Artist: The Woodknot Bookshop, Newport, Vermont
Provenance: Tucked into a book purchased at the Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, Vermont. Most likely purchased by the parents of EAH as a gift.
Is there anything more ordinary than those paper bookmarks that are slipped into the new book you’re buying at your local bookstore? Oh. Wait. Local bookstores. Those aren’t so common anymore, are they? So I guess these throwaway bookmarks aren’t so common after all.
One of my favorite bookstores—one that sadly but unsurprisingly has gone out of business—was the Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, Vermont. My family had a home in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom where I spent many happy summers and Christmases basking in the state’s rugged wilderness and vaguely hippyish culture. Our house itself was remote (on Wilderness Road, which was literally up a dirt road that was known to wash away during mud season), so our days were frequently punctuated with visits “to town,” town sometimes being the more urbane Burlington three hours away and other times being the closer and smaller town of Newport on the shores of Lake Memphremagog.
I swear it was always brilliantly sunny when we’d head over to Newport. There always seemed to be a few fluffy white clouds bouncing through the sky, and as we’d round the bend of that country road that led into town, the water always seemed to sparkle with sunlight. There were always robust, happy sailboats on the water. We’d have lunch. Sometimes at the “fancy” place on the water. Other times at the health food store that smelled delightfully of hemp and soymilk in that distinctly nineties, health food store sort of way. A couple doors down from the health food store, which was in a storefront on the quaint Main Street, was an outdoor clothier that we’d poke around in. And a few doors down from that was the Woodknot Bookshop.
We would spend good chunks of time there. I remember buying gifts and perusing art history books. I looked at books on Adirondack cabins and fauna of the Northeast Kingdom. I bought more than one John Irving novel there. At Christmas, my parents shopped there for what we called “the obligatory book pile,” a stack of books for each of us girls, tailored to our current interests. One year I had a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a Marc Chagall art book. Another year there was lots about Rome, to prepare me for my study abroad trip.
Tucked inside, of course, the bookstore included its trademark bookmark. It’s a flimsy paper thing, but when I look at the one that I still have today, I am overwhelmed with memories. Memories of those delightful summer pilgrimages to Newport’s Main Street, when everything really seemed right with the world. But even more, I look at the details of the wood grain on their logo— and the knot and the stubby little branches sticking up with their delicate leaves—and I feel almost overcome.
What a beautiful little piece of art to include on this seemingly insignificant throwaway object. I love how distinctive this tree trunk is. It’s more than a generic tree; it’s some specific tree growing in some specific forest somewhere. It has personality. Which of course was a smart piece of branding, for the Woodknot Bookshop had its own personality too. This distinctive image is all tangled up for me with my memories of that bookstore and its laid-back, small-town, hippy vibe, and of the Northeast Kingdom in general.
The image of the tree, of course, is more than an image of a tree. It is an image of the time in my life when I regularly breathed in fresh mountain air and jumped into ice-cold river swimming holes and gazed up through the pine branches at the impossibly dark skies with their impossibly bright stars. And dreamed about all the world had in store for me.