We closed our annual tribute to Spring this afternoon, the second Sunday of a two-weekend festival. The celebration is for the running of the sugar water in the maple trees that constitute a large segment of our forest land here in the Virginia Highlands. Our county is one of the major producers of that golden sweetwater that finds its way even into Vermont maple syrup, and our sugar-house operators are justly proud of their product.
The two weekends attract thousands visitors from all over the country, and I mean "thousands!" Twenty- or forty-thousand many a year (this is the 54th) is not uncommon. For a county with just over two-thousand residents and only about 415 square miles of land within its borders, not to mention only one east-west highway and one north-south highway (almost all two-lane), you can imagine what a time we have. It’s wonderful. In four days every service organization, school project and merchant gets an injection of funds that is every bit as sweet as maple candy!
I write about this because like most everyone else here able to stand up, I spent part of the festival working for organizations I belong to. The second Saturday I worked at the firehouse where I have been a member for nearly 20 years. The job I usually get is to stand at the counter where the drinks are provided and keep the glasses of iced tea (sweet or unsweetened) filled and ready as the long line passes by from cashier to food counter and on the way to the desert table and the diningroom. It is a job I enjoy because I spend so much solitary time as a writer, safely protected by the door (it carries a sign that says: "Quiet! Novel in Progress") to my office, seeing no one, speaking to no one for hours at a time. Standing in one place and having hundreds of people come by, many of whom I know, but the vast majority being strangers or people I only know because they come every year, I get a chance to meet, to talk, to observe (careful what you say . . . I may put you in my next novel) and to listen. With a writer’s ear for dialogue and the ability to understand foreign accents (Noo Yawk, ‘Bama, Down East, among others), I occasionally catch a gem of an expression or an idea. A wonderful place to observe and refine characters.
What I also get (and this is true year-after-year), is a restoration of admiration for my fellow human beings. Picture if you will the long, sometimes unpleasant drive over three or five mountains to get here from the flatlands. Fractious children, complaining geezers, hungry (pancakes-maple-syrup-all-you-can-eat-and-then-there’s-lunch) teens, a line that extends down the long firehall and into the parking lot. Rain sometimes and even snow in years past (though this year we had four warm sunny days), and people by the hundreds shuffling through, eating, leaving. And they all said "Thank you." To me! As if I were responsible for it all. But they were just being polite, nice people, happy to have gotten the food they wanted, happy to be in a community where we are still welcoming to strangers. "Thank you," they say, and pass on by.
This isn’t about writing, of course, but about people. But for me at least, that is what writing is: finding the common thread that ties us together, that makes each of us a "someone." It’s what I like to write about.