Common ground

In a hospital room, Vermonters from different worlds share connections

PUTNEY — My husband Tom had a small surgery that has landed him for a few weeks in the hospital, which took me on a 25-mile journey over the muddy mountain to see him each day.

In spring, we all look for the sunny corners, and in this case mine was a gift of fiddleheads.

Tom has a roommate who is an old backwoods Vermonter, his conversation all f-k, shit, forest-lore, trout fishin', and tobacco. He has lost a leg to what he calls “wild living” and “the diabetes.” The stream of loving family and friends visiting him is continuous.

Although I have lived in wild country most of my life, my dad was a city-born, college-educated, much-traveled adventurer, musician, and professor. My mom was a farm girl born to a mom who was well-read and full of ambitions.

Dad loved locals and loved to converse. I remember sweating in the car, time and again, with a child's impatience while he was swapping stories with a trucker or a farmer.

At the same time, I learned to be interested in people different from myself. I was not raised with a notion of social class.

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People like Tom's roommate know where things are and how things are. There is a high intelligence there that can read the twitch of a horse's flank, that can gauge gravity and breeze in order to lay a tree neatly down between house and barn without staving in the roof of either, that can know whether soil is right by spitting on it and tasting it.

It is the unknown farmer, woodsman, road worker, or trucker who is more likely than the lawyer or professor to stop and be of help to you when you are broken down by the road. And they, knowing how things are, have the jacks, boards, and chains to get you back on the road again.

It is the old-time local who will be the first at your door with a pie when you live in the country.

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So, after having a lively exchange in the hospital room with the old Vermonter's family, when I went to see Tom the next day, there was a bag of fiddleheads waiting for me as gift.

I heard the comment that the only ramps (wild leeks) they knew of grew in poison ivy. So today, I will slide down the muddy east slope of the mountain to a certain spot I know and dig some to share.

This is the neighborly way of things. In a world run right, no one goes without.

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