“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, May 11, 2012

Part II, Day 33: Clouds. Sun. Rain.

photo by Alex Epstein
Chapter One: Clouds.

Rain showers arrive, and at the end of a warm day the steam brings out black fly nymphs.  Sonya and Alex and Zoe and I are walking through the woods covered head to toe with latex, bug dope, and in one instance, black fur.  Spirits are high today.  The two seniors just finished their last courses.  One just got a second job offer through Americorps, and the other has interviews in the works.  The destination: Boston.  The older human just finished Part I of her novel.  A celebration is in order.

photo by Alex Epstein
Alex and Sonya and Zoe
We have much to discuss: grassroots environmental movements in the North Country; the new tradition of bringing celebratory drinks to some courses populated mostly by seniors; the wildflowers around us, especially the trillium; Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot, the duo's upcoming travels to France and Italy, and Zoe's place in their heart as the not-a-dog person's dog to love.  They both have excellent dog instincts and know--Alex especially--how to operate three moves ahead, as in a game of chess, to anticipate danger, as when we leave the woods and get close to a road, or when other dogs show up that might not play well with others.  I see a dog in this couple's future, especially when they ask me, in detail, how much time housebreaking a puppy takes.

But not this summer.  This summer is going to be about travel, city life, and work.  

Zoe and I will miss them.

Chapter two: Sun
photo by Kelly Prime

The first really hot day in over a week and Zoe just wants to swim and stroll in a mellow way in the shade.  She hasn't seen K. for over two years but she recognizes her instantly when we pick her up at the bookstore.  She extends her snout as far as it will go to cover K's cheek with kisses--something she never does with me, or with the not-a-dog persons she has won over in time.  Today, though, there's something about the sun and the mood in the air that makes her exult in inter-species love and affection.  I think it's the company of K.  Like me, K. would live in a pen with eight dogs walking all over her if she could.

The question of the day: can a neuroscience major become a writer?  The answer, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert: Is the bean green?  Does James Brown get down?  This is a gal who keeps a lyrical, imagery-rich blog about her travels and food passions; a gal who dances, plays music, writes, makes art; all on top of being a gifted science major who has worked as a lab tutor all year.  We talk about how everything we do in life can be fodder for writing, even working at the Stewart's Shop in her town, which is part of the summer plan (great chances for conversation with customers, and people-watching, we agree) and the nature conservancy where she is a guide for kids.

I try to imagine what it would be like to be good at more than one or two things at once.  My sister is like that.  My friend, Sandra, in Paris is like that. 

We both agree that if we could do anything outside of our repertoire, we'd be singer-songwriters.  I'd be the new Joni Mitchell and . . . I am not sure what she would write or who she would be.  We'll have to walk again soon, so I can find out. 

Chapter Three: Rain
photo by Olivia Arroyo

Today an athlete from L.A., O., is enjoying her last full day in the North Country.  She has one last paper to turn in and then she's off for a summer of long, intense days of training (her tennis coach has already told her that the workouts begin on Monday).  She's also taking driving lessons, and she'll hunt for whatever part-time job she can find, preferably in a bookstore or library.

O. and Zoe are good friends
O. was only seventeen when she showed up in my nonfiction writing class this fall.  Many of the students were graduating seniors.  She wowed them with memoirs about her eccentric L.A. neighbors, her youthful forays into writing fantasy and young adult fiction, and her father's adventures in his native Costa Rica on the road with a flatulent pig.

For much of the fall, she would come to visit me in my office on the one day of the week when Zoe came with me, and we would talk about writing, then walk with Zoe and talk about everything else under the sun.

I only brought Zoe to campus for about 90 minutes a week, but on those days, there would be a line of students waiting to come to the office.  For a shy dog, Zoe enjoyed holding court, but her editorial advice was unreliable.  The manuscripts students handed in only interested her if the students had just come from the dining hall, and it's not easy to make an essay radiant with lyricism and original thought while also redolent of meat.

Lunch dates are fun, but I've never been a big one for going out for coffee.  Maybe because when I drink coffee or tea, I'm usually sitting behind this computer.  For me, conversation flows best when there's something to marvel at that is happening right in front of us.  Clouds shaped like brains floating overhead.  Trillium blooming. A three-legged dog swimming--something her surgeon last summer said she would probably not do again.  A three-legged dog reminding us that even when we make plans, all we ever have is now.


  1. This is one of my favorites thus far, and that is saying a lot. Teachers affect students in mysterious ways that often are never expressed. I completely respect Zoe's honest and discriminating perspective on manuscripts.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Dan. Students affect teachers in mysterious ways too-and her dog!