Night News

June 1, 2011

Appalachia Summer/Fall 2011

On the eleventh evening of a mountain walk taken during the ninth month in 2008, I call home. Nothing unusual there, you might say, but the act of calling is the only usual part of what follows. As I punch in the number, listen to the ringing, and wait for my wife to pick up, I scan my surroundings. Dusk is approaching and a gauzy, yellow light filters sideways through the turning beech and maple leaves; it’s windless, and, as if to emphasize this late summer stillness, cicadas and crickets offer up a constant trill. The boulder I’ve settled back against feels solid and warm. On the fourth ring, Lucille picks up, “Hello?”
“Hey,” I say.
“Ah, I’m glad you called,” she says, and over the airy distance between us I detect an edginess.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Well, it’s hard to figure out where to begin,” she says, and the miles between this Vermont mountain and our Massachusetts home seem to grow fat with imagined disasters. “I’m OK,” she adds, at the intake of my breath.

The frontcountry summary that follows is hard to take in, perhaps even more so after days of immersion in the backcountry terrain of Vermont’s Long Trail. But, after wobbling repeatedly to the edge, the stock market has parapented off a cliff, seemingly without parachute. Lehman Brothers has failed; Merrill Lynch has gone under via fire sale. Insurance “giant” AIG is being bailed out to the tune of billions of government—taxpayer—dollars. Banks aren’t lending, even to each other, because no one knows who may fail next. “It’s gone,” Lucille repeats, anticipating my disbelief. “Wow,” I say, sitting back on my ledge. “Wow.”

One of my classmates at Amherst College was a Smith scion back when the firm was Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith; he played right wing to my left on our college soccer team (and, yes, in political leanings too). I conjure a decades-old image of his blond hair swept back by the pace of his running; I recall his erect surety about competition, about life. “Gone?” I say simply because I’m unsure what else to say. “Yep,” she says. “Whatever they’ve been doing with their mortgage investments, it’s washed the foundation out and now they’re having to fold.

Sandy Stott is a teacher at Concord Academy in Massachusetts and a former editor of Appalachia.

The full text of this story may be found in the Summer/Fall 2011 issue of Appalachia.

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