The late summer sun glows against the old stone garage at the end of the driveway. If I'm lucky and I happen to be standing on my tired front porch at the right moment, I look with respect at those living stones, who have felt that strong warm light on their faces many more evenings than I have. Maybe the soft squares have a light inside, a kindred spirit that recognizes that strong soft glow and moves through the stone to meet it.
A small window is set into that wall, and sometimes our brown-and-yellow kitty curls up there on the window ledge. I've thought many times about walking over there myself to touch the wall and feel the golden warmth of the stones. But I never quite seem to make it. It may be that I am too busy with laundry or kids or baking. Maybe I'm just too tired or lazy to walk across the grass, through the gate and up to it. But I don't think so. To me, the wall of stones is something magical and if I walk there, the color will fade a little with each step I take until it's just plain brown when I reach up to touch it. So I stay where I am and the light stays within the stones. It's kind of an agreement between us.
The best magic happens, I think, when a plain thing is transformed into something extraordinary and yet stays itself too, at the same time. So it is with the stone garage and also every summer with the Vinland Fair. For three days in August, plain white buildings, bumpy dirt arena, square concrete stage play host to the entire community. The big doors of the fair building slide open and the inside gradually fills up with fresh produce, harvest grains and prize winning pies still warm from last minute baking. Vases filled with bright flowers stand proudly on a shelf along one wall and needlework entries line another. Old glass cases house all kinds of baked goods on one side and odd "collections" on the other. The pop stand across the way has Vinland Fair T-shirts, aprons, and buttons for sale, along with candy bars and soda. The food stand next to it is busy all day. People in line ask for gooseberry or blueberry pie, fried chicken or barbecued beef dinners, or maybe just a hamburger, while folks working inside call out orders to each other down the length of the long building, open to the sun and air on all four sides. For those few days, we are under the spell of a different time and place. Even little kids run free in the still dusk, while grownups finally have a chance to catch up with each other's news.
The most magical thing about it though,is that nothing really happens. Oh, there's the tractor pull, and the talent show and the bicycle races, that's true. But there are no carnival rides, games, or booths. It's mostly just folks hanging around with old friends, and maybe making some new ones. It's the only place I know that I can hear the murmur of many different conversations blended into a sort of pleasant rumble.
And during those three days, while we're all busy talking or working or playing, summer slips quietly into fall. It may still be hot, the trees are still green, but something is different. The air's a little crisp in the mornings, the sun's rays shine at a different angle, voices sound different in the distance, and my soul teaks on that comforting melancholy I love. The fair is an end of summer ritual of sorts, and sometimes I wonder, would autumn arrive if the fair didn't gently lead us to it?
In my life the most ordinary objects and simple events are the ones I contemplate. To me, they have a special magic, quiet but powerful. I believe it is spirit. The little garage with its sandstone blocks and dirt floor is quite ordinary looking, maybe even a little dilapidated. The old faded wooden door is broken in places, and has a terrible time staying on the metal track when we slide it open or shut. When I step inside, it's always dark for a minute until I get used to the dim light filtering in through the half obstructed windows. It's cluttered and smells of man things-gasoline and oil and machines-and it's really pretty dirty. There are other things happening here, if I take the time to notice.
The occasional acorn bouncing and tumbling along the slanted metal roof, the persistent trumpet vine taking advantage of the tiniest opening so it can come grow inside! And the mysterious "F.W.," who carved his initials in the soft stone over 60 years ago. The corner where we brought the pale green moth in out of the wind one breezy summer night, and it sat on our hands, calmly opening and closing its wings. And of course, all of the very odd assortment of nuts and bolts and screws in coffee cans, boxes of nails, and grungy black pieces of machinery, each of them important at some time to someone. In the different seasons of the year I have occasion to walk out the gate over to the garage and into its shadowed shelter. But never on those summer evenings, when the light makes the stones so golden brown. If I were to walk over there and look closely at them, touch their roughness, look to find the sun and note the angle of its rays, I might have to admit that it is simply the summer sun that makes the stones do that, no magic spell, no enchantment, no soul of structure.
Throughout the seasons I walk along the dirt road past the fair grounds, too. The white buildings are so quiet there, standing silently on the yellowing grass. Cows graze near the stage sometimes and bright leaves blow across the fair yard. The magic is still there, I can feel it as I walk near: deep, strong, alive, and forever. I stop there by the gate and just watch those buildings, moving through their own time, drifting through their own space, and tugging me along with them.
From Well, Well, Well (transcribed by Laurie Ward)