Despite the snow, marigolds are blooming in my cobbled-together greenhouse, their scent still a sharp tang. I carried a handful with me this afternoon to my Woodbury library job. With the light ending early this days, it’s the Vermont reading season.

My bookseller friends at the Galaxy scored me an Advance Copy of Rachel Cusk’s new book, Transit, a novel title I love: what else is our lives but transitioning from one moment to another, so constant, perhaps, we’re hardly aware of the unbroken undulation and flux of our lives. Transit, transit. Going about my day, I murmur that word.

Around me, the natural world mirrors this movement: golden leaves shower from trees, the sunflowers have laid down and pressed their wide faces into the ground, the river is slate gray, cooling down and readying itself for the coming of ice.

I said it seemed to me that most marriages worked in the same way that stories are said to do, through the suspension of disbelief. It wasn’t, in other words, perfection that sustained them so much as the avoidance of certain realities.

– Rachel Cusk, Transit


October, Woodbury, Vermont

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October Snow…

…. is not my favorite. Too wet, too scant, and the hydrangea suffers.

With enthusiasm, though, the children have dug into paper crafts and apple pie baking. My contribution to the household is vacuuming the ratty living room rug, spreading out my papers, and working in front of the wood stove. My brother sends a request for a knitted winter hat.

Our house, tall and narrow, reminds me of a clipper ship sailing through uncharted waters, resilient through gusty wind, its largely inaccessible cupola a crow’s nest. Overnight, while we were sleeping, the seasons turned. We are now gliding into the outer edges of the snowy season, and the children seek mittens. I’ll search for sage beneath that white for sausage and potato pie.

It is not down on any map; true places never are.

– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or The Whale


West Woodbury, Vermont

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Family Life

One of the more revealing titles of my recent reading is Akhil Sharma’s Family Life,  a novel hardly of the slick parenting magazine fare I leaf through in that dentist office I so frequently visit these days. A slim, fierce, terrific book.

This morning, reading another book about family life – Margot Livesey’s Mercury  – this line jumps out at me: “The human brain often juxtaposes the sublime and the trivial.”

The line encapsulates the book, true, but also domestic life.

Parenting often seems an endless routine of gathering twisted toddler socks from beneath the kitchen table. When my girls were teeny-tiny, I often muttered to myself during unbroken days a line from Shirley Jackson: “All day long, I go around picking up things.” The tooth-brushing trivial.

And yet, embedded like gems in the midst of sandbox squabbling, there’s marvelous moments: braiding my daughter’s hair, inhaling the familiar, salty scent of her scalp, listening to her stories.

The blue vase on the sideboard was from the Song dynasty, eleventh or early twelfth century. How had it survived nearly eight hundred years when I could barely survive forty? I was in that state between waking and sleeping, neither fully inhabiting my body nor entirely absent, when I heard footsteps. The mattress dipped.

– Margot Livesey, Mercuryfullsizerender




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Two Bears

Driving down our curvy back road the other morning, a young black bear loped before my car, coal-dark against the morning’s gold leaves woven through with mist. The creature faced us, then, in no particular rush, disappeared over the edge of the steep road. Behind me, a pickup rushed up in my mirror, missing the scene.

Midday, the kids were out of school. When I returned at dinnertime – full dark already in these shortening days – my older daughter told me the younger girl had lain on her back with her enormous teddy bear all afternoon, staring at the sky. She was fine, the teenager relayed. She just wanted to lie there for a while before we put the trampoline away for the winter.

Two young creatures – the bear cub and my child – at ease in the glowing woods.

….didn’t October do
A bang-up job? Crisp breezes, full-throated cries
Of migrating geese, low-floating coral moon.
Nothing left but fool’s gold in the trees.
Did I love it enough, the full-throttle foliage,
While it lasted?…
– Maggie Dietz, “November”img_2591


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Truth? in Dialogue

My teenager came home today excited about a major disagreement in her senior high school English class. Is it okay to lie? Is it acceptable to lie to prevent harming someone? Or absolutely, categorically never?

What do you do? I asked her.

The truth is, when you write dialogue in fiction (or when you listen, really listen) to how people use language, you quickly realize the lines of truth are blurry – in fact, remarkably unclear.

At seventeen, my daughter sees herself as mistress of her own fate, and while I certainly don’t want to unsteady my girl, I encourage her to keep her hands steady on the wheel. Listen, I urge: that unbelievably difficult challenge I butt up against, over and over. Listen.

I’m reading Margot Livesey’s Mercury in these early, dark mornings. Here’s a few lines from a previous novel:

If someone tells you a lie, they’re not telling you the truth, but they are telling you something. It just takes longer to figure out what.

– Margot Livesey, The House on Fortune Street


This eternally warm, long and lovely autumn, Woodbury, Vermont

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In the middle of last night, wind blew in a scattering of rainshowers. Without turning on any lights, I stood on the kitchen porch, amazed at the midnight balminess. The apple tree shed a few yellow leaves.

My teenager had left a screwgun on the deck, a piece of unfinished cleanup from putting up the storm windows. I lifted the heavy tool and held it in both hands, remembering when this girl was a baby and a screwgun like this one had fallen out of the back of our pickup. We’d loaned the screwgun to a relative in Montpelier, who must have merely slid the tool in the back of the truck. When I returned home, the case was missing.

With my baby in the truck cab beside me, I drove those miles back to the capital city, looking all along the road, but didn’t find the blue plastic box. I remember weeping over what was a very expensive tool for us then, and how badly I felt at its loss, caused by my own carelessness. That tool, in the early days of my husband’s carpentry business, meant so much to us then – or perhaps it was more the potential, the life ahead, that tool promised.

In the end, a neighbor found the screwgun and returned it to me.

Seventeen years later, how many thousands of dollars worth of tools have now passed through our hands, used hard, their finite lives consumed. I thought of all that with the gentle autumn rain falling, and how happy our neighbor was, returning to us what we considered our lost fortune.

Poverty’s child –
he starts to grind the rice,
and gazes at the moon.

– Bashō


garlic planting, Woodbury, Vermont

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Light and Shadow

While doing errands in Barre, Vermont, today, my younger daughter groaned when she saw a huge new building. More stuff. Where does it come from? Like everyone else, we’re consuming our share of stuff, coming home with a case of paper, a metal leaf rake, and the eternal grocery shopping.

As if to contrast, all afternoon we’ve been outside in this glorious sunlight, readying our piece of world for winter: washing windows, slashing perennials, my rearranging of the woodshed. When the girls disappeared to bake an apple pie, I stood back and admired my woodshed, crammed full with ash and maple, drying incrementally yet steadily.

In autumn, by afternoon’s end, shadows and cold creep in. I yanked out the frost-killed squash vines today, left the sunflower heads for the birds. The wood stove is likely lit for the duration. Our kitchen greets visitors with spicy cinnamon and baking butter.

The roadside plants go right on growing. Everything is fulfilling its part in the whole. Such is life – and of such are the realities of life. Harmony comes in understanding things on their own terms, and in a compassionate and humorous acceptance of the way they fulfill their roles.

– Stewart Holmes and Chimyo Horioka, Zen Art for Meditation


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