In keeping with the spirit of the thing, she closes her eyes, blindly points the cursor in her photo file, and clicks, in the belief that whatever photo presents itself will have an intrinsic connection to the theme.
Take a look at that photo. That there is a wooded hill in southeastern Vermont. A wooded Vermont hill captured in pixels almost six years ago, as it happens, a photo she hasn’t looked at since.
Note the rudimentary driveway with the rutted tracks, the small evergreens dotting the hillside, the tall oaks and maples and white pines to the right and also farther up the hill. The car in the lower left belongs, she thinks, to her friend Meredith, who took the photo.
Six years ago, she (she being me, not Meredith), signed a series of legal documents faxed to her home in Minneapolis. The legal documents meant that this land was now hers. Despite the fact that she knew this particular part of Vermont well, she hadn’t ever seen this particular hill in real life.
She studied the series of photos that her friend sent to her, and she imagined herself walking through these woods. She wondered what the view was like from the very top of the hill. She wondered if there was a flat patch of dirt where you could pitch a tent, maybe build a one-room hut.
There’s an outhouse in the woods, her friend informed her. An outhouse was a one-room hut of sorts, wasn’t it? Indeed it was. What do you know, there was already a house of sorts on the land.
She went to walk the land only after it was hers, driving down the dirt roads that are 70% of all Vermont roads, searching for the unmarked entrance to the rudimentary driveway. What had she gotten herself into? She lived in Minneapolis, for God’s sake.
You always wanted to live in Vermont, she reminded herself. But it makes no sense, she scolded herself, You live in Minneapolis. She had no rebuttal to that one; it was true, this didn’t make any sense.
But she went ahead anyway.
Once there, she couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Those giant trees. That one white pine, my God, she had never seen a white pine so tall, so huge. From the very top of the land she looked east, to New Hampshire, and there it was: Mt. Monadnock.
A year later, she and her friends put together a tiny one-room cabin from a kit bought off eBay. Another friend cut down some of the little evergreens that were overtaking the slope. Someone else drilled a well, and someone else spread gravel on the driveway.
One friend lived in the tiny one-room cabin for six months and used the earth itself to build things. Wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load filled with large flat Vermont slate dug up out of the creek beds: a walled perennial bed. Saplings felled with an axe, stripped with a draw knife, notched with a hatchet: a tool shed and a bench and a picnic table and a ladder. A firepit lined with rocks.
A hammock now hangs from straps encircling two white pines. A clothesline stretches between two trees. A pipeless old sink is propped between two other trees, a water bag with a spout suspended on a hook above it. The old outhouse in the woods has proved extremely useful.
She sits on a couch in Minneapolis, typing away on this entry. Below her is the sound of the water pump; a tall boy is taking a shower. Above her comes the sound of a ukelele; a girl is strumming it. And in another room, another house, in another part of the city, another girl is babysitting.
Once, the boy and the girls did not exist. They were dreams in the mind of a young woman. All her life she wanted them, imagining the things they might do together. The books she would read to them. The places they would go. She imagined sitting them on the kitchen counter so they could help bake cookies. She determined that she would take them traveling as soon as they were born, that they would grow up to be adventurers.
In dark moments, she imagined all the awful things that could happen to them, these invisible non-existent children. She imagined the horror of watching them hurt, suffer.
It doesn’t make sense to have children, she told herself. Those things could happen. The world is full of hurt.
But she went ahead anyway.
From something that was not real and that didn’t exist comes something real. Something you can touch. The top of a tall hill, from which you can see a far horizon. A boy, girls, human beings conjured up out of flesh and blood and dreams.
And so it goes.
Things don’t make sense, but you do them anyway. What exists at first only in your heart turns, over years, into something real.
Love is risk. Love is faith. Love is action.