The Window


I am sitting at my desk at Young Writers Project in Burlington, VT. I have my fall coat on because I just went outside to the Indonesian food cart and was quite shocked at how cold it has gotten. I got a chill. And I realized, too, that I should have worn my coat. Sad news for the vendor -- too cold to order and wait. I will content myself with cider and a p,b&j.

I have a full floor to almost-ceiling window to my right. Here it is on the, er, left. We are in a historic building and we look out over a parking lot and then a train yard. It is the last vestige of historical Burlington which once was a major seaport on Lake Champlain, the almost Great Lake, that connects to the Hudson River via canal to the south and the St. Lawrence River via the Richelieu River to the north. In the Revolutionary War the Lake was a strategic thoroughfare and was the scene of several conclusive battles. In the 1800s it was a major lumber port. Now it is a tourist attraction.

But I like the reminder of what once was.

American waterfront cities have destroyed themselves and much of their history with development -- condos and fancy restaurants and boutiques with gold-leaf signs beckoning you in to buy high-priced products. I am sorry if I sound harsh, but that is how I feel.

My ancestors were sea people. My great-grandfather was a Swedish seaman who immigrated to the U.S. in 1862 where he was immediately given citizenship and conscripted into the Civil War and sent to blockade the South. Later, he became a sea captain in the China trade -- gone for several years at a time -- and then a Boston Harbor pilot. He told his son that the era of wooden sailing ships were over and he should find another occupation; the sea is no place for a man, he said, the steel, engine-driven freighters were taking over. My grandfather ignored him, to an extent, and became a harbor pilot and raced pilot schooners out to the ships to bring them into port; later he brought in the big destroyers for re-fitting and the ocean liners. By his retirement, he told my father that the world had changed, that giant tankers with small crews were taking over; gone were the sail makers and the dock workers and all the other sea businesses. The sea was no place for a man, he said. So my father went inland.

And those are the things I think about sometimes when I look out my window or I wander around the train yard and look at what many would consider an ugly view. I love it. It is real and industrial and speaks of the past.