by Diana Davis
If you’d like to meet Ellen, hear her read from her book, and perhaps purchase signed copies of the first edition to give as Christmas presents, then go the Barnes and Noble at Ladue Crossing this coming Friday, October 25, at 6:30 p.m. Come and meet this modern day Thoreau. You’ll be glad you did. Click here for more information!
I went to a tea room in Chesterfield last Saturday and saw a plaque that read, “I may do foolish things, but I do them with enthusiasm.” It reminded me of the main character in a biography that has just recently been published: Mud Season, by Ellen Stimson. It’s a biography of her life with husband, John, and their three children, Benjamin, Hannah, and Eli, as they trek from St. Louis to Vermont to establish a new bucolic presence in the world.
At one time, Ellen was part-owner of a bookstore called Unique Books in the St. Louis area. When Ellen and family decided to pursue life in a pastoral setting, her partner bought her share of the business. They were moving because Ellen and John had been to Vermont on a wonderful weekend in 1994, where they had fallen deeply in love with each other all over again.
It had taken decade of dreaming, but finally they decided that Vermont was the place to move their family. They thought Vermont would be an escape from the rigors of life in an urban setting. They wanted to immerse themselves into the idyllic world of rural America where everyone romps through the foliage, picnics in the meadows, frolics with the animals, and communes with nature during spring and summer. During winter, they imagined they would wrap in blankets, light the fireplace, roast marshmallow, and cocoon with family enwrapped in love. They would have friends galore who would pop in to bask in their companionship.
On the strength of these dreams, they relocated and bought a rustic old house that needed a few repairs, and a little more square footage, a couple updates, a new roof, and so on. They bought an old country store, named Peltiers (“Pelchers” to the locals) from where they visualized that they would serve friends and neighbors who would flock in for camaraderie, dinner, gasoline and laughter. The store would be their financial lifeline. In their spare time, they would buy a half crate of baby chicks, and foster a couple baby lambs. What could go wrong with anything in this picture?
Plenty! They had no background in the retail or restaurant business. They were not knowledgeable about farm predators. They were they familiar with the building requirements of the region. They had no knowledge of animal husbandry, and quickly learned that one does not call 911 when bovines escape the pasture and stand in the middle of the road blocking the passage of automobiles. They were unaware that there was a season between winter and summer in Northern states where the ground is frozen deep and thaws from the top down. When spring rains come, the frozen earth blocks the absorption of moisture, so the top layers of soil become mud. The people who live there keep on their muck boots – slop through mud, track in mud, and generally get pretty sick of mud before spring bursts forth into glorious color once again. They had a lot to learn.
This is the story that Ellen Stimson tells with humor and pathos, but Ellen is no Pollyanna, and she calls a spade a spade. She lets loose with a swear word now and then. When things go wrong, she shoulders the blame and is grateful that her family supports her with their love through the bad times and the good. At the end of the day, the family has arms firmly linked and stands together to face the world – smiles on their faces.
This is a good read. For those of you who are also writers, check this book out for Ellen’s writing techniques. In cinema, when the director wants to switch from one scene to the other, he or she often fades to black. Ellen accomplishes the same maneuver by fading to nature: little white lambs scampering through the grass; mama ducks waddling to the pond with her babies nosily wobbling after her; Ellen hiking to see a special waterfall that her son found on his meanderings. Her “fade to blacks” are very effective.
In the back of the book is a section that contains recipes Ellen has developed and sold as take-out food at Peltiers. Don’t overlook this part of the book! It features great comfort food for the predicted harsh winter. My family loved “Karen’s Satisfying, Comforting Potatoes.”