(HOST) Some writers challenge us to consider life outside our own customary comfort zone, and commentator Tom Slayton says that can be both unsettling – and satisfying.
(SLAYTON) One of the few things I’ve learned – for sure – is that a good writer can make any subject interesting. But can a good writer make tragedy comprehensible, even uplifting? Laura Waterman of East Corinth comes about as close as it’s possible to come to that impossible goal in her book, Losing the Garden, which is the strory of her marriage to Guy Waterman and his death by suicide.
It was Guy, you may remember, who hiked up Mount Lafayette on a frigid February day in 2000, where he knowingly – intentionally – froze to death.
Her book, Losing the Garden, recounts the story of the good years Laura and Guy shared, the magic of their inspiring, self-reliant life on a simple homestead in East Corinth…and the hard times as Guy’s internal demons – probably untreated bipolar disorder – began to devour him. Her book is a classic tragedy and like all tragedies, raises the big, eternal questions: What does our human life on this planet mean? Why do we suffer so?
These are issues that are bigger and thornier than most of us are comfortable with. But Laura Waterman faces them honestly and directly, as she courageously describes the unraveling of her husband’s composure and the fabric of her marriage.
Why would anyone wish to consider pain and sorrow so deeply? Probably because we all have our share of them and hope to learn how to bear them. Also perhaps to understand more fully what it means to be human, how to live and die honorably.
The Watermans’ hard, but idyllic life centered upon a simple home on a maple-studded hillside a good mile beyond the last paved road – and a half mile beyond any road at all.
Barra – the Scottish name of their homestead – was a wood-heated cabin with no electricity, a spring-fed water supply – and Guy’s grand piano. The Watermans sold magazine articles and maple syrup for income and eventually wrote an incomparable history of mountain recreation in the Northeast entitled Forest and Crag. It was instantly recognized as a classic.
But even in the midst of their success, Guy was foundering mentally, losing his stability. His condition worsened dramatically after two of his sons died in separate wilderness mishaps. Finally, Guy revealed to Laura that he had tried to kill himself – and would try again until he was successful.
The conflicts Laura had to face then were almost unbearable. How she dealt with her love for Guy, his worsening mental state – which included a refusal to seek treatment, and some emotional abuse of her – and his impending suicide make the climactic chapters of Losing the Garden deeply compelling reading.
In fact, the entire book is unforgettable. On one level, it is an unflinching look at the disintegration of a true life partnership, the end of one life, and the continuation of another. On another level it is a classic love story – with a tragic ending. And finally, it is Laura Waterman’s beautifully written account of her own deep encounter with death – and life.
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.