Twas in another lifetime one of toil and blood,
When blackness was a virtue, the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said,
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”
-Bob Dylan, Shelter From The Storm
We had spent the day shoveling paths, scraping cars, hauling hay out to snow-covered animals, only Fate seemed to revel in the wind and snow and cold swirling outside in what is being called one of the great storms of the century. We normally scoff at weather hysteria, we were paying close attention to the savage cold about to descend upon us and our animals and paralyze our farm.
We were cold, exhausted, unnerved. For the first time in a year or so, I felt at one with most of my country, we were all in the same boat, dealing with snow, cold, ice and wind.
A common American experience for once, the whole country is in the grip of winter, there was nothing to argue about. That felt good, better than the storm felt bad.
I could talk to anybody about it, and everybody knew what I was talklng about.
There was no left or right, urban versus rural, red versus blue, white versus color, no cable news pundits exploiting discord for money, no tweets suggesting the monster storm was fake, or phony, or failing. Let them all play golf, we were finally all in something together, and that felt hopeful and nourishing to me.
Maria and I looked at one another, at our pale and tired faces. I did well all day, racing mostly unsuccessfully with my car brush and my shovel, my angina spoke with me and said I needed to stop, and Maria agreed, forcefully.
We need shelter from the storm, I said, and she nodded.
We needed the Bog, a/k/a Foggy Notions, there used to be one in almost every American town, they called it a tavern. And the bog is a classic American tavern, neon lights, a long, shiny bar, a roaring wood stove, a warm and familiar and welcoming beacon on a cold and disconnecting night.
All you need to get in is you, and a thirst or hunger for food and drink and some sense of community. If you need shelter from the storm.
We met a friend there, she is thinking of moving upstate, she was getting a master’s degree in life here, especially in snow tires, and she got her car stuck in the snow by our driveway. We dug and dug, a heroic UPS driver showed up and gave me a package and set out to dig her out. He succeeded, he refused any payment, and just blessed us.
That’s what I love about living in the country, when people see you are in trouble, they just stop and pull over and help. Our friend was soon on her way.
The Bog was a sacred space for us tonight, we sat near its giant stove by the pool table and felt warm for the first time in a day or so. Even my feet began to thaw.
Kelly, the Queen of Gracious And Calm, was on her throne at the bar, and she brought us (and our friend) drinks and fish tacos, and I had a cup of chicken noodle soup. My grandmother would have approved.
Kelly is much in the mold of the timeless innkeeper, she knows how to take care of people, and make it appear effortless. It is, of course, not.
And how many places are there when people can rush out on a storm night for shelter from the storm, and listen to the comforting chatter from the bar, and the flickering screens nobody was looking at, and the old farmers who came in for a beer and gather strength for tomorrow, and the young kids who just needed to get out and be with each other and laugh?
There, at the center of it all, was Kelly, Maestro Nolan, mixing drinks, tallying up dinners, bringing food, taking orders, making sure to chat with everybody, asking if their houses were okay, if they were all right, if they had everything they needed? Every great tavern has a great Kelly holding it all together.
And who else asks if we have everything we need in a storm?
It took us a good long time and steady nerves to drive the four or five miles on ice-slicked and stormy roads to the Bog.
It was all lit up in the dark and mist, the neon lights signalling a tavern.
The parking lot was plowed, as a good tavern always is. Kelly has our drinks ready when we sat down, Maria shouted for a Merlot this night rather than her usual Chardonnay, “gotcha,” said Kelly. We asked her if the storm had bothered her. She shrugged. Her husband John drives a town plow, he was busy this week.
Her daughter wanted to go out and play with her in the cold, but she just winked, and said she couldn’t, she didn’t have a snowsuit in her size. Kelly does not like the cold.
The bar was full, the food tables empty accept for us. We leaned back, talked, told stories from our pasts, ignored the cyclone bomb hissing outside, the wind blowing so hard the snow fell sideways, the roads covered in ice, the people at the bar hunched over and talking, safe and dry and at ease with their drinks.
After a few hours we go sleepy and drove carefully home, rattled by the giant truck who blew past us, in a great and dangerous hurry. The big state plow trucks were out, we let the dogs out, shoveled and scraped some more, fed the fires, I felt the call to go and write about the meaning of the Tavern. I was grateful and my Scotch on the rocks warmed my spirit. I was returning to normal.
Most Americans made a terrible deal when they gave up taverns for screens, it is just not the same. On this dreadful and forbidding night, we were warm and safe and embedded in a real community, with a real face-to-face friend, Maria looked radiant in the soft light, she was at ease and full of life, my friend said. We all seemed radiant and aglow there.
I thought of the storm, and of the warm shelter of the Bog, and I thought I should dedicate this piece to the tavern, and all of the comfort it can sometimes provide. Our friend said I looked tired, and I was tired, My heart doesn’t like extreme cold, it lets me know about it if I’m out too long. The Bog was happy to have me and my heart, we felt easy and safe there all night.
I thought of Bob Dylan’s song, which was popping up in my head all night. I dedicate these lyrics for the Bog, for which I am especially grateful on this gloomy and bitterly cold night. Taverns have bum rap these days, they are sometimes mystical places of refuge and connection.
“Nor a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved,
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm,
Come in, she said,
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.“