spinning of a cocoon.”

My mind immediately protested with all that had to be done in that particular month–December!–not to mention the day trip I’d imagined to the sea the very next day–on the occasion of my 55th birthday. (I had arrived in Vermont at 29.)

“Does this resonate for you?” Carolyn asked, seeing past the veneer of my capacity, into the grievous depletion of chi.

I nodded begrudgingly.

There was one last appointment scheduled that same day, which is something I never do, but it was the only opening my friend had to trade massage for the work I’d done on her website.

The afternoon though brightly lit, was bitter cold, and I arrived at her house chilled, and even so, I removed each and every layer, until I stood in my underwear and slid, belly up, under the single sheet on her table.

“Are you cold?” she asked, turning up the temperature on the heating pads beneath me.

Elaina dangled the pendulum over the center line of my body sensing the ongoing obstruction of the second chakra–digestion, letting go, family, finances, overextension.

“How is mothering going?” she asked, knowing that my youngest left the nest this very August, a day upon which this sweeping illness presented itself in absurdly symbolic fashion.

“There is a burden on your left shoulder,” she added. “A responsibility that you’re carrying, that is not yours, which means it’s stuck there because it has nowhere to go.”

I told her about the Ritual of Resignation that I had concocted just before Thanksgiving. My therapist had suggested the ritual as an accompaniment to the potent antibiotics to which I planned to surrender, something I hadn’t needed since I moved to Vermont and began using herbs. I filled the prescription bottle with tiny pieces of paper upon which I wrote all the ways I was ready to let go, particularly with regard to my family of origin who I’d begun to carry as a girl.

“So many of your joints are blocked,” Elaina said, as she massaged my shoulders and elbows and wrists, my hips and knees and ankles.

As I write this morning, on the day after my birthday, my hands take turns leaving the keyboard to touch my shoulder tips again and again. The skin there is so strikingly soft, like a baby’s flesh (or what I vaguely recall of a baby), the result of a salt scrub I offered my joints yesterday morning while the sun rose brightly through the trees on another bitterly cold day, on the anniversary of my birth.

So too was my time on the table with Elaina sensual, accompanied as it was by her cat, black, like my own Licorice from long ago with whom I shared a soul connection as a girl in Rockies as my mother disappeared in the bottle. Licorice would drag her paws down my face, and once when recalling this in my therapist’s chair on a guided journey forty years later, I was certain I smelled Licorice’s milky breath.

As Elaina worked on my neck, “Kiki” brushed her whiskers against my left cheek, purring in my ear, and then she pranced across my belly, tenderizing the second chakra, while on the Elaina’s small cd player, a classical version of “Danny Boy” softly played, a song which once eulogized my mother who named her only son Daniel.

After the sunny birthday morning shower with the salt scrub around each joint, my husband drove me to the sea, where I watched from the passenger’s seat, light, moving across frozen lakes and rivers and marshlands and fields, even as my head ached from yet another migraine (a fourth since Thanksgiving week; since the antibiotic?) until I arrived, at the hour of my birth, sensing into the pain of separation–skull crushed by pubic bones–at the open, endless, embrace of Return, understanding in that moment, that the title of my book would be something much larger than I had conceived, could conceive, of the story I’d been spinning several years around a tragedy.

When instead of turning south, we continued along the coastal road deeper into Maine, we passed a tiny pond beside the woods upon which a single skater glided skillfully in tighter and tighter circles.

“He must be professional hockey player,” I said to my husband.

“Such a small pond he’s on,” my husband replied.

“Such elegance,” I said.

And now I recall the moment when I’d fully surrendered to Elaina’s touch on the table, and she asked me to turn over onto my belly, layering heating pads and blankets atop my back, until I grew so hot that I imagined melting, after which she removed the layers, which had grown sticky, peeling them one by one, until I found myself unburdened and light, nascent and raw, like the first unfurling of new life.

Everything I Aspire Toward…

Everything I Aspire Toward…

When I first moved to Vermont in 1993, I saw this “poem” posted on the board at Klara Simpla–Wilmington’s health food store (aka. Southern Vermont’s well-being Mecca.)

I took my first yoga class at Klara Simpla, bought my first herbs, tinctures and supplements there; and found some books that spoke to my soul.

Of the many ways I was inspired at Klara Simpla, this poem planted a seed that has been watered and nurtured by my life in Vermont.  It’s as true of what I want today as it was when I first set foot into this state.

Beware Signs of Inner Peace

A tendency to think and act  spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment

A loss of interest in judging other people

A loss of interest in judging self

A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of   others

A loss of interest in conflict

A loss of  ability to worry

Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation

Contented feelings of connectedness with others  & nature

Frequent attacks of smiling

An increasing tendency to let things happen rather  than  make them happen

An increased susceptibility to love extended  by others  and  the uncontrollable urge to  extend it

(by Saskia Davis, RN)

An Interview with Fay Hollander, founder of Klara Simpla

An Interview with Fay Hollander, founder of Klara Simpla

A long slow color is green.”

