More Than One Way

February 9, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in City Living, Coffee Shops, Country Living, New England, Vermont

I live in the country but must travel back to the cities to make a living. I have come to enjoy the juxtaposition of city anonymity to the close intimacy of my village life. When I am here I miss the anonymity of the coffee shop where one can go with barely brushed hair, sloppy Saturday jeans, and not worry about the commentary from friendly faces. In the village you cannot escape seeing people at the post office, the grocer, or the farmstand where you get your fresh milk. It is a tiny community and the chat is often warm, and sometimes intrusive.

But then in the city nobody cares that your cold isn’t better, and maybe you need your driveway plowed. If you don’t venture out no one notices. In the village if your boy misses basketball practice someone will call to see why. And if your mom dies the casseroles and flowers pile up from friends and casual neighbors alike. There are tradeoffs and we all make them, living more happily one way or another. I love my tiny community. I relish the natural isolation of these mountains, and too sometimes I miss the energy and the easy anonymity of the city. Now that I am traveling again I get it all, and must take it how and when it comes.

My favorite thing in a city where I know no one is to sit alone with newspapers and lattes and listen to the sounds around me. I do it here in Vermont too, only the sounds I hear are wind and birds. Yesterday in the city it was this….

Sitting in a coffee shop next to me was a table of three men, aging hippies all.  One was wearing a beret, another looked regular in a ball cap and jeans, and the third wilder one wore a red knit hat with emblems on it, above a giant white beard and a big shock of white hair.  He also wore a red sweater under a big black vest with a million pockets.

The two were helping the wild one with some sort of project.  They were helping him with brochures, fund raising ideas, and stuff to market some kind of program he does for non profits, schools, and churches…aimed at poor people, maybe some kind of parenting/teaching thing.  I got the sense also that they, the helpers anyway, are artists…….I hear mention of studios and desired honorary doctoral degrees of art.

Anyway, while beret guy is working on the brochure, wild guy starts telling regular guy about something else he is doing.  He has a rose garden at his church for which he is responsible.  He explains it thusly…

“I am in charge of our rose garden and I have made little signs with sayings alongside the roses.  They are simple little black and white signs.  Their simplicity offers a contrast to the complexity of the rose.  I want to enhance the experience of the viewer.  They are words, or lines that are meaningful to someone…mostly me.  Some are lines of a song, or a poem, others are famous quotes, some are random sentences from a  book that seemed special.  Sometimes people take the short cut behind our parking lot and I will see a complete stranger reading one of my signs.  Now whether he thinks about the words off and on all day, or just walks away thinking some asshole ruined the garden doesn’t much matter.  I am offering a metaphysical experience of the rose in addition to its natural fragrance and beauty.  It gives the viewer another experience of the rose…anyway some of them are fading and I am working now on new ones and I’d like to invite you to join me in adding writings that you think might be a valuable part of the experience”

I love knowing the kinds of things other people think and wonder about. It was a lovely city moment that I can appreciate even more here in the middle of my Vermont snowstorm….


  • beesknees

    I wanna see that garden

  • katiedid

    What city? What coffee shop? Did they know you were listening…and scribing????

  • margie

    I love this. And these were men….wow. I figured after 8 years of W nobody was thinking about anything sweet or interesting anymore

  • Peace is every step

    Wow, maybe you should go into the private detective business :). What a sweet little snippet into the lives of old hippies. Love it!!

  • Jennifer

    Oh, I’d love to see that garden!

  • Kellan

    This was so fun – hearing your observations of this overheard conversation – so interesting and touching. I’d also like to see that garden. I also like knowing that you have these two perspectives you are currently experiencing – that of a small town and that of the city – that is a gift, right? A gift. Thanks for sharing this and thanks for coming by to visit me – it is always a pleasure reading your stories. Have a good weekend – Kellan

  • the dragonfly

    Sometimes I long for that small town life, where you always run into someone you know…but other times I appreciate the anonymity. What an interesting conversation to overhear..

  • Kellan

    Hi E – thanks for stopping by today – so nice to see you! Hope you are having a good weekend – see you soon. Kellan

  • library lady

    On the extremely rare occasions that I can manage to get up early and leave early, I go to the coffee shop next to the library for breakfast. The place is full of business people having working breakfast meetings and I love to eavesdrop. I’m not a big business fan, but hearing all these anonymous deals being made…or not…over eggs and bacon is a good way to start a day which will be spent in non-profit pursuits.

  • jamie

    This is a great story! I, too, appreciate the city, but often your blogs make me want to move to the country! 🙂

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