Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Coming home

As it turned out, my farewell to Vermont in my last post was somewhat premature. Fog delayed our journey back home, and we struggled to find flights for a couple of days. My prevailing anxiety was "but I have to be back and over the jet lag by the 26th!" Two days of waiting, including a trip to Montreal to see the astonishing Biodome, and finally we were on the long trip home.

Disneyland passed me by in a dissatisfied blur. I've been to Disneyland before and enjoyed it. But this time, I saw only the unreality of it all. I think part of the problem was this feeling of "if I can't be in Vermont, I want to be at home - just get me there!"  Another factor was that it was a school day, so the place was full of adults, and I couldn't get over the feeling that there was something very strange about adults choosing Disneyland as their honeymoon destination, or about elderly couples dressed in matching tshirts and Minne Mouse hats lining up for ice cream and Pater Pan rides.

But the girls had fun, and the warmth was very pleasant (winter temperatures in LA of 29 degrees - something of a shock after the arctic climes of Vermont!), and it was over soon enough. And then onto the last long flight through the night, and we stepped out into Auckland's morning rain.

Whenever I arrive back in New Zealand, I'm always mentally transported back to 1974, and the first time, as a bewildered teenager, I watched the sun rise over the Bay of Islands and then stepped off the plane into the bright antipodean sun. Because it's always the light that tells me I'm home.The light in Australasia is so different to the light anywhere else - sharper, brighter, more defined than anywhere I've ever been. This time, however, the light was muted under heavy cloud and warm rain.

And so ten days passed in a fog: the sweet familiarity of my own home, delight in gleaming rimu floors (we had our carpets lifted and floors polished while we were away), days of moving furniture and unpacking, the loving hugs and smiles of my parents and sister, friends and colleagues. Finn was sadly missing, but Anne-Marie brought Harris home with her own sweet boy, darling Monty, for company.  Walks at the farm with my family, and a long walk with Eddie and the dogs by the Manawatu river reminded me of the beauty of this country, its golden greens, its flowing mountain ranges. But I'd look out at leafy trees and blue skies and see in my imagination soft white snow and a frozen lake. "You haven't finished your blog!" my friends here said, "you need to tell your friends in Vermont about New Zealand!". But I could barely speak, let alone write, in full sentences.

And I had to be able to speak in full sentences, because I wanted to do my friends proud, in my small part of their very special celebration, on the 26th. 

So, last Sunday, Emily and I travelled down to Wellington with Bill and Jan, to Digby's installation . And as we drove south to the city, I felt my mind calming and coming together.

Digby's installation as Dean of the Wellington Cathedral was a remarkable, joyous occasion.

And as I sat on the front row,  I thought how, despite all the pomp and ceremony, every moment of this celebration breathed New Zealand.

From the karanga (call) into the Cathedral.

And the congregation of Central Baptist bringing Digby and Jane and their family into the Cathedral

From Rewai's warm and challenging reply to the mihi

And our dreadlocked, barefoot bishop

To all the gifts that were given

We couldn't have been anywhere but Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a bringing together of the best of this country's heritage: the glorious ceremony and music of an English church tradition, the warm, startling quality of Maori protocol and culture, and an informality and humour that is entirely kiwi.

And I managed coherent sentences too

As I look back on that day, the theme that comes back to me is the idea of the graced journey. About 10 years ago, Digby, who was a baptist pastor in Tauranga, experienced a dramatic personal crisis that left him with no job, no prospects, and a requirement to do hours of community service.  He was allocated by the courts to do his community work at the local Anglican church, Holy Trinity.

At the time, it must have felt like the end of his career. Do pastors have careers? Don't know. End of his life's work, I guess. The end of everything. And yet, it was this catastrophic event that led to his eventual priesting within the Anglican community. Amongst the happiest people at the service  were the friends from Otumoetai Baptist, who seemed almost overwhelmed with wonder and joy: they'd been with Digby when all seemed lost, and now they saw embodied the miracle of grace as he walked down the long aisle of the Cathedral, flanked by friends and whanau, by Baptists and Anglicans, with Jane by his side.

One of these folk who had walked this journey with them, Melinda Stevenson, wrote: "it was astonishingly intimate and profoundly moving. I felt like bursting with pride, wiggling with happiness and crying all at the same time ....I just don't have a rich enough vocabulary to explain what ALL of Dig and Jane's friends felt being there with them". And we did, we all felt the wonder and awe. He was - and always had been - home.

