As a kid, Labor Day was a dreadful holiday. It was synonymous with the return of Forced Education. Chances were Mom had already taken us out for new backpacks and trapper-keepers and British Knights by the time Dad rounded all of us into the station wagon (yes my youth was very National Lampoon-esque) and we endured the drive down to Lake Chautauqua where we would spend the long weekend. Chances were it was still hot in western New York and what better way to honor the working man than by standing at the end of a dock and impaling wriggling nightcrawlers onto barbed hooks only to feed the many small fish lurking in the weeds.
For the last few Labor Days, things have been decidedly less nature-y. Chicago’s summer festival circuit is intense–by September there is still plenty to see and do. Fortunately by this time the humidity can be something less than shockingly offensive. Musics and foods and block parties aside, I’m fairly certain I’ve actually worked the last few labor Days, a notion which isn’t as cockeyed as one would initially expect. Books aren’t going to sell themselves to undergrads and time and a half is a beautiful thing.
This year, L and I were invited down to the area we will soon call home for a Labor Day concert. Our farmhouse, and by ‘our’ I mean ‘the one we are renting’ and by ‘farmhouse’ I mean ‘the one we will forever be moving into next weekend’ has a storied history. It is landed on something ominously called the Mason Estate which is self-explanatory once you see the amount of enormous plinths of cut stone forming the paths and walkways from houses to barns and other structures now nothing more than half-buried foundations. I assume most stones were used in disturbing pagan rituals or maybe, just maybe, the glaciers that trudged their way through the Berkshires all those years ago took all the soil with them leaving nothing for people to do but break larger pieces of stone into smaller ones. And then use them in their disturbing pagan rituals.
Our house carries the nickname the ‘Fish House’ as the last long-term tenant (and we’re talking turn of the 20th until the 60s long-term) had a thing for fish. L and I are only renting a portion of the house, a small portion to be truthful, with the remaining warren of room stuffed with antiques, wood-working equipment, peeling wall-paper and booksbooksbooks. A great many objects in these rooms are fish themed. Trout bookends, metal lamps artfully twisted into the shape of jumping fish, brackets supporting bookshelves cut out in the shape of, you guessed it, fish. A great many other architectural details are, as our landlord’s son put it, ‘vaguely fishy’ with anchors and other nautical apparatuses firmly represented. In one room a taxidermied barracuda leers menacingly from a table. Well, as menacing as something turned on its side and covered and dust can be.
The ‘Fish House’ is on a peice of land 1,500 acres in size, nothing to sneeze at, this. Even more impressive is the fact that the Mason estate abuts the October Mountain State Forest, Massachussetts’ largest state park at a massive 16,500 acres. It is amazing to think that I could walk out my back door and keep going for days without seeing another human being assuming I wasn’t eaten by a bear who had just eaten somebody else. Let’s just say hiking is on the menu this fall to be followed up with a heaping dessert of snowshoeing and crosscountry skiing this winter.
Around 4pm musicians of various stripes began to drive up and tune less and less recognizable instruments under a plainspoken tent bedazzled with nothing more than a few Japanese lanterns. Among these musicians was our perhaps/kind-of/might be neighbor J (if we move-in before their October 1 return to NYC) who is a gifted jazz guitarist who teaches said instrument each summer to some very lucky students. Professional keyboard players, drummers, and horns all came by in turns, as well as a fantastic blues singer by the name of Moonlight.
There was also quite a spread, this being Vermont it included a lot of wholesome goodness and plenty of microbrewed beers, wine, and god bless whoever brought them, one of those small green blueberry baskets you see at roadside stands full of peanut M&Ms. Lawnchairs and bocce ball and dogs crisscrossed the grass, there was even a ridiculously good juggler at one point who drove the smaller dogs crazy.
Around dusk a grill was fired up just in time to compliment the Big Dipper looming up over our soon-to-be house. With a long drive back to Vermont ahead of us and with L being a working girl, we drifted off sometime later. Sometime between when the blues morphed into jazz, the burgers all but disappeared and the dark shapes in the forest descended to enact their (presumably) disturbing pagan rituals.