by Stephen Morris
When Darwin Hunter decides to update Over Yonder Hill (Alton Blanchard's history of the tiny Vermont hamlet of Upper Granville), the result is Beyond Yonder, a chronicle of the cultural divide between the entrenched natives and the invaders from the Land of Flat. From "Babysitters" to "Zucchinis" the contrasting world views are examined and skewered.
Beyond Yonder is part one of "Stories and Tunes," Stephen Morris's "four-part" trilogy of life in the rural North.
by Stephen Morris
Critters"Due to its northerly clime and latitude Vermont is relatively free of the nuisance and pestilence that affect the rest of the world."
-- Alton Blanchard,
from Over Yonder Hill
"Ringworm, head lice, coyote, weasels, black flies, rats, earwigs, skunks, porcupines ... living in Vermont means living with critters."
-- Darwin Hunter,
from Beyond Yonder
In the North one learns to live harmoniously with critters, or one leaves. Darwin Hunter discovered this on his first night in his new home. Upon investigating a commotion in his kitchen, he discovered a nine-hundred pound raccoon nonchalantly munching on his garbage. He went upstairs, stopping to tell Sammi that the situation was well in hand, and got his .22 rifle. His first shot into the coon did not even affect the creature's appetite. Three shots later the beast became severely agitated and charged. Darwin backpedaled frantically, shooting as he went. By the time he managed to kill the raccoon, his kitchen looked like the set for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The clinching blow for many a would-be ruralite is the confrontation with a swarm of black flies or finding the small city of earwigs in the joints of the picnic table. Here is a glossary of critters in the pristine North
After B. J. Bosco's noble golden retriever, General Beauregard, was sprayed by a skunk for the third consecutive night, she knew the problem could no longer be ignored. She bought a Havahart cage, baited it with a can of sardines, and caught the culprit.
She released it on the hillside above the Gunions'. That night General Beau got hit again. Must be more than one skunk. Sure enough, another can of sardines caught a second, then a third, and a fourth. She became suspicious that the skunks were willing to trade a few hours of captivity and some exercise for a free meal. Emil confirmed that skunks would travel miles for a free meal of sardines. If B.J. wanted the stench to stop, she would have to kill.
She considered the options. Although she had no objection to shooting animals in the pursuit of the hunt, she refused to shoot a defenseless animal and felt compelled to devise an execution that made clear the skunk's offenses against society. She wanted to be humane, but more important, she did not want to get sprayed. Hanging seemed ludicrous. She considered electrocution using jumper cables but was afraid she might fry herself in the process. Finally, she enclosed the caged skunk in a large cardboard box into which was vented the exhaust pipe of her Volkswagen. Just to be sure, she ran the car for a half hour, long enough, she calculated to provide enough carbon monoxide to kill the entire town, let alone a critter. She removed the box to find an enraged black and white mammal that promptly sprayed her. B.J., in turn, dragged the Havahart over to Tomar Brook, where she screamed epithets during every agonizing, twitching moment of that skunk's demise.
Nice people don't have rats in their homes. Also, rats are city creatures found in ghettos and along wharves. They do not exist in the country.
Martha Gunion labored under such misconceptions, until it became obvious that the creature they were trying to combat with mousetraps was laughing at them. She and Walt talked in hushed tones about this Godzilla without once mentioning the dreaded word "rat." Then one night Walt heard a noise in the kitchen and found himself face to face with the haughty creature. He even managed a healthy swipe with a poker. The rat smirked and ambled off.
Walt dared not mention that he had seen a rat in their space-age kitchen, but the next day he bought some packets of rodent poison. He set them strategically, taking care to place them where they would be inaccessible to Martha's pet Yorkies. The next day he was pleased to see that the poison had been greedily consumed. What he did not know was that the poison dehydrates its victims, making them ravenous for water. Had he known, he might have prevented Martha's shock the next morning when she discovered a bloated rat floating in the toilet.
