Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My Love of Landscape – Part 6

Part 6 of My Love of Landscape: Adulthood in Vermont...and Discovering the Caribbean and the Southwest

Cinnamon Bay, St John, US Virgin Islands

I'll admit, my last summer at Bread Loaf was a tough one.  Five years is a long time to commit to any program when you're 20, and by the time I reached that fifth, final summer, I was like a marathoner near the end of the race, hitting the wall.  It took all I had to finish.

What does one do with two liberal arts degrees and no prospects?  Ready to leave the Rosebud Cafe, I went down the street to another restaurant.  I waited tables, managed the floor, and eventually worked my way up to general manager.  I applied to a doctoral program in Colorado and was accepted with a scholarship, but I decided I didn't need a doctorate to write, so I didn't go.  Soon, the personal computer arrived on the scene, and a friend quit the restaurant to work for a computer store in Burlington.  I'd already bought one to write on and had done some tinkering, so he suggested I apply for a job.  I did, and was made service manager right away.  (Back in those days, if you could read a manual and make a phone call, you could fix anything.)  After a short time, I was hired away by a video production and duplication firm, where I installed and supported a network,  custom-wrote software and managed the accounting, manufacturing and order fulfillment systems.  Finally, a large law firm hired me to manage their network and communication systems between several offices, as well as to lead special projects.

During this time, I continued to write.  I published some poetry, and though I knew there wasn't a living to be made with it, I continued.  But I wanted to make a faster move into the writing world, so I decided I might have better luck with science fiction and fantasy.  I had several stories published in magazines and anthologies, and was even invited as a guest to speak at a couple of "cons" or science fiction conventions.  I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as a professional, which meant I was actually being paid for my fiction.  (This kind of writing requires the writer to conjure up a believable landscape for the reader; I dug into my experience as an explorer of local landscapes to create my worlds.)  But the pay for an entry-level writer in this genre is only pennies—three or four of them—per word.  Persistence may have paid off eventually, but I realized there were many who wrote better science fiction than I ever would.  I needed to to get serious if I wanted to leave my day job.  So, I began to write articles for newspapers and magazines, which paid more.  Mostly, the articles went to local and regional publications.  But my crowning glory was a feature in Caribbean Travel & Life, on a trip I'd taken to the British Virgin Islands.

East End of St John, USVI

On a boat, somewhere in the Caribbean

For several years, I'd taken an annual, two-week vacation in the US Virgin Islands.   I enjoyed a small, comfortable group of friends who liked Cinnamon Bay in the US Virgin Islands National Park, and each winter, we'd endure Vermont as long as we could before flying down.  There were never more than four of us, and we camped to keep things affordable.  I loved my time there, as it was all about the landscape, both above and below the water line.  I'd rise at dawn to run over the steep, jungly hills from Cinnamon Bay to Waterlemon Cay, past groves of calabash, tamarind and bay rum trees; through a mangrove swamp that clattered with the movements of duppy crabs, the entire population of which vanished the moment it felt my footsteps; and past glimpses of distant green islands suspended along the blue horizon.  Later in the day, I'd go snorkeling.  Snorkeling in the clear, warm water was akin to flying—something I do in my dreams.  I tried to learn all the fishes and corals, and I especially liked the sergeant majors, which were the most colorful.  I did a little sketching on these trips, too.

Our campsite at White Bay Campground,
Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

Ivan Chinnery, at the Stress-Free Bar

Trina liked to travel, so travel we did.  We went back to the Caribbean, this time on trip that took us on a tour of St John, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and, our favorite, Jost Van Dyke.  It was this trip that I wrote about for Caribbean Travel & Life.  Over the years, we went back repeatedly to Jost to stay at White Bay Campground, which was run by 7th-generation native Ivan Chinnery.  Ivan also ran the Stress-Free Bar and Local Flavour Restaurant, made charcoal and built lobster traps.  He seemed content in his life, doing a little bit of everything to get along.  He would be the inspiration for our departure from the rat race years later.

Crosssing the river at White House Ruins,
Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Snowflurries on "Wall Street" in
Arches National Park

We even made it to Big Sur

Trina and I took every opportunity we could to travel, as traveling got us through the years.  My computer job gave me the benefit of traveling twice a year for conferences.  I always built a little vacation time into the trip, allowing me a taste of different landscapes.  This provided my first introduction to the American Southwest.  After one conference in Dallas, we rented a car, escaped the city as soon as possible, and drove 1500 miles.  We went camping in the Guadalupe Mountains, hiked down into Carlsbad Caverns, and enjoyed camping in the backcountry of Big Bend National Park.  (At one campsite, along the trickle of water that constituted the Rio Grande, down by Santa Elena Canyon, the temperature read 103 degrees at sundown; this was on March 3rd.)  Another conference took us to Las Vegas, and from there, we toured the interior of Hoover Dam, visited the red rocks of Sedona, climbed down into Grand Canyon and spent a night along the Colorado River at Phantom Ranch, poked around in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, explored Canyon de Chelly National Monument, hiked Utah's Arches and Canyonlands National Parks—it was a 1200-mile whirlwind tour, and I loved every moment of it.  Even though a slice of Mississippi mud pie in Moab gave me food poisoning, the positive energy of the trip allowed me to hike Angel's Landing in Zion National Park the next day.  It was these trips to the Southwest that planted a desire in my heart to live there some day.

Hiking down with crampons into
Grand Canyon after a snowstorm...

...and then taking a break along the
Colorado River at the bottom.


As for where we lived when not ranging across the US, we stayed in rural Addison County, Vermont, occupying a succession of old farmhouses.  One of Addison County's best features is the variety of landscape, and our love of variety is what kept us there for so long. Each house we owned gave us a different rural experience: lakes and ponds, streams and creeks, hills and mountains, dairy farms and wood lots.  Over time, the house sales gave us a nest egg big enough to change our lives.

After a time, we grew restless.  Vermont summers seemed to get muggier, and for the first time, I started seeing ticks.  Yet Vermont winters continued to be harsh.  I'll never forget chopping my car out of the ice one morning when it was 30 below zero.  We had dreams—wasn't it time to follow them?  For many years, writing in the hours before dawn and before work satisfied me.

But now it was time for something different: New Mexico.  (To be continued.)

No comments: