At the peak of the original washboard route to St. Johnsbury in Waterford is a spot that fairly hums with rhythm. Known today as Old County Road South, the rise is made more obvious by a two-story white farmhouse sheltered by tall foliage. The gingerbread porch trim frames a limitless vista of the ever-blue Connecticut River, quietly meandering west two miles distant. At least three generations of dairymen have called this location Highland View Farm.
Beginning sometime in the late 19th century, and usually at noon, Euclid Williams, his son Leo and perhaps even Euke’s father, J.W., and others took up fiddles, fifes and drums and switched the rural hum from lowing cattle to the melodies of beloved folk songs, setting their lively rhythms loose from the verandah and sending them across the open pastures.
It was magical, recalled 93-year-old Geneva Powers Wright who grew up with her siblings on an adjacent farm: “We could hear their music sailing through the air. They’d come in from the fields for lunch and refresh themselves by playing.”
One day, someone tape-recorded Euclid. A copy of the undated soundtrack exists in the Middlebury College Special Collections. It carries a notation that the sound quality is not very good because it was recorded in the field, according to a state reference librarian contacted by e-mail.
Euclid died in 1934; his gray granite marker was relocated to Riverside Cemetery when Moore Dam’s construction resulted in the flooding of Upper Waterford. Decades passed. Trees and brush replaced barns and cows. Successive landowners carved out parcels and sold them. The dirt road was replaced by paved Route 18. Eventually, the double-wide I-93 supplanted 18. Through blasted rock somewhere below Highland View, the interstate pulsates with the tempo of unseen traffic.
Now, in the 21st century, two doctors with different specialties bring new rhythms to the rise in the old road in the form of verse. Peter and Clare Wilmot-Goreau purchased the house once owned by Euclid Williams and what was left of the original farm for their three children, now grown, and a mix of domestic animals. Unaware of the property’s past, it wasn’t until recently they discovered the Highland View sign in the garage.
They were drawn to the area when Clare was offered the job of general surgeon at Littleton Regional Hospital. After an initial move to Bethlehem, N.H., the family came across the Connecticut River to Waterford, which was equidistant from her work and St. Johnsbury Academy, where their children graduated.
Clare, a woman with a sunny disposition and genuine warmth for people, regards her husband as the family poet. “He writes in meter, which is much harder to do. He writes by hand, reams and reams that he files in canvas bags. He writes every day,” she says. “When we get angry with each other, Peter writes poetry, and I look for poems that explain how I feel.”
A geophysicist who earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Peter’s affinity for poetry goes back to early childhood and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Ballad of East Meets West,” which he is able to recite practically on command.
But metered poetry “is not a very popular form of poetry today,” he says with a mix of apology and disappointment.
His wife, by contrast, came late to penning verse. It started as an act of rebellion after she began treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in 2008.
“The writing of poetry came into my life in a defiant way,” she explains simply. Her medical care took place at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and her initiation into free verse began with her participation in an innovative arts therapy program. The creative writing track is designed to help cancer patients turn their emotions into poetry or prose. Working with writer-performer Marv Klassen-Landis of Windsor, Clare used her laptop to tap out line after line of what was in her heart.
The more she wrote, the stronger grew her will to heal. Especially after a second bone marrow transplant faltered, prompting a 2011 poem that she says deeply affected her children and husband. (see sidebar)
After that, she recalls, “my determination grew.” She endured a rare, third transplant that by all indications is successful. That episode, plus her poetry, earned her an invitation to participate in the third International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine last May in London. She presented on the topic “Breaking and dealing with bad news: what poetry has to say about it.”
The experience left Clare, who grew up in the landlocked African country of Malawi, a little awestruck at the company of her peers, who included doctor-poets from Cyprus, Denmark, Greece and England. The conference, she says, also left her committed to finding a way “to make poetry a paid therapy like physical therapy.”
Clare and Peter are an unconventional couple with diverse interests. “We met in a nun’s bedroom at university in Bristol [England],” Clare says with an impish twinkle in her eye. Later, her somewhat shier husband was more precise: “She was an ex-nun who wanted to buy my pots.”
Both an iconoclast and a renaissance man, Peter was born into a family for whom preserving cultures is as much an avocation as a vocation. His mother, who lives with the couple, Dr. Nora Goreau, was Panama’s first marine biologist. His father, Dr. Thomas F. Goreau, was instrumental in saving Jamaica’s coral reefs after harrowing work documenting radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Those blasts were photographed by Fritz Goro, the family patriarch and noted LIFE magazine science photographer. Peter’s brother Tom carries on their father’s work, and also created the Global Coral Reef Alliance for which Peter has done underwater documentary photography. Their brother Stefan is also a marine biologist.
His family’s close affinity to the natural world made for a logical transition to one of Peter’s favorite pastimes, organic farming. From spring through fall, he cultivates on a long, lush plot overlooking that magnificent vista on the old county road. His garden tools regularly strike stone blocks he now realizes are the foundations of barns that once stood across from the 19th century home of Euclid Williams.
“You really ought to try this Jerusalem artichoke; it has every protein you need,” he tells a visitor. “And garlic. Do you want some garlic to take with you? I just moved the turmeric lilies inside.” He chuckles, casting about the dining room for a place to sit among the blue plastic tubs of assorted herbs. “I really could use a barn.”
Although most of his verse is stored in canvas bags, one of his poems, “To Shake a Shark,” was published in a 2000 anthology, “Exquisite Reaction,” edited by doctor-poet Parker A. Towle of Franconia, N.H., and last year he contributed to PoemCity, an event organized by the Kellogg Hubbard Library in Montpelier. (see sidebar) In addition, there is an on-air community fortunate enough to have heard him read some of his work last year. Listeners to “Spanning the Chasm,” his community-oriented talk show on WGDR at Goddard College, heard heart-rending stanzas about his wife and her tenacious battle to beat leukemia. Even now he finds it difficult to talk about that period in their lives.
He’s also a little reticent talking about an on-going project he calls the Waterford Press to connect his grandfather’s photographs of northern Australia’s Aboriginals and his own resulting experience as their culture keeper. But one thing is for sure, he will continue to write verse from the rise in the road in Waterford that still hums with ancient rhythms.