Matters went from bad to worse when a second rat stumbled onto the cellar floor, where it promptly ran afoul of the feisty terriers. A day later, the two dehydrated Yorkies succumbed. In hindsight Walt realized it had been easier living with the rat.
A popular local tee shirt says it all: "Black flies don't bite, they suck!
Black flies appear to be harmless gnats. Their bite, however, packs a venomous punch that belies their insignificant size. Ask Sammi Burger-Hunter.
As a local activist in all liberal causes, Sammi was on the committee to welcome Gary Hart to Granville during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. Despite his underdog status, a visit by a nationally prominent figure was a rarity in central Vermont. Preparations were suitably elaborate. The day before his arrival Sammi did some work in the garden, where she swatted away the black flies as she put in the lettuce. She was bitten in several places, including around the eyes.
She thought little of it until the next morning, when, to her great dismay, both eyes were swollen shut. Darwin could prescribe nothing to help, so she gamely proceeded with the day's plans despite her unsightly disfigurement. Senator Hart was gracious and charming, but Sammi was crushed when one of his aides referred to her as looking "as if she just came through the eighth round with Boom Boom Mancini."
The common housefly has been raised to an art form in Vermont. Whether a function of the proximity to dairy farms, the climate, or the leakiness of houses, the North breeds more and hardier flies than anywhere else in the world. The natives handle the situation with ease, perfecting at early ages a lazy hand movement that brushes away the creatures with a nonchalance that approximates the flick of a horse's tail. Diehards do not even bother, but ignore flies on the face, something no Flatlander can do. Townshend Clarke has been trying for years, but after a few seconds his face begins involuntary twitching.
For preventive measures, the Chuck favors strips of flypaper that go up in June and come down in October. Flatlanders prefer violent techniques. Joe Pisano uses a rubber band. Darwin has a spring-powered gun that he bought at the Miami airport. The Stallion favors sucking flies into the vacuum cleaner.
Visiting Flatlanders, especially, have trouble with houseflies. When Sammi Burger-Hunter's parents visited from Cincinnati, the progression was typical. On the first day her mother commented on the flies and gently admonished the children to keep the screen doors tightly closed. On the second day she purchased a can of Raid, which she depleted in two hours. On the third day Darwin gave her a flyswatter. Thereafter most of her waking hours were spent stalking flies in the kitchen, sometimes squealing with glee after a satisfying kill. By the fifth day she was banging away at any semblance of a black spot, babbling about her desire to wreak vengeance on the little black bastards. She began drinking heavily, starting with two martinis at lunch. Her husband recognized danger signals and cut short their vacation. Once safely back in Cincinnati, she regained her sanity, but vowed never again to return to Vermont during fly season.
Northland mosquitoes are probably no more prevalent or venomous than New Jersey, Minnesota, or Louisiana mosquitoes. They are, however, more noticeable, because people take less effort to prevent them. Spraying of breeding grounds is unknown, and the short summer season means that people do not bother with such things as screens. A status item in Chuckdom is the blue-violet bug zapper that crackles regularly in executionary frenzy.
Earwigs are flat, oblong beetles with fearsome pincers as tails. Their pinching qualities pale alongside their ability to produce cardiac arrest by hiding inside every nook and crevice during late summer and appearing when one least expects them. After brushing your teeth, for instance, you might be prepared for the final rinse when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the earwigs just as you tip the bathroom glass to your lips. These insects are better able to elicit screams than any other insect known to man.
There are bugs and there are bugs; then again, there are vermin with which civilized Flatlanders cannot cope. The closest the Clarkes ever came to abandoning Vermont came when their oldest boy, Duncan, was sent home from kindergarten with head lice. Sue went to pick him up from the nurse's office filled with indignation, and left groveling. Even after scouring every inch of the home and each family member's body, she felt unclean for months afterward. "Lice!" she kept telling herself. ‘Americans don't get lice!" The stigma lingered until the next September, when Sammi Burger-Hunter received an identical call regarding her darling little Lisa. If a doctor's child can get lice, Sue reasoned, it was acceptable for her kid, too.
