My hands hover over the keyboard, buffered by a pair of woolen wristers, fingers free to peck at the keys like a chicken scratching for grain that escaped the reaper’s scythe. I could explain away these wristers as “all the rage in Quebec this year.” But that would be a lie. I could justify them by saying that my wife is a weaver with a love of things fiber -- that she gave me the wool-silk blend to match my winter coat. I could bravely quip that I’m a man who knits and that I worked up this pair of hand socks during a long winter blizzard.
But that wouldn't tell the real story.

The simple truth is that I live in the house that Woody built – a stacked cordwood hobbit hole that clings to a granite ledge barely concealed by the thin crust of fertile soil blanketing Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Like the prow of an earth ship, my office faces into the north wind. Far removed from the activity of day-to-day living – far from the wood stove, a favorite spot for my family to congregate after barn chores on a cold winter morning - my office and I buffer the rest of the house from the worst that Old Man Winter can throw at us. On a bad day, the temperature at keyboard level plummets to a brisk 50 degrees. But on days when the sun burns through the layer of frost on the inside of the window panes, I bask in a balmy 55. These wristers keep my fingers warm enough to fly fluently across the keyboard regardless of temperature.

And fluency, of any kind, is important to me. I’m a man with many countries -- feet planted in one, heart firmly rooted in a half dozen others. Born to a family of Italian immigrants who never quite lost their taste for dialect, at eight years old I was going to school in Colombia, splitting my time between a farm near Cartagena and a house in Barranquilla. Seven years later, comfortably enrolled in a university in western France, my penchant for languages (dead, alive, foreign or domestic) served me in good stead. I picked grapes in a Vendéen vineyard – cold, tiring and boring work undertaken in the company of a dozen other more highly skilled migrant and illegal workers. I finished the summer with a killer tan, a stronger back, a healthy respect for the dangers of too much wine and with a smattering of Portuguese, Esperanto and Russian. I stayed in Taizé, an ecumenical community in the south of France, where the good brothers housed youth from all over Europe in circus tents. My pallet lay next to that of Dav and Cri, a young couple who obligingly introduced me to the beauty of Catalan. I trekked to the Pyrenees during the transhumance, when shepherds drive their flocks into mountain pastures, transforming their milk into traditional sheep cheese each day – a place where any knowledge of French and Spanish pales in comparison to a willingness to lend a hand and curse like the locals -- in Basque. Fluency, or the semblance thereof, has been my carte blanche, allowing me access to experiences I might never have otherwise.

A cultural and linguistic chameleon, I can go somewhere -- almost anywhere -- and fit in, sounding and looking as though I belong to that place. Small wonder that in my professional life as a translator/interpreter, languages have always been my stock in trade. In my writing life, the ability to blend helps me uncover the naked truth.

I may homestead on the agrarian edge, heat my house with wood, grow 80% of my own food and herd my flock of bilingual sheep on the border between Vermont and Quebec, but my work frequently takes me deep into the heart of the urban jungle or to the edge of the suburban hinterlands. I admit it, the world is my oyster – an oyster I like to eat raw with loud slurping noises.
Whether interviewing the mother of sheep dairying in Quebec, or an attorney in London who represents inmates at Guantanamo Bay,
I speak their language.

Whether connecting with the staunch, Christian Midwestern horse farmer whose mares join the urine string each winter (providing estrogen for the masses), or talking with the owner of a dog resort whose civil union is in the process of dissolving,

I speak their language.

Sometimes the voices are older and fainter, and I must strain to hear them clearly. It often takes me more time and finesse to interpret their messages for a modern audience. Take, for instance, the 2nd century Roman farmer who was unknowingly speaking to the denizens of a 25-story high-rise in Manhattan; the 12th century Italian whose writings about plague in Europe are equally as relevant to contemporary society’s response to the spread of AIDS or avian flu; or the 13th century dame whose musings on life could have been written by a 21st century feminist.

I speak their language too.

The chorus of these voices informs my writing. And as truth knows no borders – neither linguistic, geopolitical nor temporal -- I’m looking for the kernel of truth in a river of grain. This single kernel is often shattered and dispersed, in need of being collected and put back together before the truth can be told. And so I get down to the work of reaping its story.

I’m willing to brave Baudelaire’s worms and maggots, to get knee deep in manure, sourdough or wine must -- all in an effort to get at the truth. And once I'm certain there is something in the pile, after days, weeks or even months of research, I steal into the chill of my office, slip that pair of handknit wristers over my hands, and sift through the freshly harvested information, hoping to find a lone, sproutable grain of truth to plant in the tilled consciousnesses of my readers.