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  • 1980

    The fat old maple was no cinch to climb from the ground, the first branches being a good eight feet up. I stood shivering in the open upper bedroom window, looking down at my brand new husband half-shimmying half-scrambling, skinning his hands, wrecking his pants.

    I remember thinking it a good thing that the tree was on the backside of the barn-house—this long-haired, bushy-bearded tree climber would have alarmed the roadside world.

    Once he made it to the open branches things got ...well…not exactly easier. The leaves tossing against him made it hard for him to see. And the sun was sinking fast. I threw him the rabbit ears attached to the television next to me by a flat brown ribbon of a wire. He had to climb with this contraption in one hand.

    He looked at me and smiled. Damn he was cute. Tree spirit.

    Heartless heartless, I turned from his travails and to the object of my desire: the ancient black-and-white television I had just bought for eight bucks at a yard sale. I was desperate. Cut off from all but snatches of news I could find on rural radio. How was it possible that Ronald Reagan had a chance against Jimmy Carter? Reagan the cowboy actor? Seriously? What else had happened away from here?

    R left every day for law school 20 miles away—in our car. I stayed at home at the edge of this tiny Vermont village splitting wood and growing food and wandering about as I sorted out what I wanted to do now that I had decided not to pursue a PhD. Woodsperson wasn’t ranking high on my list. Farmer neither. Watcher of television was sounding pretty good.

    As he climbed, I turned the TV on to sputter and fizz, spitting static and dizzying patterns on every channel. Nothing. Panic was rising in my throat.

    “Higher,” I hollered. “Can’t you go any higher? Move left! Right! More! More! No too much, back up! Ack!”

    I could hear him grunt with effort, hear the scrape of shoes on bark.

    “No no, yes keep going—there there almost. YES!”

    Walter Cronkite flickered in and out of view, wavering wavering wavering then holding! I wanted to kiss the screen. Pat the old man’s face. Weep.

    Ecstatic, I turned to the window to see this husband of mine way out on a limb, hanging onto the branch above his head with one arm and holding out the antenna as far as he could with the other. Human rabbit ears.

    “Not sure this is going to work,” was all he said as he smiled.

    For a moment, just a moment, my heart crashed on the floor as he placed the rabbit ears in the crook of a branch. Cronkite disappeared. I could hear nothing but a soft fuzz. Doomed to isolation.

    Sullen and more sullen, I watched him tinker with the positioning of the antenna, leave it, shrug and slip down the tree. He shook the bark dust off, ran his hands through his hair, and caught me looking. That smile again.

    Something lifted, connected.

    The hell with news. The hell with direction. Who needed anything but this for now.

    I turned off the box.

    Cronkite did return on days the rabbit ears made contact with the television gods. But I rarely cared. There was so much to explore and discover again and again right here. So much news in the making.

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