DUMMERSTON -- Carrie Walker sometimes looks into the middle distance as she talks, the way a lot of us do, concentrating on the thoughts turning into spoken words.
You see the sweep of her hair, the side of her face, the cerulean and sea green bracelets on one wrist. You see her strong hands, her cotton shirt and jeans.
And then she turns to look at you. Then you see her eyes, bright as a waterfall glittering in the woods, inviting and surprising as that clear, cold water, suddenly so deep you could jump in from the granite ledge and your toes wouldn't touch bottom.
Bricks and Stones
"Watch out," Carrie says with equal parts gentle
She points to a mouse that has met its unfortunate demise on the small brick patio behind the 1811 Dummerston farmhouse.
Buxom flower beds surround the patio and tumble down a short slope terraced with curving and ridged granite stones. Daisies shimmy, hostas cuddle up to the foundation of the house, and tall, graying foxgloves wave with seedpods soon to burst.
"I built that patio," she says, and remembers digging up bricks from a patio she built a while back in this spot. Other bricks came from an old Guilford schoolhouse, and one was likely made at a long-gone Dummerston brick factory.
"And Paul, my husband, did the stones, which came from an
She stops in her tracks. "Really, he's the one you should be writing about." She follows the stone steps that lead to the wide lawn and long fields. "Well, anyway, let's go look at the greenhouse he built."
In the greenhouse, tomatoes are four- and five-feet high, and a jaunty zucchini splays its leaves. Carrie started her seeds in here for the vegetable garden a few yards down the lawn.
She walks along the permanent beds filled now with kale and deer-nibbled pole beans (she and Paul put up a new fence to keep the noshers out); peppers and more tomatoes ("It's so hard to throw out those little seedlings you don't really need! They're like your babies!"), garlic and huge onions (fertilized with rabbit manure); cabbage and Brussels sprouts (which she cannot currently eat as part of a large, and largely successful, project to improve her energy and health).
The garden is riotous and orderly at the same time, with dill going to seed and walkways covered in a thick wood shaving mulch. It's comfortable in itself.
"I've lived here since 1979," Carrie says. "I've been gardening here for 33 years."
Carrie didn't intend to live in Vermont for three decades, or be the mother of four sons, for that matter. Right after graduating from Drake University in her home state of Iowa, she took off for South America.
"My poor mother," she says. "My poor mother! I would go months sometimes without writing to her. This was in the ‘70s, so, no e-mail!"
She backpacked all over the continent, often traveling alone. In Ecuador, she met her future first husband, and by the bye ended up spending time with him in New Zealand. Her first son, Tai, was born
Another son, Luke, followed a few years later, born in a house she and her first husband were renovating in Burlington, where he'd taken a job.
"Then my ex got a job in Brattleboro, and we were on the move again," she says. "At first I was like, ‘No, ugh, moving again?' But then I saw a picture of this house and there was this ...."
She searches and settles into the word. "... This knowing. The house felt like an old friend, and I was meant to be here."
She points toward her stand of blueberry bushes, protected with a rectangular structure of bird netting.
"Look, there's an oriole. Hmm. He pooped." She laughs. "Yup. Let's go over there and get a headache from eating too many berries."
Inside the blueberry patch, which is a dream of dusky blue and green, she gapes at the fruit dripping from the high stems.
"Can you believe it? Can you believe it? This is incredible!"
There are more gifts on this land; the 40-foot waterfall at the back of the property; the forest that Carrie and Paul, a woodworker, harvest for firewood and building wood; the spot where a pond fits perfectly; and the view of the Green Mountains.
The house has its treasures, too, like the exposed chestnut beam, probably 200 years old, that runs the length of the house, and the many renovations that have made the rooms both beautiful and comfortable. Her third and fourth sons, Jake and Marc, also grew up here and still call it home.
Carrie leans against a cherry wood kitchen island, soft and sturdy, and looks at that view. It has been her landscape and companion for 33 years.
"It's amazing," she says. "It's pretty much unchanged from when we moved here, but it's different every day, too. I've already done my traveling. How could I ever leave?"
That dual quality, to be both constant and shifting, is in Carrie, too.
Over the years, following need, curiosity and opportunity, she has been a family counselor, written a novel, done the day-job-for-health-insurance thing, helped put on the Strolling of the Heifers and become a confident singer with the Brattleboro Women's Chorus and her quartet, Sincrony ("because we're all crones," she says dryly), as well as a master at rewriting lyrics to popular songs for special events.
Her voice deepens in tone, though she speaks with a phlegmatic lightness.
"You know, this wasn't the lifetime for having a career. I brought four good men into the world. I'm in the place I know is home -- it's quicksand, in a good way! -- and I'm here until I die. It's a lifetime for being."
She rests for a moment, arms crossed, eyes on the view.
She turns. "So, want to go look at that waterfall?" Her eyes sparkle and glint, and she grins.
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people for this column, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.