Sunday, July 24, 2011

Go west, young lady, part II

Day two in sweltering Western Mass started off at my mecca: the Peace Pagoda. Drive past the UMass campus onto rt 63 into Leverett, MA. Then just take a turn any old place, drive up any steep hill in the woods there, and I promise you will eventually come to this sign:
Pull in, hike about 10 minutes up a gentle slope, and you will be rewarded with this view:
This is my sanctuary. I came here a lot during college, and last year this time, when the thought of another birthday was getting me way down, the Peace Pagoda was all I could think of. This out-of-the-way, not-talking (not as a rule) place helps me clear my mind and consider my choices and frees me from expectation. It reminds me how small I am in the scheme of things. It's as close to being religious as I get.
The grounds include ponds, a rock garden, Tibetan flags flapping in the breeze, frogs ga-lunking in bass tones, and a peaceful vibe. And while it's never a busy spot, on this particular morning I was solidly alone for more than an hour. I sat on a rock bridge and watched bees dance from flower to flower. I didn't do too much thinking. I just allowed thoughts to roll over me and pass by. Something about the Peace Pagoda makes me feel strong and sure.
I even took gratuitous, arm's-length self photos. And give a girl a break for looking a little crummy. It was 97 degrees with a hot breeze.

After leaving the Pagoda, it only makes sense to hop back onto 63 and head a bit further away from Amherst to the little town of Montague. I lived in this house in the center of town a long time ago. I sat in a rocking chair on that porch and read one whole summer. My kick-ass poetry professor lived down the street, and we all woke up one morning to a bear in the yard. Very fond memories.
The Montague Bookmill is an old mill on an old river near some old homes in an old town. It is not air conditioned on a hot July day. In fact, the door is kept shut tight. The largest wasps you've ever seen take out their fury on a window by the biography section. And among these books--all these smart books--you want to know everything. You want to read uninterrupted and learn medieval history and read wartime letters. I do, anyway. On this morning, only one other person attempted to climb up to the second floor, which was a blazing inferno that smells like your grandmother's attic. I was a disgusting, drippy, happy mess up there.
Downstairs, I happened upon this touching moment between two people. Her voice was starting to crack as she told a story. He listened quietly and spoke softly to her.
After buying an assortment of peculiar books, it was lunch time. I headed back toward Amherst and drove by my college liquor store. Old Man Watroba was a nice guy, and one time my housemate and I brought him and his wife a plate of homemade cookies. It seemed corny at the time, but now I'm glad to have the memory.
...and, so, I may have eaten at Antonio's again. Don't judge. I only get out here once a year. I got the special of the day: chicken marinated in vodka with onions, peppers, sausage, and fresh mozzarella. The vodka part seemed gratuitous, and didn't bring much to the party, but it sounded fun.
This may have been followed by a very expensive trip to Hastings for marvelous pens and notebooks. A girl needs to be inspired. And this leads me to the second main point to my trip (after the Peace Pagoda): I started writing a book. That feels so weird to write. Like a deep secret. But there it is. And so, from Amherst, I headed to the most inspirational, air-conditioned spot I could think of. The Mount Holyoke College library. Walking toward it, I decided I might have been more inclined to study if my college library looked like a castle.
Inside and out.

So I planted my fanny for a few hours and started writing. All the while, the sentence, Please don't let this suck ringing in my head. No pressure, old girl.

The library closed at 5, and I left the beautiful campus of MHC and the big old homes there and got back to my own college town. Now, if I hadn't taken a picture, would you believe that this exists? It pretty much sums up my time here.
Damn, it's pretty out here.
I worked on this farm for exactly two days. Long enough to choke in the hay loft and have my leg licked by the enormous tongue of a red adolescent cow. Actually, I loved working on the farm, but I was just accompanying a housemate. Incidentally, she was local and had a beautiful border collie. She also suffered from a Madonna-style brogue caught while studying in Scotland for one semester. I took issue with that.
Tee hee, this is where I went to school. *sigh*
Now, it's not that I've never been to Bub's in Sunderland before...

It's just that I've never been there sober. But cut me some slack; I was a college kid. And believe me when I say that I was amazed to see that it's just as chaotic and freaky sober as it is high as a kite. 

I think it's a rule that BBQ joints have enormous menus on the wall that are meant to confuse. And I think it's also a rule that the layout is designed poorly for coming and going. I ordered wrong, I was constantly in the way, and only felt sort of okay once I was seated. It felt exactly as it did 15 years ago. So I tried a little of everything, under the watchful eye of a four-year-old girl whose father sat quietly drinking a beer. Yeah, it's a lot of food, but I had to sample everything. And no, I was not part of the clean plate club that night. The rice was super spicy. Yummers. My only complaint: It seems unlawful for a BBQ joint to not have corn bread. WTF?
I took several pics of the Pagoda and Bookmill last year too. If you're interested, you can look at them here.

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