The Radical Family has decamped for a few days on what we call a “writing vacation.” One of the places we do this is in the northwestern corner of the state where, since around 1930, the family of one of us has owned a rather large piece of land. The land is so large that, except for the occasional dirt biker or ATV-er who is trying to cut through on his way to the state forest, we see no one but deer, hawks, hummingbirds, and a coyote or two.
Sailor the dog does not care for the wildlife. At all.
Eighty years ago, the parents of one branch of the Radical family purchased this land, and the farmhouse that went with it, from a bootlegger who was on his way to the slammer. The site where the hooch was made and bottled still exists: numerous generations have taken great pleasure in exploring the site and digging up the now antique bottles that were broken there.
Several generations have also enjoyed writing here. About twenty years ago, when the land passed to our generation, the farm house and about thirty acres had already been sold, leaving over sixty acres on the edge of the forest and a good-sized wooden shed. We used the shed for what we called “fancy camping,” coming up here with our big red dog and two fluffy cats who, like all cats, had to be tricked into coming home at the end of each visit. With a little bit of roof tar every once in a while, it remained dry even in the fiercest of New England rainstorms. Prior to the inheritance moment, we had also invested in a 1960s-era camper, which allowed us to extend our season well into October some years, since it had a gas heater, stove and lights that could keep us passing warm.
Perhaps the longest time we ever spent here was the first year we figured out how to use computers that, not accidentally, coincided with the summer I really had to finish my dissertation. Understand: this was prior to the invention of laptops. One of us was still using a Kaypro, that shin-banging steel suitcase that required two discs to boot up on and that had nothing but RAM memory; and the other one of us was using a generic PC knockoff that was considered very advanced for its time.
How we did it was this: we purchased a Honda generator and, in order to filter out the “noise” in the electrical current thus produced, strung together a series of circuit-breaking power strips. We knew we had enough power strips when we could see the letters on the screen and the fuzzy static had gone away (my memory is that it took more than five and fewer than ten.)
The dissertation was finished that summer. It took around eight weeks, as I recall, and we were here for most of it. My routine was simple: after breakfast, and a quick shower via dumping buckets of water over my head, I fired up the generator and the computer. I wrote until 1:00. I turned off the computer, had a tomato and cheddar cheese sandwich, drank a cold beer (all of our food and drink came out of a cooler that had to be resupplied with ice daily), and knocked off work for the day in the company of a good novel.
I did this every day until my dissertation was done. Some years later, I revised that dissertation into the first draft of a book in approximately the same way. There’s nothing like routine.
Now that little wooden house is gone, replaced with a real summerhouse, built by the next generation to whom we sold the land so that they could occupy it properly. We threw in the blessings that come with the land as a bonus, and they seem to want us to come as often as we want to be here. It is an excellent arrangement. Our splendid old dog and both cats are buried under a blueberry bush by the stone wall, where I occasionally take Sailor for inspirational lectures about facing down one’s fears of wild things. The trailer, which eventually became a massive field mouse condominium, and was so thoroughly moused that there was no rehabilitating it. Eventually, it had to be burned in the field: it turned out that the guy who had sold it to us had failed to transfer the paperwork, so no junk yard would take it, but I believe several family members had a terrific time hacking it up with chain saws and lighting a humongous bonfire. One only hopes that the mice escaped in time, but mice do have a tendency to take care of themselves.
And the writers? Well, I can reassure you that books are still written here.