A stunning nightscape
in the absence
a bruised sky
(kelly salasin, october 2012)
A stunning nightscape
in the absence
a bruised sky
(kelly salasin, october 2012)
The full moon of December is no summer serenader’s moon, no sentimental moon of silvery softness to match
the rhyming of the ballad singer.It is a winter’s moon with more than fourteen hours of darkness to rule in cold splendor.
It is not a silvery moon at all. This is a moon of ice, cold and distant. But it shimmers the hills where there is a frosting of snow, and it makes the frozen valleys gleam. It dances on the dark surface of an up-country pond.
It weaves fantastic patterns on the snow in the woodland. It is the sharp edge of the night wind, the silent feather of the great horned owl’s wing, the death-scream of unwary rabbit when the red fox has made its pounce.
This winter’ moon is a silent companion for the nightwalker, a deceptive light that challenges the eye. It dims the huddled hemlocks on the hillside and it sharpens the hilltop horizon. It wreathes the walker’s head in the shimmer of his own breath, and it seems to whistle in his footsteps. It makes wreaths of chimney smoke and sweetens the smell of the hearth fire.
It is the long winter night in cold splendor, night wrapped in frost, spangled and sequined and remote as Arcturus.
~Hal Borland (1900-1978), Twelve Moons of The Year, 1979
Kelly Salasin, October
Thank you Vermont:
First off, my condolences go out to all those affected by the storm. But what affected me most were the people. From the first day and… the first plate of brownies, the local community has been so supportive, thankful and generous that we were all in awe.
We are accustomed to “Southern hospitality,” but the people of Vermont have taken it to a new level. Everywhere we go the locals stop and thank us, but I really just want to thank you.
This gratitude goes out to the hundreds of thumbs-up we have received, and especially the little girl who gave me that great smile at a stoplight and a little boy that hugged one of our guys and said, “Thank you, Army man.”
To the people at the Spartan Arena that graciously allowed us lodging and the servers at the Armed Forces Reserve Center that fed us morning and evening meals, we thank you. To Mark, Jen, Tim and the rest of the volunteers, we thank you. For all the plates of cookies, brownies and boxes of personal items — and those tasty Vermont apples — we thank you.
But most of all, thank you, Vermont, for showing how people can pull together in times of need. You were all so generous, gracious and hospitable. I can only hope that if this ever happens in Virginia, or anywhere else in this great country, the people would act the same way. When I leave here in a few days, I will take with me a piece of Vermont and know that Vermont will be just fine thanks to her people.
If only I could write a tribute to roads like Langston Hughes bestowed upon rivers, but there’s no poetry in me this week, and none like his.
That anything could wash away thoughts of murder inside the Co-op is unfathomable, until now. Until Irene.
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.
I’ve written about the highway that crosses Southern Vermont before, about the lives its mountainous curves stole from our community—a dear friend in her twilight years, the 21-year-old nephew of the kindergarten teacher, and an 8 year-old peer of my son’s from a neighboring town.
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.
Kelly Salasin, August 2011
Video: Neringa Before & After Neringa, including footage of MacArthur Rd & Rte 9:
If there is any place in Vermont that represents the best qualities of our state – a place where the community comes together to buy local, laugh, make friends and celebrate what we cherish about our lives – it is the Brattleboro Food Co-op. (Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin)
That something like this could happen at our beloved Brattleboro Food Co-op is unfathomable.
That this act was intentional is confounding.
That the murderer was someone who lived and loved among us is heartbreaking.
That a life was stolen is devastating.
