Harvest Time

     Two drunken angels had taken over the church.
     Last year one of the eight steeples on Christ Church blew down. It’s the oldest Episcopal church in Vermont, and it’s just down the block. I got to the church early last night to take tickets for the benefit concert. When I arrived Jaime Laredo, the world’s greatest violist, was rehearsing a Bohuslav Martinu duet with Jennifer Koh, a beautiful young violinist. They sounded like two drunk angels playing Bartok.
     Late afternoon sun slanted through the old windows into the restored, whitewashed interior of the bare New England church. Laredo and Koh casually whipped through the difficult, relentlessly rhythmic, peasant-inspired Czech music, while outside volunteers lay out cookies and napkins on long tables under a tent. The replacement steeples, enormous four-pointed crenellated creations, 14 feet high, lay on the lawn. It looked like Wonderland.
     Laredo and Koh stopped briefly, laughed, and started again. One man stood by the church door listening with me.
     It’s harvest time in Vermont. The ears of corn at Dutton’s fruit stand are big enough to stun a cow. The watermelons thump like drums, and the sugar peas are as sweet as the watermelons. Our neighbor is selling blueberries for $2.50 a pint. That’s practically free. I feel like a bear.
     For the next few weeks nature will be drunk, green, pregnant and lazy. The first maple leaves are flaming red in the swamp maples. The animals know that winter is coming, and they are getting fat, fat – and so am I.
     The thermometer drops into the low 40s at night and nudges 80 in the afternoon. Fat puffy clouds blow across the sky and our cats bring in mouse after mouse from the fields. Each time I take the mouse away, the cats believe, I presume, that it’s because I want to eat it. Because who wouldn’t?
     Farmers are finishing up the season’s second mowing, and the fields on all the hills are neat and trimmed, with hay bales scattered around and old red barns in the distance. The farmers use all sorts of hay baling machines. Some of the bales are oblong, some are big round half tons. On a bike ride before the concert, I saw an ancient rattly baler dragging an even older wagon behind it, with slatted wooden sides. The back end of the wagon must have been 12 feet high. As I was wondering why, the baler shot out a new bale of hay. It crashed against the very top of the back of the wagon, like a Kobe Bryant 3-pointer, then fell onto the bales below.
     I get to play second basset horn in Mozart’s Gran Partita for the Friends of Music at Guilford’s annual concert on Labor Day. It’s in an old barn in the woods, on a commune from the 1960s. We’ve rehearsed it once, and we’ll rehearse once more before the concert. That’s two more rehearsals than Mozart usually got.
     Back at Christ Church, the audience of nearly 200 filled the pews to capacity. Jaime Laredo’s wife Sherry Robinson played cello and Jennifer Koh’s husband Benjamin Hochman played piano. They sailed through Martinu and Rachmaninoff, then ended with a quartet by Gabriel Faure, who, like Beethoven, wrote his last pieces after he became deaf.
     Anyone who reads the Bible knows that every so often God gets mad at humanity because we’re a bunch of screw-ups, and He wipes us out. If God comes down again and asks why he should spare us this time, I suggest we say, “How about music?”
     The concert raised nearly half the cost of replacing the old steeples. You know what they found out when the steeple blew down last year? It was full of honey.

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