Dear Mr. President,
Our school is in the Green Mountains in central Vermont. Up the road from the school is the Robert Frost Farmstead. He stayed here every summer for 30 or so years. His log cabin, where he spent his days writing, is up beyond the meadow above the main farmhouse. There are stone walls at the edge of the fields, the kinds of stone walls Frost wrote about in “Mending Wall.” The boulders really are as the poem describes them—some are loaves and some so nearly balls. The stones do tumble and sink into the earth over time. The field in early fall is dry and golden. The clouds roll up the mountain and over and make shadows in field.
I’m fairly certain you’ve never been here. But I take my students to the cabin every year. It’s small, with cedar shingles and a screened porch. Inside there’s an old chair, said to be the one where Frost worked writing and entertaining visitors. There’s a battered woodbox for kindling, and an old phone on the wall, the kind you have to stand at to speak into. In the bedroom on the dresser are a comb, a shaving brush, an old toothbrush and a tube of Colgate, circa 1959. I once heard a local use the old word—his “notions.”
The students walk through the three small rooms. The kids are not reverent, but more like you’d expect them to be in a museum. Interested, a little wide-eyed, talking excitedly. Look, look, here’s a copy of The Red Pony! There’s a whole shelf of Scribner’s Classics.
The ceiling is low, the walls wood paneled. A steep staircase leads up to an attic, and it’s dark. We gather in the front before a fieldstone fireplace. There’s no fire but we’ve brought our lunches. We eat, and we talk about whether Frost ever imagined there’d be a bunch of kids sitting on his floor, crowded knee to knee, backs up against the wall.
When we’re ready I play a recording of Frost reading his poems. His words comes to us through time, crackling and clipped, tumbling quickly through lines we’ve recently studied. “Directive,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “Mending Wall.” He’s not here, but he almost is, and that’s as close as I can get them.
I can imagine you in there, awkwardly bending to sit. It’s been a long time since you had to sit cross-legged on a wooden floor. Your dark suit is desperately out of place. Your red tie is crumpled in your lap and your shoes are the shiniest objects in the room. You, or any of us, have very few powers here. Instead we feel ourselves inside another time. Voices strong enough to outlive us are in the room. Words that were firmly set are now loosed. All we do is allow that into us.
Afterwards we walk out into the field. I tell them, “Go sit anywhere you want. Get away from each other. Be alone, sit in silence. Write, think, or draw.” Quietly they spread out, walking to the far edges of the pasture. Some climb up into the apple trees. Others perch on stone walls, or head cross the logging road into the next pasture. Their bodies grow small as they find their places. They know how to walk into the world and be alone with the words in their heads.
We hear nothing but the wind in the trees. The clouds are sliding over us. Mount Moosalamoo is purple in the distance. The woods really are lovely, dark and deep, and the maples are flaring yellow and red.
You’re not sure what to do, where to go. I want to help you know what to do. I am trying to teach you. Here, there, over by that lichen spotted boulder. Just sit and listen. Just feel what is in your body. You listen to whatever you hear, let it come and let it go. There is no resistance, no confrontation. If you wait long enough, a line will come to you, a line of your very own. If you look closely, you’ll find the perfect leaf, and it will be yours. When you find it, you have to look at it for five long minutes. You hold that leaf between your fingers. It’s still glossy, damp, and there are tiny pin-holes in it. A stain of red blooms into the yellow edges. The stem is the color of dark wine and bending slightly. You feel it’s weight, and you sense the summer suns inside it. It’s been a long time since you looked this hard. It might be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.