Planning the Great Escape

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. - "MARCH is the month of expectation," Emily Dickinson wrote so plainly and so presciently up there in her agoraphobic attic in Amherst, Mass., that it seems she actually understood the early spring frenzy surrounding Berkshire summer rentals more than 100 years later.

March is generally so miserable, muddy, cold and nasty that it's hardly worth the 31 days it takes to get to April. But every so often there is a warm afternoon, then the nub of a bulb pushing through the thawing earth, which is inevitably followed by those first glorious bursts of ads on Craigslist and in the Village Voice touting idyllic summer cottages in the cool mountains of Stockbridge and on the warm beaches of Amagansett. And suddenly you're thinking about a summer getaway.

Driving into the Maw of America - at Last

But after leaving my daughter and heading north, when heavy raindrops splattered the windshield past Dallas, followed by the first of several blaring tornado warnings near the Oklahoma state line, it seemed like something ominous was in the air. As I hurtled forward and backward through time and space, a sultry Lucinda Williams singing me around the bend, my mood grew increasingly dark.

Get a New Perspective on Your Regrets

A close encounter with a powerful force of nature gives writer Steve Lewis a new perspective on his regrets.

The soundtrack to my road trip fantasy always begins with the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man.” In my imagination, the camera pans down to a glistening Winnebago cresting a hill on a clear blue July morning, everyone in my big family laughing, free as the clichéd wind as we sluice down narrow lanes and merge onto interstates crisscrossing the country. No school. No bosses. No deadlines. No editors. No watches. No cocktail parties. Back to nature.

Grin and Bear it!

As near back as the end of the last century it was all pretty quiet up here in the Shawangunk Mountains of Upstate New York—you know, the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah … Mister Bluebird’s on my shoulder … yadda yadda of crickets chirping, chipmunks sniffing, birds tweeting, turkeys gobbling, Disneyfied deer nibbling green grasses as red foxes pad silently across the yard, monarch butterflies landing on the Rose of Sharon.

On the Loss of a Writing Group Friend

The dog always met us at the door for the writers group. If I were young and easy and still given to such literary imaginings, I might today conjure up this creature to be Cerberus, the black hellhound guarding the entrance to the underworld, glistening snout askew, sharp teeth bared and dripping blood, lunging toward us behind the glass.

However, I am not young, nor easy. And truth be told (as it must), Fisher was a Portuguese Water Dog, black like Cerberus, yes, but hardly ferocious and hardly a threat to anyone or anything—friend or foe—that dared enter that homey domain.

Desperately Seeking Herb Weinman

Minor chest pains that woke me early one morning--and which did not go away three, four, five, six hours later--landed me flat on my back at a local emergency room, a perversely comforting beep beep beepissuing from the monitor hanging precariously over my head.

Frankly, I didn't really think that I was having a heart attack--as a former EMT, a devoted watcher of medical television, and a cultural cousin of Woody Allen, I'm ridiculously well versed in the symptoms of a myocardial infarction. However, after I'd endured a morning of chest pains at an age where all warranties have lapsed, it was prudent to go to the hospital. And since my wife was out of town--and my grown kids off with their kids--I drove myself over to the ER.

How Do You Deal With Wounded Pride?

Sometime back in the last century, one of the slick newsstand magazines killed a story of mine that they had previously accepted and held for nearly a year. I responded like the middle-aged teenager that Charlie Sheen has come to personify as the American Adult Male of the New Millennium: honking my horn, cursing, snapping at my kids, sulking when my wife didn’t exhibit the proper regard for my angst.

Call it hubris, neurotic pride, or just plain arrogance: My fury had little to do with the worth of the article itself (in retrospect, it was formulaic and uninspiring), only with the insult to my expansive notions of myself as gun-slinging “Steve Lewis, Writer For Hire.” I mean, how dare they?

The Chilly, Enduring Odor of Bear

Early in March each year, I can smell it coming. Spring, that is. So I can also smell the bears turning in their caves.

Soon thereafter, I’ll be waking daily at sunrise and tiptoeing to the bedroom window to see if they have lumbered out after the long winter. I scan the park-like yard for emptied, mangled bird feeders. Garbage strewn around. Fence posts ripped from the garden.

These bear “visits” are recent phenomena around this unintentional cage we call home. As near back as the last century, our big backyard seemed rather harmless and bucolic, with a swing set, tree house, and goldfish pond. Here in the shade of the Shawangunk Mountains, we heard and saw little more than crickets buzzing, birds chirping, wild turkeys gobbling, deer nibbling grass, and the occasional garter snake slithering under the upside-down wheelbarrow—a wholly benign landscape to laud over our friends in their big dangerous cities.

Feeling like a fraud

Despite years of parenting, one father still feels like an imposter when he offers advice.

A while back I was chosen as the keynote speaker at a parenting conference in New England. The search committee must have assumed that because I’ve written extensively about a life informed by seven children, I must be skilled in the art of fatherhood.

I didn’t let on that I could no more claim to be an expert parent than I could profess to be an expert mechanic, despite owning a lot of cars.

The search for paradise races on

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — In 1973 we stumbled upon this modest paradise 90 miles north of Manhattan, an unassuming hamlet that we could slip into as easily as a flannel shirt. It had four nearly plumb walls that we could almost afford and neighbors who fitted the landscape as naturally as purple loosestrife on the side of the road. So we dug in and we grew roots and somewhere along the way scraped up enough cash to buy 30 acres of woods and swamp and build a home big enough for seven kids.

And then, just when we'd grown comfortable enough with our own humble destinies as local yokels, the high-cultural zeitgeist slammed on the brakes at Exit 18 on the New York State Thruway and this frayed-at-the-edges town was suddenly a weekend destination.

Love Conquers All. Even Life’s Mysteries

IN September 1964, as a day-old freshman at the University of Wisconsin, with all the standard-issue anxieties residing in a suddenly oversize tongue, I spotted my future wife from afar — well, from the next table in the Rathskeller. Minutes later she was deep in flirtatious conversation with my new and worldly roommate from Westport, Conn., who had deserted me to sit down with her.

And thus it wasn’t until three years later — after finding myself a silent observer of their typical undergraduate jealousies and monthly breakups — that Patti Henderson and I had our first official date, on Dec. 10, 1967. I know the exact date because I had two tickets to see the great Otis Redding. That night Mr. Redding’s plane crashed into the frozen waters of Lake Monona while we waited in the Dane County Arena for the concert to begin. An inauspicious beginning to the relationship, but young, lusty and dumb as we were — and probably incapable of spelling inauspicious — we were married the following August in sweltering New Orleans.