Tales and More Tales of Beyonder
by Stephen Morris
This book is a collection of articles originally appearing in a variety of Vermont newspapers. Stephen Morris is an indefatigable chronicler of life in Beyonder, and this is his best work. His offerings on Mud Season and Vermont Holidays is particularly memorable.
Tales and More Tales of Beyonder is part three of "Stories and Tunes," Stephen Morris's "four-part" trilogy of life in the rural North.
Thawed Thoughts (Upon the Contemplation of a Frozen Pipe)
The call came at 7:30 am, the earliest polite time to call in Beyonder, even if you know people are up. It had the sound of trouble. The thermometer had dipped to forty below the night before, the temperature at which pipes freeze, engines won't start, and oil tanks run dry.
The Zen of Mud
What can you say about Mud Season that has not been said? This subject has been scrutinized from more angles than Camel's Hump. But Mud Season isn't about a season, nor is it about mud. It's about the human condition and how grace is achieved through humility, the enlightened state. But, before you think I've gone squishy and New Age-y, listen to this:
The stretch of mud on the hill leading up to your house is bad, but testosterone overrules reason. Who does Mother Nature think she is, anyway? You are one with your vehicle. Your logical mind knows it doesn't help to gun the engine, but what is Mud Season, if not a time for stupidity? You turn the steering wheel to the right, your vehicle goes straight. You stomp harder on the accelerator, you go slower and sideways. The ditch moves closer, inch-by-inch.
The Mud Season neophyte screams obscenities and tries to pull the steering wheel off its shaft. The true Vermonter, as he nestles into the ditch, enters a calm state known as the Zen of Mud. You are not hurt. Your vehicle isn't even damaged. You don't have to call a tow truck, because when the temperature drops and the mud hardens, you can just drive out.
This is a time of great humility. Everyone in your neighborhood will drive by and know your predicament is directly attributable to your own stupidity. This is a time to reach deep, and understand that getting stuck during Mud Season is both a penance and a badge of honor. It rewards your male ego by showing that you pushed the envelope by venturing out when the rest of the world is cowering in front of daytime TV. Your soul, however, uses this time for serene contemplation. As you wave to your passing neighbors (none of whom seem to having the same difficulty making it up the hill), you experience true Christian humility, approaching Nirvana, because you realize how much worse things could be. Here is a litany of fates worse than Mud Season endured by residents of Beyonder.
High on the list is getting stuck in snow because you were too lazy and or stupid (or both) to put on your snow tires by Labor Day. The embarrassment is worse if you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle, or, shame on you, a truck. [Editor's note: In this part of the world SUVs are not considered trucks. A truck is something you can use to haul a deer carcass in or to take garbage to the dump. A truck does not have leather seats or a CD player.]
Worse than getting stuck during Mud Season is when your personal check is posted by the cash register at the general store with "Deadbeat" scrawled across in angry red pen. "Do not take checks from this person!"
Worse than getting stuck during Mud Season is when get your town report and see your name on the delinquent tax list. You only missed the deadline by a few days, paid a hefty fine, and now this!
Or, you open the local paper and see your name listed in the County Court Round-up, along with the other area miscreants—the n'er do wells, drunks, and scofflaws that give this part of the world an edge of personality. Or, even worse, you are scouring the classifieds and see one of those "I, wife of, refuse to be responsible for any debts or obligations incurred …" Yup, it has your name.
There are things to contemplate from your ditch-side vantage. Count your blessings. You have not been arrested for drunk driving, nor is your picture in the post office as a deadbeat Dad. You are not even listed on the sex offender website. Life is looking better by the moment.
Worse than getting stuck during Mud Season is being pulled over for speeding, especially in the middle of town. It's bad enough that the cop looks fourteen years old and was a classmate of your kid in junior high. But, why does everyone you've ever met have to pass by while you are sitting in front a flashing cruiser? They honk, you wave. It's like you are running for office. You'd much rather be relaxing here in the ditch.
Humiliation can be political. Ask Elizabeth Ready, whose resume misstatements became the focus of her opponent's entire campaign. Or, what about the candidate for selectboard whose opponent spray painted her name on a giant hog that he left downtown in the back of his pick-up. Ouch. That's hardball! Rather be in a ditch any day.
As a parent, is there anything more character building (read: "humiliating") than having your kid sent home for head lice? Well, maybe one thing. A few years ago some youngsters decided to display their Mud Season defiance by spray painting obscenities on the school busses. Unfortunately, they misspelled the obscenities, even the four letter ones.
You are not even safe in your own home. You can, for instance, have a chimney fire that brings the fire trucks and all the neighbors. Mud Season is a particularly bad time for chimney fires, because you accumulate creosote during the warm daytime that ignites when you crank up the stove in the evening to ward off the plunging temperatures. Think this through from your ditch-side vantage. Not so bad here in the ditch.
Hi, howya doin'. No, I'll be ok. Just waitin' for the mud to firm up a little.
Another thing more humiliating than being in a ditch during Mud Season is to fall off the roof, ass-over-teakettle, while chopping ice dams. These are the ridges of ice that form along the dripline when melting water meets cold air. The dams cause a build-up of standing water that seeps under the shingles and drips into the walls and window casings. You remove ice dams by perching precariously on a ladder and hacking at them with an ax. Alternatively, you can chop from above which is safer until the ice lets go, whence you find yourself buried headfirst. You stare, immobilized, into the ice blue light, wondering if this is how you will die, and wishing you could be in a nice, soft, muddy ditch.
But, that the Zen of Ice Dams, not mud.
So your life is in a ditch? Don't worry. Relax, enjoy it. You won't freeze to death (probably). Turn on the radio. You might even find a Red Sox game. And the Red Sox are, the last time we looked, World Champions. It will pass. Peas will get planted. Om-m-m-m-m.
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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by Stephen Morris
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