April 23, 2023
by Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher
For a decade before moving to San Miguel I split my time between southern and northern New England; Hartford, CT and Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
The route north, Highway 91 in Vermont is magnificent, rejuvenating all by itself. Wide, mountainous vistas and an open road are just what the doctor ordered, or should have ordered.
Vermont is the least populated state in the Union. Ninety percent of Vermonters live in or just outside Burlington, alongside Lake Champlain. Ninety percent of the rest live in the handful of Vermont's good-sized towns. Ninety-nine percent of the remaining one percent, the state's rural population, lives somewhere other than the Northeast Kingdom.
Nothing in Vermont is very far from anything else. But the Northeast Kingdom feels remote. It's where Vermonters go to get away from it all.
On one particular journey north, I drove directly to friend's summer solstice party, not far from my place on Bald Mountain. The festivities were in a locale dubbed "Lost Nation," so named because, located as it was on the other side of a steep mountain pass, came a time each winter, in the days before the big snowplow trucks, when they couldn't keep the road open. Residents then sheltered in place or relied on snowshoes and snow-mobiles to get in and out; and spring comes late up there.
But this first day of summer was sunny and warm, with my whole gang in attendance, including Black Pete, one of my closest neighbors, who lived by himself in a log cabin he hewed and constructed on Mad Brook Farm, the ex-hippie commune adjacent to my property.
Pete was featured in National Geographic as an artist creating rocking chairs of maple, fastened with wooden pegs, without the aid of nails, screws or glue. https://www.courant.com/2007/09/01/murray-peter-l/
In bygone days it was said that Black Pete was an ugly drunk. His having been sober for more than a decade before I met him, I never saw him so. But calloused and hornery as he was sober, I could imagine. He never got angry at me, but he was certainly short-tempered and crotchety, "particular" is a nice way of putting it.
Years later I concluded that his normally eccentric manner (both hippie and hermit) was exacerbated by mercury poisoning resultant from his regular diet of tuna fish. (His place had no electricity and it keeps well in the can.) He was, quite literally, as mad as a hatter.
But on this solstice, in good spirits, he was behaving himself. On seeing me, by way of hello, in his usual tone, half-bark, half-croak, he called out to me, demanding, "Where's home?!" Taking the abuptness of his inquiry, in a happy, gentle stride, I soothingly, assuringly replied, "Right here, Pete. Right here."
Recently, I came out of my own hermitage. This week I am visiting my daughter in New Orleans. For the last four years, I've been sheltering, if not exactly "in place," then in San Miguel. I used to wonder how it felt for my father to have his life interrupted by four years in the military during World War II. Now I have an idea.
San Miguel and Palm Springs recently became sister cities. But San Miguel and New Orleans are much more closely related. Both have a vibrant street scene. As that vitality in San Miguel is focused on our Centro, in New Orleans it's focused on the French Quarter.
I flew in with the French Quarter Music Festival in full swing: eight or nine stages featuring live music non-stop for 12 hours each day. My daughter and I and her mom, added our numbers to the tens of thousands of attendees, spending four hours each of my first two days in town milling, eating and listening.
I have visited NOLA a half dozen times, attending some small festivals and even the jazz funeral for Dr. John, but I had never really seen the city flexing its music muscle before. I'm sure that colossal Jazz Fest and mad Mardi Gras have their advantages, but Quarter Fest was the biggest party I'd ever seen.
My daughter is in good spirits and health, gracias a Dios. Four years have revealed some changes in us both, which, except for my deepening wrinkles, are all for the best.
She and her mom have put me to work: odd jobs and shovel work; painting the wall and ceiling where the rain blew in when Hurricane Ida tore some siding off, trying to match the color and texture. It's taken me 65 years, but I think I'm finally getting it right.
Rural Vermont, with its flannel shirts and neighborliness, felt like family, or almost so. San Miguel, with its small-town vibe and cohesive expat community, now feels like home, or almost so.
But this trip to New Orleans reminds me that belonging has no fixed location. Home is where they miss you when you're gone, where the heart is. And while there's no place like it, sometimes it's not tied to a particular place. It's where people understand, and care to understand.
Where's home? Right here.
Dr. David presents Lokkal, the social network, the prettiest, most-efficient way to see San Miguel online. Our Wall shows it all. Join and add your point of view.
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