Chances Are


We drove early this morning to drop the boys and a friend at an access point to the Long Trail, where they intend to spend three days hiking their way southward. This must be painfully obvious by now, but I like driving through the rural working class landscape of northern Vermont, past spray-painted lawn signs pitching firewood and snow plowing, maple syrup and cow manure. There’s a quiet dignity to way folks inhabit this land, not asking a whole lot and generally receiving somewhat less, but having understood how it’d be from the get-go not prone to lament. To be sure, there are those who seem to have surrendered, but under what pressures it’s hard to know and even fathom. Perhaps even they don’t understand the pressures themselves; they only feel the weight of them.

I grew up in northern Vermont, and I guess it’s true how a place gets inside you, the easy familiarity of it, even the way it smells. The little quirks of regionalized character – how people wave, for instance, or the lilt of their speech. I like the way you come to trust people you share a place with. Maybe you trust them too much sometimes, because for every local who doesn’t wave with just two fingers off the steering wheel, there’s probably one you can’t quite trust. But even most of those can be relied on in a fashion; they might stretch the truth or on occasion even break it, but they’re not out to get you.

What I remember from growing up here is pretty thin and sort of random. I remember getting firewood with my father, which is sort of strange, because I don’t think we did a whole lot of that. But I have a very specific memory of him bucking hardwood with his old Jonsereds chainsaw and me begrudgingly throwing the rounds into the back of whatever car he drove back then. A Honda Civic hatchback, I think, circa 1978 or so. He still has that chainsaw, though I doubt it’s been started in a decade or more. The Civic is long gone.

I remember the musty, wet-wood smell of the cabin we lived in, but that’s kind of a cheap memory, because in my experience all cabins smell like that, or some variation thereof. I remember a little bit the bar my dad frequented, though I can’t understand why I would’ve been there. But I was, at least enough to have a sense of it. Skiing up the hill to the cabin behind my mother. I think I remember that.

Every once in a while I catch myself wondering what my sons will remember. Probably not the things I’d choose for them to, such as the constant selfless sacrifice on the part of their mother and me. Sometimes I want to say, “hey, remember this,” but I know the minute one of my parents said that to me, I probably would’ve banished it from my mind forevermore, so I don’t. I’ll let them choose their memories, the good ones and the bad. Hopefully more of the former than the latter, but who knows.

Not long after we dropped the boys off, watched them disappear down the trail without so much as a glance back, Penny and I drove past a snack bar near a lake not far from where I grew up. My parents and I used to go to that lake, and unlikely as it seems four decades on, I know for certain we went to that snack bar. I don’t even know why I’m so sure, but I am. After we passed, I watched it in the side view mirror until we crested a hill and it dropped out of sight. Chances are, I’ll never see it again.

13 thoughts on “Chances Are”

  1. Awww. This post had/has a bittersweet aspect to it. “Chances are, I’ll never see it again.” That’s the way of life. We see/smell/feel something or have a relationship with something/someone and then, at best, it transforms into something else and on that level we never see it again. Never again in the same way or sometimes never again at all. Like children. Gone down the road. Not looking back. The way it is sometimes. The way it must be sometimes.

    1. Reminds me of the Algonquin way described in Evan Pritchard’s book “No Word For Time.’
      A very interesting read.

  2. Ben, I always enjoy your memories, and the way you present them. Brings me back to the pleasure of reading your books. As much as you love driving across rural Vermont, I love reading about it. Perhaps because driving through rural Vermont is actually magical.

  3. For sure those two boys are going to remember this trek on the Long Trail . . . and along with that, a mom and dad who cared enough to make it possible.

  4. I have kept a journal for each of my boys since the day each of them were born. It started as a way to record those tiny moments I knew, even as a brand-new mother, would be overcome by subsequent memories. When I go back and read the entries of these last 5, almost 6 years already I am amazed at how much has left the forefront of my mind. Thank goodness for journals as haphazard as my attention to them may have been at times. I am grateful for the moments I have recorded as I already realize “chances are, I’ll never see them again.” Thanks for the reminder to be grateful and look forward to the moments to come. Hope you’ll write a post about the boys’ hike (at least what they will tell you about it.) Sounds like an awesome adventure!

  5. Memories! Memories are good and this is what make us who we are! A personal experience is always a step ahead! I love the way you put things together!

  6. Thanks for stirring my own memories, Ben — not all that different from yours having grown up in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The cast iron wood stove at deer camp and the giant pine snake I spotted near the wood pile. Walking the dirt road in the black of night when my Dad’s Bronco broke down — the Bronco he assembled from a kit in the late 70s before I took my first breaths. The numbing pain of toes in ice skates as my brother and I dashed across the frozen pond, my mother waiting at the edge with plastic bags of oranges for each of us. Returning to the safe umbrella of dense trees after family vacations out west — the feeling of being zipped in to a place that promised to take care of me if I promised to work for it. I don’t remember much about growing up either. I’m awful with dates and chronology. But the bracken fern, the smell of my Dad’s buffalo check wool shirt, the misty veil over the Sturgeon River at dawn — those are mine forever.

  7. I didn’t grow up in Vermont, but there’s a lot here that resonates anyway. Your descriptions of people and landscape are vivid and true. I’m trying to picture how the child-parent thing (which I am certainly familiar with) comes into it, cause that’s a whole other topic. (What complicates it even further for me is that I know your dad, and so do my kids, even.) Oh well, it’s all quite interesting.

  8. I was raised in rural New Hampshire and clearly remember the rural poverty, the low paying jobs, and the feeling of hopelessness that comes from working hard but still slipping farther down the economic ladder every year. The (usually) quiet envy of the people from southern New England and New York whose vacation homes and spare vehicles were much nicer than those of a lot of hard working residents. Guys drinking up more take-home pay than they could easily afford and then not having enough money left after buying beer and cigarettes to pay for healthy food and milk for the kids, just pasta, rice, bologna, and bread.

    I left courtesy of an ROTC college scholarship and have never felt any urge to return except to visit friends, eat a lobster at Newick’s, and/or catch a BoSox game at Fenway Park.

  9. Wait!? You don’t think your sons will remember the pretty much constant selfless sacrifice of their parents? Every vague once in a while, it occurs to me – in my forties – that my parents busted their butts for my siblings and me. Parenting….

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