It was dark and raining. The fog was thick as maple syrup as we raced up Interstate 91 through the bowels of the Green Mountains toward Burlington. The trip was strictly business, although it would be hard to tell from the look of us a few short hours later.
First light. Gray crept through the mist and the murky windows of the room where we slept.
“Get up,” I groaned from the dilapidated couch on which I had woken up. With the words came a halo of breath — the heat had been shut off in that place.
I was quite certain my roommate, Clay, was in the room too. There was a leg dangling out from under a sleeping bag on the loveseat against the battered plaster of the far wall, under a Jimi Hendrix poster. An orange traffic barrel, with its latitudinal rings of reflective tape, overflowed with empty cans onto the hardwood floor between us. The place smelled distinctly of fish.
“Get up!” Louder this time.
Still no response. Damn, I thought. Perhaps he knew something I didn’t. It was first and foremost his business, after all, we were pursuing. So I decided I would let him call the shots from then on. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
By midmorning, he got his act together, and we were back on the road. Nothing was said about the scene we found ourselves in at dawn. We were professionals, after all, luminaries in our respective fields. Trifling matters like packing a change of clothes, we could not be bothered with.
My roommate is a scholar, a student of architecture more precisely, and it was architecture we were after. The ski town of Warren, Vt., was overrun in the ’60s by a group of freewheeling architectural free thinkers, the ink on their Ivy League masters’ degrees having barely dried yet. We were there to hunt down the monsters they had created — monsters that lurked among the birches on the slopes of the Green Mountains.
They first came upon us suddenly, two ladies we stopped on the side of a road pointing up into the trees, pointing to the weathered neck of “Dimetrodon” craning from the leafless branches.
We took a slow approach, parking at the bottom of the hill. We inspected the beast from different angles. The form of the thing was pure nonsense — it had dozens of doors, portholes, curving windows and a giant red unicorn mounted on the tower that careened from its center.
We knocked on one of the doors. A dog barked. Serena, a woman there claiming to be from New Haven, seemed to take a liking to us and revealed some of her home’s secrets. The tower was built first — the creators lived in it while they each constructed their own apartments attached to it. They ate a lot of mushrooms in the process, she told us. Her mohawk-wearing 10-year-olds took no notice at the mention of drugs. The place was an experiment in self-sufficiency; a giant wood-burning furnace in the basement warmed the entire set of living spaces. Windmills that were gone now had provided electricity.
Serena sent us to meet with the man who conjured up those windmills, David Sellers. He is older now, graying but alive with the wild eyes of a child of the ’60s. He was intrigued by our arrival, drawing us a map to his other creatures lurking amid the mountains. He grinned as he showed off some expensive-looking Hudson School paintings hanging in the clutter of his studio home. It was painfully clear that this was a man who threw nothing away. There was some bickering with a woman about a broken basket.
“Damn it, I never break anything,” the architect said.
“Can I throw it away?” she asked.
“No. That’s my favorite thing in the world. I never break anything, you must have broken it.”
Things might have quickly gotten ugly in a fun sort of way, but we didn’t stick around to find out. We excused ourselves to continue our hunt for the magically deformed stepchildren of Sellers’ mind.
Strange and interesting as it all was, though, architecture was not my business. I am no scholar; rather, I am an outdoors columnist — an altogether different sort of creature. In the waning short December daylight, we stopped deep into Green Mountain National Park to try to make sense of it all.
I snatched my fly rod from the trunk and hopped out onto a stone in the middle of the Mad River, just above a falls. In the mish-mash of shadows falling from the tall birches I finally set to my own work, casting for salmon.
I took home nothing more than a hopelessly tangled tippet, cut free from the leader with my pocketknife. But I got the feeling that somewhere David Sellers was laughing out across the crisp night air of the Mad River Valley.