One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Community of Trees

We ran the Mud Pond Loop again this weekend. It is becoming one of my absolute favorite places. I’ve decided it feels like a neighborhood. Truly. There is the block that has the church on the corner (the hushed and magical red pines), the grid of streets filled with houses (the tried and true Vermont maples) and the occasional house with the animal in the backyard (remember those crazy yellow giraffe-birches?) Yeah, it feels like a cozy and vibrant neighborhood. A community, really.

This time, we came upon a stone wall in the middle of our run. It was long, extending the length of a long downhill section of the trail. Although it is probably over eighty years old, all of the stones still fit together like a puzzle, rock shapes complimenting other rock shapes. We ran on one side of the wall and I couldn’t help but wonder: Who had lived here? And who had lived there—on the other side?

It made me think of Dark Water by Laura McNeal. In her incredible story, a boy lives in the forest. And the trees and the river are his neighborhood. It is strange—but not so strange—to think about people living in Mud Pond. Actually, Mud Pond—like much of Vermont’s forest—used to be farmland. Eighty or so years ago, this tree community didn’t exist. Instead, sheep roamed fields. It is kind of amazing to me. Eighty years is not that long ago. And these trees are big, you know? And there are a lot of them.

So strange to think of a landscape changing so drastically.

At that sheep farm time, Vermont was something like eighty percent farmland and twenty percent forest. Now it is the opposite. One neighborhood evolving into another. A community of people and animals evolving into a community of trees. I kind of want to live there with them. Or at least visit for tea.

Tam Smith

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For the Love of Books

For the past two years I have had a monthly Sunday meandering date with my super-smart, all-around-amazing-person friend, Mary Whitten. Each month we pick a new San Francisco neighborhood to explore, always starting at the local neighborhood bookstore, then, when we are satiated, we wander the streets, ending at a café for a latte or a cup of tea. We are incredibly lucky here in San Francisco to still have over 30 small, independent bookstores, at a time when many people are predicting the imminent replacement of books by ebooks.

Mary and I start at a bookstore because we both love books—not only reading and discussing them—but we love the solid, tactile weight of holding them in our hands, love the slick feel of the cover, full of promise and appeal, love the shoosh-shoosh sound of turning the page, the sharp smell of ink on paper. The wonderfully sensual experience of it all.

Last Sunday we spent our usual hour grazing the shelves at Books Inc on Chestnut Street; young adult, middle grade, new adult fiction, classics, pulling out books we have loved, books we’re curious about, books we found disappointing, books we want each other to read so we can really discuss them. We almost always end up talking each other into buying something we’ve recently read and loved. Or a classic we somehow missed. I am about to embark on Jane Eyre at Mary’s urging. And we just realized that neither of us had ever read Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game; we vowed to do so before our next walk.

Don’t get me wrong; ebooks are an amazing development in the realm of written words; I think of them in the same way I think of recycled corn to-go cups—they are a good thing, they do the job of holding tea, but I still love drinking my Earl Grey from a beautiful porcelain cup. One does not, and I truly believe will never, replace the other. 

Sharry Wright

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Yellow Birch

Okay, new trail this week. My running partner and I—plus our three dogs—explored Mud Pond Loop, which is a single track mountain bike trail that climbs and curves and descends through forest and river and, yes, a mucky, muddy pond. It is right off a main road, but you would never know it, it only appears just as you reach it.

A short wooden bridge serves as its welcome. You cross it and enter another world. Truly. Think Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. The trail winds through dense deciduous trees. So many of them that even at this time of year, when the leaves have fallen and cover the dirt like one enormous quilt, the sun still gets trapped on the other side of their tall, thick branches. Only a few lucky rays sneak through the trees, spotlighting a crimson section of the quilt, or a shiny rock, or a spider web. One stretch of the trail is carpeted in pine needles. It is especially hushed there, and I had an overwhelming desire to stop in the middle of this part of the trail and…I’m not sure what. Wait for a minister, or a church choir, or heck, I was in another world, so maybe even an angel to materialize in front of me.

Or maybe a magical birch tree creature?

As we finished our run, Kara—my most excellent running partner who also happens to be a most excellent forester—pointed to a yellow birch that looked somewhat like a strange, sinewy giraffe standing on three legs. The legs, Kara told me, were its roots. Yellow birch seeds sprout on moss covered logs and stumps, and even rocks. Their roots grow on and around these objects, like they are hugging them, until they finally find the dirt and dig down. Many years later, the logs, stumps, and rocks disintegrate, leaving the roots standing partially above the ground.

What should be under, is above. A little magic in the forest.

Tam Smith