An Interview of Martha Molnar about her forthcoming book, Taproot: Coming Home to Prairie Hill
By Victoria Crain, Correspondent to the Rutland Herald
What made you decide to leave your urban life to come live on a hill atop Vermont’s marble valley?
That’s what the book is largely about. We are born to find a home, and home can be anywhere. That’s why the book is subtitled Coming Home to Prairie Hill. When we saw this hill, I felt I was finally home.
When I was a child, we used to go to a lovely, well-tended park. But then when I was six, my father and I travelled out of the city to visit my mother in the hospital. I managed to slip away onto the hospital campus and wandered into a wilderness I didn’t know existed. I was happy and fearless there. Father found me, but the first introduction to raw nature stayed with me.
Many people have done what you did, making a big transition intentionally. What makes your story notable?
There are no new stories, but there are new ways of writing stories. The writing in Taproot has been called lyrical, quirky, funny; and, I suppose that, at times, it’s all those things.
And there’s the book’s structure. The bare bones describe the process of planning and decision-making as we bought land and built our home. However, interspersed in the human sequence are the reflective essays, which describe the stop-in-your-tracks moments that our land and its neighbors presented, the rooted or winged, or four- or two-legged creatures we live amongst.
The book makes readers wonder about their own lives and hopefully encourages them to pursue their own fantasies. At the same time, because it’s about buying land and building a house and living in a special natural and human environment, it provides useful information in an entertaining way.
Finally, it’s a visually enjoyable book, enhanced, I think, by the illustrations my daughter, Daniela Molnar, an artist and art professor, added to the project.
So, talk more about how you “bring readers along.”
The book recounts the process of creating a new life: negotiating through various visions of a new future, buying land, consulting with an architect, finding a contractor, siting the house, and all the sometimes hilarious decisions we needed to make.
I also wrote about our process of being a couple in this endeavor: discovering we were not on the same page sometimes and finding a new page to be on together. Again, responding to creating change.
Then I found myself writing about the world of our land, and the plants and creatures that share it with us. Beside the joy of learning our hilltop, decisions abounded: how best to create, preserve and protect habitat for our fellow inhabitants.
I want to come back to this, but back up and talk about the moment when you knew this property was the place to chase your dream.
When we got to the top of the hill, the world opened up and we could see in 360 degrees. And I had a solid feeling that I wanted that vision to be the foundation on which to build our next act. We looked in many places and finally found Vermont, which we thought we knew, to be a revelation, both stunning and comforting.
My devotion to this spot was fundamental and instant. And I felt acquisitive. I wanted this place to be mine.
What were some of the surprises – good and bad – about Vermont and Vermonters?
I was in love with Vermont. I can remember getting out of the car at the bottom of our property and running to the top, every time we came up. I was so grateful for this waking dream of being surrounded by sky.
Aside from the physical beauty of the state, I’m impressed with the vivid cultural opportunities that abound. We have also been pleasantly surprised about the familiarity of small town life, about recognizing so many people, and actually knowing so many folks well.
At times, I’ve been taken aback by the harshness of local government, and astonished by the blatant nastiness that sometimes becomes part of political transactions here. In that way, Vermont is not so different from national politics. And, though we live on top of a wonderful hill, we are often referred to as Flatlanders—Vermont talk for outsider.
It took me a while to acknowledge that nearly all the faces I recognize are white, and that our beloved state is, in fact, the whitest in the country. I miss the richness of seeing faces of color and hearing other languages on the street. For now, it is what it is, but hopefully as the world changes, Vermont too will become more diverse. After all, it has so much to attract people.
On the book cover, the publisher mentions that you’re descended from survivors of Auschwitz. Did that have an impact on your moving here?
After their experiences, my parents didn’t feel at home in the world and trusted no one. By the time I was 13, we had lived on three continents and I had to learn a new language and culture each time. So I, too, felt unmoored. Looking back, I realize that wanting to own land was part of that search for home, for a place to put down roots. Vermont felt like home right from the start, more than New York City, or even Queens, with its varied immigrant population.
This may seem surprising, but it makes sense. In New York City, I could stay enmeshed in a Jewish immigrant community and later in a specific cultural community; I was defined by my accent and my ethnic and religious identity. But in Vermont, with its tiny population, I was forced to become part of the wider community. Here, for the first time, I feel like an ordinary American. And I discovered something I’m still trying to understand: that freedom is not the ability to proclaim my socially determined identity but to proclaim my own specific identity, to fit into the fabric of society wherever I most fit based on my specific interests and responses to people and place.
Now, back to the book for a minute. Who do you expect will comprise your audience?
I think you would enjoy it if you have a dream to follow and need inspiration. Or perhaps you’re a city-dweller or an empty nester wondering about finding a new world—different, but maybe richer in a different way. Anyone who responds to nature and of course those who love Vermont and New England will find Taproot enjoyable.
Taproot is, at the heart of it, a love story. It’s filled with confusion, calamity, strangeness, delight and commitment. And love stories are for everyone.