In the Gloaming

Even the kids remark on the darkness.

In our kitchen, the girls baking cookies after school turn on the overhead light. At my library, the little children play outside in the afternoon dark, rolling down the snowy hillside in their bulky clothes.

I turn on the outside light beside the door for the parents. It’s not yet 5 o’clock.

Around our house, a bitter wind swirls snowflakes with tiny teeth. On our red rug, the cats stretch, indolent. Through the vast space, on our heavenly blue-and-emerald body, we spin.

Already light is returning pairs of wings
lift softly off your eyelids one by one
each feathered edge clearer between you
and the pearl veil of day

You have nothing to do but live.

— From “Winter Solstice” by Anonymous


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Kindling in December

Frost twists upward this morning on the sticks of our lilac bushes. Come early June, we’ll live outdoors, surrounded by the fragrance of multiple blossoms. Not so, these New England winter days.

In a brief pass of sunlight, we hurry outside, take a walk through the woods, observe the ice curling over a running brook. Later, in my Sunday housecleaning, shaking rugs over the deck railings, I hear the girls in the cemetery laughing. From the barn, they’ve taken the sled in search of a snowy hillside.

Mid-December — the hard and holy time.

Upstairs, my daughter plays the clarinet, the melody languorously easing into the afternoon’s already fading sunlight.

Mid-December, holy perhaps precisely for its hardness. Draw the darkness fast around us; see what we hold, what we cherish.

I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

— Gary Soto, Oranges



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This morning, I’m in the snowy garden assessing the remaining kale. As I lift the limp leaves, crusty snow crumbles fall into my boots and around my sockless feet.

Walking back to the house, my daughter’s outside in a t-shirt, feeding her chickens leftover popcorn.

Kale, garlic, onion, fennel-sweet sausage for a savory soup. Mid-December. Take heart.

We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

— Louise Glück

IMG_4187 2.jpg

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On a Philip Larkin jag, I think of his lines as I’ve driving with my 19-year-old up the switchbacks climbing the mountainside from the Connecticut River to Danville.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
We’ve been to see an old man — a doctor and a Zen Buddhist — whom I’ve convinced has answers, actual answers damn it, to the riddle of her and me and her father. My daughter hates the old man. Actually hates him.
It’s December and cold as hell. The sun sparks from ice at the edges of the river where the wide current is just beginning to freeze. The sun is nothing but cold comfort, so low in the sky warmth is merely a memory.
Driving, talking, we pass a particular bend in Route 2 where, decades ago and years before she was born, the Volkswagen bus my daughter’s father was driving broke down on the edge of the road. He had downshifted, stalled, and in that moment, the engine froze and refused to start. For years, the bus was parked behind his sister’s village house.
I stop in Danville for gas and wash the salt and road dust from the windshield, remembering the ugly tan color of that Volkswagen. From here, the road home is familiar all the way. I’m always writing about roads, always writing about journeys, sometimes just down to the post office to open the mailbox to see what’s there — or not. 
Staring at the keys in my mitten, I remind myself my daughter’s journey is her own. Or, back off. Then I hold out my hand to her and ask, You want to drive home?
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Family Holiday Pact

My brother calls, and I hear a terrific rattling. On inquiry, I learn he’s tipping up an empty cracker bag and eating the crumbs and salt at the bottom.

The rattling keeps up. I start laughing. He complains about the societal mandate of holiday cheer. My daughter, sitting on a yoga ball nearby, says to tell her uncle Yahtzee is part of our Christmas plans and a movie he introduced her to — I can’t bear to reveal the title — and my brother says that movie is fucking great. The movie is so bad I have a strange kind of affection for it.

Through the phone, I surmise he’s frying pork chops.

We come to our usual pact that, this time, no ER visits and no calls to the police. Mutually, we pledge to games (he and his girlfriend will trounce me in science trivia, I’ll crush them with literature), fresh air, and cooking. Mutually, we pledge not to holiday cheer but to fucking great.

State 14 ran my piece on house hunting. Eric Hodet’s stew on this site is particularly tempting….

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in…
“Days,” by Philip Larkin
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In a Funk….

On a Saturday afternoon of errands, I yield to my 13-year-old’s desire to drink a latte. There’s no way, she insists, looking down merrily at me, that coffee will stunt my growth.

Surrounded by the gaiety of Montpelier’s holiday shoppers, I overhear a man seated behind my daughter, speaking emphatically, gesturing wildly with his hands. Listening, too, my daughter leans across the table and whispers to me that the man is a member of the sovereign citizens. Both she and I know the phrases he uses, the code, the promise of unfettered freedom to do exactly as you want.

Through the window, I see people I know walking by, talking and laughing.

My daughter asks me why someone would join a cult. I answer I don’t know, but even as I say this, I know I’m half-lying, skimming over the surface of a black miasma rising around us, as I keep watching through the window families walking by, holding packages.

This afternoon — I can feel it deeply inside me, hard as obsidian, as we pass through the dim afternoon and home again — marks the unstoppable point for this girl of true teen — not the bratty, lip-curling caricature our society portrays as adolescence, but a relentless, adamant, justice-driven quest to know why the world is flipped upside-down.

“First Sight”

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

— Philip Larkin


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Garden of Eden — Er, Vermont

My 19-year-old shoots me a photo for an essay I’ve written and hands over her camera card. Scrolling through, I find this picture of her younger sister taken by my friend Jessica Ojala.


With almost tactile precision, I remember tying my daughter’s little blue shoes, how seriously she and her friend took this photo shoot, how my little daughter ran with her short legs along the pebbled path but was so careful to stay on the paths and not tread on nursery plants.

Look at her little hand on that lichen-covered bench arm and — all around — that gorgeous garden.

Below zero this morning. The now 13-year-old sleeps with one hand on her tabby cat. Same child, different season.

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