Fay Hollander

(This quote, from a poem by Faye, was engraved on a wooden medallion which greeted guests above the entrance to what was once Southern Vermont’s natural living Mecca~Klara Simpla.  This interview took place in 1997 in Faye’s apartment above the shop on Main Street in Wilmington.)

Fay, tell me the story of how Klara Simpla got its start…

Well, this was the Wee Ski Shop, and Wee Moran ran it.  I had just moved in up the street and happened to walk by.   Wee was out on the sidewalk, looking very glum, and told me that his wife had just been dropped in the hospital and had broken her spine.  And I, never having been in a ski shop in my life, said, Well, is there anything that I can do?

That was December 15, 1965.

So I came in to help with getting the equipment out and for sale.  On Friday nights, there would be a line of young people down the block because (don’t forget) this was the only ski shop in town when
Mount Snow opened.  We’d work all night just to keep things going.

Sometimes those people coming in late were hungry, and I began to think that maybe it would be nice if we had something here.  So I took three hundred dollars and bought honey and peanut butter from Walnut Acres in Pennsylvannia.  And then, they’d say, “Do you have any bread?”  So I started ordering organic bread from Canada.

And that’s what made it grow.

So how did you end up in Vermont selling organic foods?

My father was an organic farmer and a bee keeper in Virginia.  He helped other people learn organic farming, and that interested me.  I studied very practical things in college… how fibers and food were made, and how to test them, so I had a good background for this.
Coming to Vermont, over thirty years ago, was a real turning point for me.   I didn’t know a soul, but it felt like I should be here.  It was one of those things that you don’t have to think about it–you just feel very right without putting a whole lot of [mental] handicaps in your way.

You know some people use their minds to figure everything out.  I’m not that kind of person.  How can the heart speak if the mind is busy?

I heard that the locals wouldn’t set foot in here when you first got started.

Yes, it was a very weird beginning. The people in the town walked on the other side of the street because they didn’t want to come near me.  I  heard that they thought I was a witch!

I  first had a big herb table in the ski shop.  The police would come in, with their hands behind their backs, and walk around and look at it out of the corner of their eye.  As a matter of fact, they arrested a young man who was going out with a bag of herbs.  So it was scary for me.  I couldn’t see the humor in it then.

What turned things around?

When Wee died in ‘72, he left no will, and I was faced with eviction.  I had been living here and taking care of everything.  It was a monumental task but he needed the help.

People began to hear that this place might be lost.  (By that time it was almost a full-fledged health food store as it is now.)   And people came in… there was a crippled man from up North who brought in a check for me to use to pay the lawyers;  and there was a wealthy woman in Brattleboro who heard what was happening and sent another big check–without knowing how I would pay her back.

That’s what let me know how important this place was to people.

So many people write you and call you or want to come to visit. At eighty years old, how do you keep up with it all?

Well, I think a lot of the people who correspond with me must think I’m dead by now!

I actually have a lot to do to keep things going here, but I don’t try to put it all in one basket, I spread it out.

Here’s a quick question that I know a lot of people would like the answer to: Why aren’t you listed in the phone book under Klara Simpla?

I don’t know, it’s not important to me. [We  both laugh as the phone rings on cue.]

Some people are really overwhelmed the first time they walk into this store…

[Fay laughs as recalls this incident.]

I used to have some chairs out front in the summertime and I would sit out there.  One afternoon a girl sat down beside me; she was about twelve years old, and she looked at me and said, “Do you work here?”

And I said, “Yes.”

And she said, “How do you stand it?”

And I said, “
What do you mean?”

And she said, “
It smells so awful in there.”

Fay, what’s going to happen to Klara Simpla when you’re gone?

I have no idea; whatever needs to happen, I guess.  That’s a nice way for it to grow.

I thought you were going to ask me about the books.

I do love your book collection.

You know when I first put the books in the store, somebody said to me, “You’ll never sell books like that in this town!”  But in a short time, there were people coming from Boston to buy books here.

People would say, “
Oh I love this shop;  I could just live here!”  And I used to sort of giggle inside;  because I used to sleep in the book department before there was this space upstairs.  I would just uncover a cot that had books on it during the day and lay down there at night.  I loved the feeling of the books around me.   (They were my salvation growing up.)

Is there anything that you’d want me to say or not to say in my  article about Klara Simpla?

I’d want it to say what’s real.  I can think of an article that was done here where everything seemed flowery and nicer than it was–embellished–as though that was necessary. That’s a handicap, when you embellish things and then try to live up to something that isn’t real.

Klara Simpla has touched so many lives.  What has this meant to you?

If I make a difference and it’s positive, that pleases me.

Closing words…

I feel very lucky for the chain of events that brought, even us, together.  I  have a lot of love in my heart for Vermont and the people here.  I think it’s a great place to be.  There’s a freedom in this state;  it’s a real haven for having yourself expressed and getting to know yourself.

Kelly Salasin, Wilmington 1997