Round House Coffee
"When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
– Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays.
I grew up in urban America, my home is in rural America, I have been surprised to learn. This is where I belong, I have always belonged, it just took me a lifetime to figure it out.
This, for me, was the hero journey.
Here, whenever I am disheartened or discouraged by the ugliness and hatred of human beings, I come into the presence of still water. I thought of this this morning when we stopped by the Round House Cafe to pick up some coffee.
Our bookkeeper, Anne Dambrowski, was there, coming for breakfast, we sat down with her to catch up, shared our stories of Thanksgiving.
Lisa Carrino, the co-owner of the cafe came out of the kitchen to have her breakfast with us. We talked about children, struggle, holidays. After she went back to work, her husband and our friend Scott Carrino came out with his breakfast to join us. He looked tired, we talked about books. Connie Brooks, the owner of Battenkill Books, came in to pick up some cookies she was serving in her story in her own version of Black Friday. I asked her if she had a book I wanted, she did. She held it for me.
I think of the Round House Cafe when I think of what government, the economists and corporate America has done to rural life. once the mainstay and grounding of American life, now considered unprofitable and impractical in the new global economy. The good jobs have all moved to the coasts, they had taken the children of rural life with them and most of the money.
The big businesses are all gone, the small ones struggle to survive in a community of 2,000. Our population is still declining, as it has been for years. We are better off than most, we have a big college nearby, a vibrant arts center, pockets of creative New Yorkers – artists, writers, painters – who have fled the big city for a different way of life. And farmers, hanging onto their cows and their traditions.
But small town life should never be romanticized, life is not ever simple here. Not too many people have extra money to spend, and there are pockets of poverty in the hills that rival anything the urban ghettoes can offer.
The children come back all the time, they tell us sadly that they have been forced mostly into living in places they don't like, working in jobs they hate for people and corporations that care nothing about them. That is the nature of our world, we are forced to live for the security of things we don't want or need and can't afford for the benefit of people who have more than they could ever need. The idea of community pays and pays, nature fights to survive.
But the children aren't coming back, and neither are those jobs the economists and politicians took away because they have forgotten what people are for, and decided that people don't matter. Here, we are reminded that we still have one another, and whether we like each other or not is besides the point. We need one another.
The politicians and economists have forgotten the family farmers, the true fathers and mothers of our country, and left them behind, broken and struggling. Here, community survives, even thrives, but they have broken the hearts and souls of rural life, it is hard for the emptying small towns to hang on in the new world with its new and greedy and hateful rules, almost all justified in the name of making more money. Wal-Mart, the great bloodsucker of individual enterprise, is doing well. There are three of them in a wide ring around us, they eat the old small businesses for breakfast and lunch.
The Round House Cafe has become an oasis of community in my town, a place where we can come together, see one another, slap each other on the back, remember what people are for. Scott and Lisa have loved community and fought for it all of their lives, Davids against the new armies of Goliath.They are persevering, and then some.
I'm in the Round House all the time, I rarely take a photo there, but I saw these three people sitting on the far wall under the landscape paintings that are being sold there. One couple talking, one man pondering his coffee, a woman on her Ipad.
Suddenly, I realized it was a beautiful scene, filled with meaning and connection. There, we come into the presence of still water, we can rest in the grace of the world.