Kathryn Stearns

Commentator

Kathryn Stearns has spent 30 years in journalism as a writer and editor. She is a former member of the Washington Post's editorial board and stepped down as editorial page editor of the Valley News in 2012.

Robert R. Bruce

In mid-March, the grounds of Hildene, the Lincoln family estate, are a muddy monotone. The gardens are dormant, trees bare. The surrounding mountains, stunning in other seasons, seem to close in on the Greek Revival mansion.

I usually resist saddling up with political pollsters and going for a ride so early in a presidential election cycle. The horse race is long, after all, and the numbers don’t mean much.

Not to sound paranoid, but I’ve recently learned that my mobile phone conspires with retail giants.

Photo: Jack Rowell

This week, we're considering the role of storytelling for Vermont Reads, the Vermont Humanities Council's state-wide reading program. This year's book is Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.

Haroun admires his father, the great story-teller Rashid, and his ability to keep crowds of people awestruck with the power of his tales. When he travels to a magical world to bring back the source of the stories, Haroun meets a mysterious page called Blabbermouth, a girl who masquerades for a time as a boy, and in her presence, Haroun finds himself without words.

Turn to the opinion pages and start counting. How many commentaries are written by men? How many by women? Surely in 2015 there’s equal play, right?

Wrong.

The Little Free Library, no bigger than a breadbox and perched on a post outside Town Hall, was pretty well stocked the day I peered inside.

Stacks of packing boxes crowd the basement, along with disused appliances, discarded clothes, dented bicycle helmets, abandoned skis, a chandelier nobody liked and a couch someone might actually want someday if the mice don’t claim it first.

The German Christmas ornament that once delighted the children is stashed in a corner, its missing pieces left behind in an attic 3,000 miles away. The basement smells salty and damp, like the faraway dockyards where these boxes languished for a time.

My father was reserved and taciturn, traits he inherited from his Edwardian mother, who wore her collars up to the chin and a perpetual look of disapproval. Occasionally, though, at about this time of year, he let loose a little. Something about All Hallow’s Eve - talk of ghouls and ghosts, perhaps — must have appealed to a chemist awed by the mysteries of molecules and the infinite possibilities of particles.

A man waiting at the post office motions to me as I fuss with packing tape and sticky labels. It’s the height of the holiday rush, and lots of people are streaming in, lining up.

“I saw you walk in here first,” says the genial stranger with an Englishman’s acute sensitivity to the unwritten rules of queuing. I slip in front of him, with thanks and a smile.

The 51-year-old house painter, who occasionally takes himself off to the ER when he has an asthma attack, was blunt. “You go there, they fix it and you pay,” he said.

Like thousands of others in the Upper Valley and beyond, I’m getting ready for the Prouty, the spirited summer fundraiser for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

They tossed mortarboards in the air, stashed diplomas in SUVs and closed the book on college. Then they gathered by the sea - 17 strapping graduates, mostly boys, a few girls, more bottles of beer than I cared to count.

Some months ago, I helped to pack up my mother-in-law’s belongings and moved her to an assisted living facility.