I write these words from vacation, 300 miles away from the Green Mountain State, knowing that I will miss tonight’s vigil in Brattleboro. But even this far away, I am blessed by my community’s response to this loss, as echoed by the outpouring of solidarity on the Co-op’s Facebook page:
What a sad day for the coop and all of us in this community. (Ruth Wilmot)
It is 2 AM and I’m staring at this computer, wondering how many other of us Co-op members are sleepless from worry, shock and grief – after this saddening event. (Nancy Burgeson Anderson)
We are all feeling this. It is heartbreaking and horrible. Love to all of you close to the scene. No one is worrying about when the Coop will be open again. We *are* worrying about each of you. (Johnny Lee Lenhart)
You guys are all very dear to us. We are helpless to do anything to make this better, but our thoughts are very much with you, and I hope you will let us know if there is any way we can help. (Ted Lemon)
We are all so stunned by this news. Our thoughts are with you and the families involved as you work through this difficult time. (Gail Graham)
I take heart that what is shared is supportive, and life serving, rather than filled with the rage or malice that takes lives:
This is a time to really appreciate facebook. Reading these comments heals me and hopefully others feel the same. Knowing how people from all over the country are holding our community and especially the staff of BFC in their hearts is so meaningful. (Bari Shamas)
Certainly we are all angry. That which has been stolen, has been stolen from us all–even from the one who took the life (maybe from him most of all); and I cannot begin speak to the grief of those who were intimate with the victim:
My heart aches at the news. Micheal was such a loving guy. He will be missed by many. (Karen Ernest Hatt)
Michael was a friend and will be missed. (Chris Maher)
It is impossible to know the right thing to say. Michael was a good guy and will be missed in the co-op community. (David Lippman)
I’m saddened to admit that I cannot place Michael from memory; but no doubt I will recognize his face–and even his kindness–as we all “know” each other in Brattleboro, especially in the aisles of the Co-op.
Given my lack of intimacy, I question the depth of my grief, until I read how deeply others have been affected by this loss, not just in Brattleboro or Vermont, but all around the country, and even around the world:
Sending much love and healing prayers from Thailand. (Nathan Olmstead)
It’s 3:30 in the morning in Vancouver. Neither Cliff (a former employee) nor I can sleep. We are thinking of all of you in the community and send our love. (Lynn Levine)
My heart is broken today. Please know I am sending you my support from afar. The co-op isn’t just a place where I used to work; it is like a family home to me. (Wendy M. Levy)
It is a little crazy that i feel more connected to a store 200 miles away from my home than i do the stores right down the street- but i feel like i know you guys after 4+ years of stopping in for dinner once a week (sometimes more.) It’s a neighborly, small town family feel, and familiar faces, and that is one of the reasons why i love coming to Brattleboro. (Stephanie Santoro)
In addition to the personal expressions of grief, there are the “collective”–messages from co-ops in Belfast, Maine; in Oregon, in Texas, in California, in New Orleans.
As I read through this flood of personal and collective grief, I get a renewed sense of what a Co-op is; how it touches lives; how it connects them:
My heart is aching for the individuals and the collective… ever faithful that you all will make your way through this in a manner that has me falling in love with my co-op all over again. tender blessings… ♥ (Kim Weeter)
When you reopen again, you will feel a tidal wave of love, all of you who work there, who make our days just that much richer. It will be a hard day, but the town will speak to your hearts, and you will remember why you are here. (Jack MacKay)
In addition to messages from individuals and other co-ops, there is now a growing response from companies who sell their products to these stores:
All of us at Baudelaire Soaps offer our deepest sympathies and condolences.
There is something oddly moving by sentiment expressed by soap. It somehow speaks to what is also precious at the Co-op: the heart and passion of the people behind each product.
It’s hard to fathom the breadth of this single act, taken by Richard Gagnon, our wine manager, who traveled the world with his beloved wife Meg, to bring us the sweetness of the vine.
Today, even the potatoes are sad:
Your friends at Small Potatoes offer our deepest sympathies and condolences.
Kelly Salasin, August 10, 2011, Brattleboro Food Co-op Shopper/Member since ’94, past staffer
and the permission to eat
as I approach down the slope
of wet leaves.
I want to consumate our movement–
drink her up,
have her take
Neither will do,
so I continue up the road
on this Hallow’s Eve,
sensing the transparency
of the worlds
in my bones
as the air mysteriously moves
mocking the illusion of
by Autumn’s fiery reds,
to the earth–
to her rich
the place and beauty
of my own
while noticing a half-dozen
from the banks
of the pond–
to clear my view.
I pass four trunks
branches wrapped around
except for lichen,
a soft, sickly green
creeping up each body,
from each limb.
Does the ghost of sweet
Oct. 31, 2009