With my 76th year having arrived in the gloom of January, I ponder not only my past, but with resolve mixed equally with trepidation, my future. Writing memoirs provides an opportunity to make sense out of life, although in truth, reality is in the eye of the beholder. So, with relish and joy, I toil to make sense of a full, complicated, and grand three quarters of a century.
This process has unleashed memories of many achievements along with disappointments and moments of despair and sorrow. There are stories that capture a most fulfilling career as a mental health advocate in Vermont, tales of love and loving partners, recollections of my childhood on the streets of New York City, athletic endeavors through high school and college, and now tennis. Memories also include family traumas including the death of my father when I was 12 and a one-of-a-kind mother who battled major mental illness all her life.
Not meaning to be reckless or shameless, I also have chronicled several love affairs. Some have been most fleeting, like a shooting star across the nighttime sky. Others reflect a constant passion like that of a tall, slow-burning candle that seems steady and bountiful until at some point it flickers out, with but a puff of smoke hiding but not negating all that transpired. And with glee, I have captured a most serious romance with truth and no unfortunate consequences.
So today, in the exceedingly early morning light, I reveal and confess to a long-standing, passionate love affair. I am entranced, seduced, and embraced by the beauty and wonder of . . . balsam trees.
Coming to Vermont in 1976, I might have been characterized and derided, mostly behind my back, as a flatlander. I met my first balsam tree on a date uncertain, but winter had arrived early it seemed. The tree, in a field some distance behind my house, with snow sitting on dark green branches, took my breath away. Perhaps it was the alluring symmetrical shape that moved my senses, or the spire-like crown that graced its upper tower like a church steeple.
Visual attractions are one of life’s great pleasures, but closer physical intimacy is a necessary ingredient, at least for me. I walked down to that field to embrace my new love interest, and when I did I was rewarded with a distinct and seductive fragrance that aroused my senses to a fevered pitch. To my lasting amazement, this aroma remains a true and constant secret link between me and my beloved. Like with other love affairs, particularly long-lasting ones, perhaps it best to simply embrace the warmth and glow of affection, partner well, and seize that experience with mutual devotion without endless time dissecting and analyzing the relationship.
The ecstasy of love drives me to strange and unpredictable behaviors. Starting in the early 1980s. I began a new hobby of sorts, driven by my lust and passion for balsams. I became — and here I expose my roots founded in youthful city mayhem — a tree-napper, sort of like a serial kidnapper, but my prey was small balsam trees growing wild in our northern climes.
First in near-by central Vermont locales, I walked the woods and pastures in search of young, impressionable young balsams. And like many a deer hunter, upon finding my prey I would, on occasion, carry and even lug my bounty some distance back to my car. Being young and aroused, sometimes I even shoveled out a young, attractive 6-foot-tall beauty, which, if nothing else, caused for some strange looks as passers-by spied these trees literally hanging outside my car window or leaning outside my raised trunk lid. Over decades, my addictive ache led me to forays to the far reaches of the Northeast Kingdom, the climate of which is perfect for the cold-loving balsams that now have found life-long residence in my yard and nearby fields. While I am entranced, not so the deer, which steer clear, leaving me to bask in my good fortune without unwelcome nibbles on my beloved.
Today, in the early January morning light, my love affair is rekindled yet again. When the first opaque gleam of that shapely outline appears, as dark night slowly departs and dawn struggles to report, I strain and succeed to revel in the shroud-like, enticing profile of my adored trees. Over decades, my little conifers have been loved, cared for, well placed, and planted. The reward is visceral.
The view from every window in my house is graced with and by exposed balsam beauties that surround. And once again I am alive with passion, with the allure of familiar pleasing aromas and with the sight of my now-not-so-secret loved ones, who reward my devotion with a special birthday present. With kindness and with an appreciation for the wonders of nature, these stately evergreens have dressed for the occasion, because they know and respond to my greatest desire: to see each of them, young and old, greet me with a magnificent mantle of fresh white snow that transforms the long, bleak, January days into my romantic winter wonderland.