Miracles take many forms. And perhaps our true home can be an unexpected place, arrived at through dark alleys and byways. But home is where the light is. The Cathedral in Wellington is filled with light. And as I sat quietly as the afternoon sun filtered through the coloured glass, I thought about the hazy light on the shadowy Adirondack mountains and glancing off an icy lake, and I thought of the bright-edged sun glinting over our farm with Mount Ruapahu appearing like a fairy castle on the horizon, and of soft misty light on an English meadow and a slow river. And I suddenly saw that, for me at least, home can be many places.

Ps the wonderful photos were taken by Sam Prabhakaran, formerly crucifer at All Saints, Palmerston North, and now of the Wellington Cathedral. Thank you for letting me use these beautiful images, Sam!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Northern light

It's our last full day in Vermont. We've packed our suitcases, and the packing cases have gone.
This girls have walked to the school bus through the snow for the very last time. "I'm not going to cry all day," said Emily, as she wiped one gloved hand across her eyes. "Perhaps your tears will freeze!" said Lizzy, helpfully, "Cool!!"

I'm sitting at my desk, watching gentle snow fall on the trees, and it feels as if the whole world is white. Bruce is feeding the birds (and/or, consequently, the squirrels) and hiding corn for the little chipmunk we spotted out in the snow yesterday.

Last night we had a wonderful Italian meal with Jim and Peggy, and Gail and Bill. As we drove home in the dark and down by the lake to see if we could see the northern lights, I was listing in my head all the reasons why we have to come back to Vermont.
  • We haven't learned to ski to a level of competence (well, when I say 'we' I mean Bruce and the girls. Obviously. I haven't learned at all)
  • We haven't seen the maple sugaring
  • We haven't seen the ice fishing or the car races on the lake or the ice sculptures or the polar bear swim
  • We haven't been sledding at Shelburne Farms
  • We haven't drunk enough apple cider
  • We haven't been to Montreal
  • I haven't written the Robert Frost post I always planned for this blog
  • We haven't been to Shelburne Museum
  • We haven't been to Bennington to see the Grandma Moses paintings
  • We haven't seen a moose or a raccoon or a beaver
  • We haven't spotted a white owl or a bald eagle
  • I haven't finished the book
I could go on for a long time like that. I remember, before we came, Bruce was reading a book about New England and planning all the things we were going to do in neighbouring states. I suggested that we should just explore Vermont and he said "but it's just a small state - there's not enough to do there to take up a whole 5 months."

I quietly doubted that. But would I be so uncharitable now as to say "I told you so?" Of course I would!

We have to come back to Vermont because I can't bear to think, even for a moment, that we'll never see this again:

Or this:

In every way, Vermont has enriched our lives: in all that we've done, all that we've seen and lived among. But - it's a cliche, I know, but perhaps some cliches are repeated and repeated just because they're true - the real reason we have to come back to Vermont is because of the people, unknown to us just a few months ago, but now part of our friends and whanau.

We now count work colleagues as friends:

Susanmarie, Sue and Kristen - my wonderful hosts from UVM

With Susanmaire, Ellen and Sofia

Kathy, my fellow Fulbrighter, whose family dreams of returning to NZ
The sledding party - Sharon, Sonya, Karen and their families

Karen, our lovely neighbour at Long Point

We've been part of the Long Point winter community:

This sight has been a daily delight: Rolf walking the two spinones in all weathers

Bruce would choose to go home with one of these in the suitcase
The girls and I would also like to take one of these home (Peggy's perfect parting gift for the girls!)

And the girls would like to take one of these home, too. We spotted this brave little fella out in the garden today

We've already mentioned our wonderful church community:

Church family
And the school - Ferrisburgh Central - where the girls have thrived and enjoyed themselves so much that when we suggested taking them out of school for a day of skiing recently, they acted as if they would be taking themselves to the nearest consul and requesting asylum in the United States.

Lizzy's class, Ferrisburgh Central School

We will all miss darling, zany Tori
Emily says goodbye

Our stay in Vermont has been funded by the Fulbright Foundation. The aim of this Foundation is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries,” and in so doing to promote peace. The idea is to fund people to spend time living in other countries, so that they are able to see that country in some way from the inside.