The spring of 1982 was long and wet. By May there still had not been a day that could be called spring. Everyone was sniffly, and sickly, and generally at each other's throats. Then, to make matters worse, everyone's bowels turned to stinky liquid. Darwin took one of his own stool samples into the hospital for analysis and found that he had giardia, an internal parasite found in contaminated water.
One by one the Upper Granville residents brought in their stool samples and received similar diagnoses. The cure was simple enough—two weeks of medication—but the uncertainty of the situation caused emotions to run high. What had caused the contamination? The Stallion, of course, blamed the Chucks, specifically the manure spread constantly on their fields. The Blanchards blamed the Gunions for the change in the drainage when they built their pond. Darwin pointed an accusing finger at Townshend Clarke's goats. Townshend, in turn, blamed the Blanchard dairy farm. Walt Gunion fueled the fires by telling everyone that real estate prices were already plunging, and unless they solved the problem immediately, Upper Granville would become a ghost town.
The state health department was called in; the wells were tested; confusion reigned. In an attempt to rekindle the quickly flagging community spirit, the Hunters invited everyone to a potluck. The sober mood was furthered by the fact that most of the attendees were on medication and could not drink. The evening limped along until Darwin asked if anyone would like a nightcap of bottled water.
"This is ridiculous," said B.J. defiantly. No one had the presence of mind to ask her what was ridiculous; they watched incredulously as she marched over to the kitchen sink, drew herself a large glass of water, and downed it as fast as a draft at a fraternity chugging contest. It had been over a month since any of them had drunk any water, and most now refused to even bathe in it.
"I agree," echoed Bennett. "I've lived here all my life and there ain't nothing wrong with the water." He chugged a glass, too.
"Here's to Upper Granville," said the Stallion, taking a rare position on the same side as a Blanchard and downing his glass as well. "This water tastes great to me. Not as good as beer, but almost."
The giardia episode ended at that point. No one ever found out the cause or the cure. It disappeared as quickly as it came, and by the Fourth of July memories were sufficiently distant to make the topic of Upper Granville's water supply good for endless banter at any town gathering.
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What is a "Four-Part Trilogy?"
Next up from The Public Press: the first three books, revised and improved, in Stephen Morris's Vermont epic, the four part trilogy.
Life has a way of interfering with art. Beyond Yonder, The King of Vermont, and Darwin and the Tunnel of Love were always intended by the author to be a single work, telling the epic story of the daily lives and times of the inhabitants of the tiny hamlet of Upper Granville, Vermont.
But life intervenes. It happens! Day jobs take priority. Parents grow old. Little publishers sell to big publishers. Editors move on to different jobs. Opportunities knock. Kids leave home. It happens! It happens! And it happens!
As a result, the epic novel came out in fits and spurts. First, Beyond Yonder. That's when the publisher got sold. Then, King of Vermont, that's when the editor quit. Meanwhile, a real life equivalent to Upper Granville began appearing on the pages of the Vermont Sunday Magazine. Now, the region had a name, Beyonder, to describe that part of Vermont that is next to nothing, but not far away from anywhere. Tales and More Tails is a collection of Beyonder's "Stories and Tunes."
The Public Press is pleased to present Beyonder in its original glory – ficticious and non-ficticious. This is the Director's cut, digitally remastered, and in full Dolby sound. This is Beyonder at the peak of foliage, at the depth of Mud Season despair, in the procreational frenzy of the vernal kaboom, and in the enveloping eternity of an August night watching the meteors shower in a part of the world where you can actually still see them.
In Beyonder, 4 books make 1 trilogy
interview with publisher and author Stephen Morris
by Stephen Morris
King of Vermont
by Stephen Morris
Tales & More Tales
by Stephen Morris
Tunnel of Love
by Stephen Morris
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