August 15, 2012
First, drive 400 miles, mostly north. Sing Harry Chapin’s “Thirty-Thousand Pounds of Bananas” as you pass Scranton, Pennsylvania. Turn right at the Long and Winding Road (once so marked) where Route 7 meets Route 125 in Vermont. Cross the flower-bedecked bridge at Ripton. Pass your first Moose Crossing sign, then keep going until you see the white face of Tamarak on the left. Drive to the crest of the hill, turn in at your off-campus rental house just beside Tamarack, and you’re back. Back.
This is my eleventh trip up the long and winding road in the twenty-first century. In 2007, I recalled my sojourns here in the 1970s. Back in those days, there was indeed a yellow and black traffic sign that read “LONG WINDING ROAD,” but there were none warning about the moose. It’s not that they weren’t here. But I’m told they didn’t come down from the higher elevations to Route 125 in numbers sufficient enough to warrant signage. Drought and development have forced them to look farther afield for food.
I came up yesterday, arriving in the early evening. There was enough light left for me to go out to Rochester for some groceries and my first visit to the Woodlawn Cemetery. It was just after my visit last year that Hurricane Irene tore up Route 100, causing extensive damage all along the corridor and destroying part of the cemetery. Reconstruction is continuing. The gravesite I have an interest in, in the upper part of the cemetery above where the creek overflowed, is no longer accessible by car. You have to park near a row of recovered vaults awaiting reburial, and walk across a dirt lane fashioned over a wide conduit. There have been some new burials up there, and the gravesite I come to visit has been tended and decorated.
Today I did my traditional first-day activities. I registered, said hello to old friends, met some new ones (I’ve been in touch by email with first-timers who find my blog posts about Bread Loaf and write to ask about my experiences.) After dinner, there was the traditional welcome from Michael Collier, the director of the conference, with his references to Ellen: or Whisperings of an Old Pine, the novel by Joseph Batell, the man who donated this land and its buildings to Middlebury College in 1915. Michael did not read from the work this year. You can read it for yourself as a Google eBook. See if you agree with Wikipedia’s assessment that it is one of the “more peculiar” books ever written.
Michael also gave his traditional exhortation to “Pace yourselves.” Even the most fit and energetic among us can’t go to every class, lecture, presentation, or reading, meet your obligations to your workshop, and enjoy fun and fellowship (yes, that is a euphemism) without some serious challenges to our physical well-being.
I’ve filled in my matrix of places to go and people to see. This will be the Best Bread Loaf Ever! (Again!)