We can never claim to be Vermonters: you have to be born here for that. Heavens, if you live in the Northeast Kingdom you probably need to be able to claim residence across several generations.  But we have, in some small way, seen Vermont from the inside, in the way we have been welcomed into life here. We will take home new stories, and we hope that our stories will also remain here, that we will be part of the story of this beautiful place.

So, here's the thing: if you've been to Vermont, you have to come back. E noho ra, Green Mountain State. Ka kite ano. We will be back!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Trinity Episcopalian Church, Shelburne

We are in the middle of what has been referred to as a 'polar vortex' here in the US. "What IS a polar vortex? Are you OK" come the anxious emails from home. People here are asking the same question. "I don't know what that is," they say with a shrug, 'though it's a little colder than usual for this time of the year - we don't generally get temperatures like this until the end of the month." On Monday it rained, and the rain pooled in the snow and then froze. All the fields, and most of our garden, are just deep sheets of ice. When we drove home from UVM this evening, all the house lights and Christmas lights were shining on the ice, like reflections in water, giving the impression that every house was marooned at sea.

Meanwhile, our house has the appearance of a perfect vortex as we pack for shipping and pack for the flight and prepare for the girls' farewells at school, and start to say our goodbyes. Three more sleeps in Vermont.

On Sunday we said farewell to our lovely church community.

Several months before we left NZ for Vermont, I was in a state of cold panic: we couldn't find accommodation anywhere. Vacation houses were too expensive, and there were no sabbatical houses, no fully furnished houses for rent. We were so desperate, we even considered shifting the whole Sabbatical to Boston (but I want to go to Vermont!).

Trying to make contacts in any way I could,  I thought I'd try a church community. So I looked for a church in the general area we wanted to stay in and emailed them. Nothing happened. A few days later, I was heading to bed feeling a little dismal: surely a church community would respond? Maybe the message didn't get through? I resolved to contact them again in the morning.

The next day I woke up to a flurry of emails  - people welcoming us to Vermont, offering help in any form. Trinity Church, Shelburne, had welcomed us in.

Trinity is one of the most beautiful small churches I've ever seen. It was built by the Vanderbilt Webbs as their own place of worship, using the architect who designed their 'cottage' at Shelburne Farms. And when it came to designing the stained glass windows - who shall we get to do the windows? - they went to New York and hired Louis Tiffany. When we went to the Met in New York, they had a special exhibition of Tiffany glass - but we have been lucky enough see his remarkable work every weekend.

Tiffany windows over the sanctuary

After the Vanderbilt Webbs had finished designing and building their own church, they then went on and built  Methodist and Catholic churches for their workers - which shows, I think, a remarkable ecumenical spirit for their time.

the chocolate chip cookie saint - by a Tiffany apprentice

However architecturally beautiful Trinity is, though, the people are what makes it truly beautiful. They have welcomed us warmly and made us feel like part of the community rather than like visitors passing through. They let me into the pulpit and gave Emily the starring role in the pageant.

Peggy, Jim  and Gail
Jim has been my wise adviser on living in Vermont, offering practical help in innumerable ways. He sent photos from his living room window when we were in the throes of acquiring visas and battling the myriad details of getting here, to remind me that this trip was going to be worth all the effort (oh Jim, you were right!). His habit of signing his emails +Jim did confuse me at first (was he a bishop?) but he says that we're all shepherds, and he's quite right. His wife, Peggy, is one of the warmest and most creative people I've met, and her warm hugs, along with Gail's bright smile, light up every Sunday morning.
A wonderful evening at Jim and Peggy's lovely condo in Hinesberg
We've made so many friends, here. Rick and David's sermons have been thought-provoking and rich. We've enjoyed the liturgy, the splendid food at coffee hour, interesting conversations, and just becoming part of the life of the parish. 

Mike and Lori Wilson - Mike was part of my research (and is the only person I've ever met who has read and loves Browning's The Ring and the Book)

Rick explains to Emily why we really need to buy a Mad river rocket sled....

....while Bruce pretends he's not listening. 

coffee hour is a great time to catch up on all the news

Trinity has been a warm home for us, welcoming and kind. Thank you for enfolding us into your church family.