by Willem Lange
EAST MONTPELIER – The crew and I shot the last episode the other day of this year’s season of “Windows to the Wild.” It was also – to me, at least – the most confusing. It was a competition between at least two of the basic principles of storytelling.
Surely you remember from your high school English classes the discussions of setting, plot, and characters. I used to cite “Huckleberry Finn” as a perfect blending and balancing of the three elements. It’s what we try to do in our various episodes on land, sea, and air. This story, however, would focus mainly on a character.
If you’ve ever watched any of Governor Chris Sununu’s press conferences, you’ve no doubt noticed a husky, salt-and-pepper-bearded interpreter standing beside him, gesticulating inscrutably (to most of us) in American Sign Language. That’s Dave Krueger, a congenitally deaf man, making the Governor’s remarks intelligible to deaf viewers of the press conference.
My mission in this episode was to walk and “talk” with David about his life and work. It was kind of up my alley, as both my parents were deaf, and I speak sign language pretty well. But it was complicated by three factors, to begin with: First, it’s virtually impossible to walk a forest trail and chat in sign language at the same time; second, David and I speak significantly different sign languages – he, ASL, and I, old-fashioned “English”; and third, because my parents lost their hearing to spinal meningitis around the age of ten (they were what is called post-lingual deaf), they spoke to me, while I signed to them. So, I’m in the same pickle as anyone traveling in a foreign country whose language he’s studied. He can ask the questions, but not understand the answers. I looked forward to the conversation with some trepidation.
But I hadn’t figured on the fascination of the setting. It’s a bit difficult these days to find a protected wild venue that permits the use of a drone, which our videographer loves to use. He finally found one, called My Walden, near Sharon, on a back road called Drum Heller Road (what was up with that, I wondered, and still do). It’s gated and maintained and protected by a full-time caretaker, who met us at the gate. David showed up late – I greeted him by signing, “Nice you could drop in” – and we were off into My Walden.
I soon discovered that my old legs hadn’t quite recovered from the previous week’s depletion in the White Mountains. But with a steadying hand in front from Dan Goulet, the caretaker of the conserved area, and an even firmer hand in the middle of my back from David behind, we arrived at length at a comfortable bench beside a lovely little pond (enhanced by a rustic rock dam and downstream weirs called the Nine Pools of Wisdom).
Here we were able to talk a little about David’s life. He has an older brother, also deaf, and a sister, hearing. He’d tried my parents’ alma mater, Gallaudet College, but found it a bit insular, and finished his degree at National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, which has a training program for interpreters. Rochester, not incidentally, is probably the most deaf-friendly city in the country (Demark the friendliest country abroad). It’s almost reminiscent of Martha’s Vineyard, where a gene for deafness once affected a large portion of the island’s natives, and everyone on the island, the hearing included, spoke a local sign language.
From the pond, we made our way to the top of a hill, where an abstract sculpture and two stone benches provide a meditation area with a long, long view of the Vermont mountains. It was here that the setting almost overwhelmed the character and plot, as we made notes in the guest book and chatted as best we could. I couldn’t quite keep up orally with David’s ASL, so said very little as he signed, to the obvious frustration of Steve, the videographer. The drone soared happily around us, taking in the whole scene and two guys on a bench in the sun gesturing to each other.
What a beautiful way to end the season! – a gentle walk in sun-dappled hardwoods with a good-humored man who revived memories of my childhood and another world right beside us.