Teaser of Spring

Home early from work, I walked to the post office with my daughter, in what Vermonters know as sugaring weather. Streams ran down hillside streets. Birds sang in bare-branched treetops.

This is the first winter I have lived in town in many years, and I’d forgotten how the melting snow recedes, leaving a pointillistic, 3D mosaic of dirt. With her bare fingers, my daughter picked up little bits of snow and tossed them at my knees, and we made a game of kicking those icy bits ahead of us, walking, as she offered me a few little bits of middle school life.

Passing the elementary school with its mountainous banks plowed to the edges of the parking lot, I remembered my own elementary school, where I walked on those ridge tops in an unbuttoned wool coat, mittens swinging from the knitted cord my mother made, tying the mittens tightly to the coat.

My daughter dug her fingers into a snowbank and threw a handful of ice, soft snow, and dirt over our heads.

Learning to trust the possible and to accept what arises, to welcome surprise and the ways of the Trickster, not to censor too quickly — all are lessons necessary for a writer…..Attentiveness may appear to be nothing at all, yet under its gaze, everything flowers. ‘Awakened,’ Dōgen wrote in a poem, ‘I hear the one true thing —/Black rain on the roof of the Fukakusa temple.’

— Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry


Montpelier, Vermont

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Tales from Library Land

When I was vacuuming tiny gold stars from the library’s rug yesterday, in the hour when the tired after school kids were getting picked up and before the adult readers appeared, I noticed the carpet, hard-worn when I arrived as the sole employee, was even more shabby. A splotch of yellow paint, snips of pink yarn, dog hair that perpetually sloughs off a few small patrons. The carpet has been used by all sizes of feet.

The walls are covered with kid art, colored paper chains hang from the ceiling, donations for the pie breakfast book sale line the walls.

Although I was so tired I considered lying down on the floor before the reading group, the adults arrived with incredible enthusiasm. The kids made popcorn and kicked a soccer ball in the other room, with a strange sound like someone banging her head against a wall I (futilely) tried to ignore.

I heated water for tea. What do goals mean in a lifetime, anyway?

Here’s one of mine: heat water for a thousand cups of tea in this one-room library.

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

— Jorge Luis Borges


Craftsbury, Vermont

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Parking Lot Humor

A friend once remarked to me that my older daughter has a “very thin scrim” between her and the world. Last night, returning with the girls and their skis, we stopped at a supermarket in Waterbury and wandered through the mostly empty store. When we walked back to my daughter’s car, she stopped and remarked about the car parked very near to hers: What a dick move. She edged around to her driver’s seat and said with absolutely no rancor at all. This is the kind of parking job I would do.

I laughed. I mean — parenting? It’s hard. It’s darn hard. The thinness of that scrim gets to me. So any humor? Send it my way……


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A sunstruck afternoon in February — I opened the windows and aired out the house. The kids jumped off the back deck, ate potato chips, planned building projects we needed to start right away.

A trustee signed off on an email to me, Happy sap run. These are the intimations of sugaring season, the beginning of the thaw and freeze, thaw and freeze. When we first began sugaring, twenty years ago, I believe the thaw would come in a rush and stay. Not so. Thaw and more thaw, studded with bursts of hard cold, slowly melts the frost down deep.

(I had) a revelation the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather.

— Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing: Essays


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February 14

Ten years ago,  a friend drove to my house in a snowstorm, and while we talked and talked, drank tea and knitted, so much snow fell that, when she went out to clear her car, we weren’t entirely sure where the hood of her car lay under all that snow.

With a kind of seriousness, my daughter packs small pink boxes of candy hearts into her backpack for her friends. She gives me a box, too, and, in a Brach’s variation of Proust’s madeleine, I’m in grade school again, mesmerized by these hearts and a little mystified by the valentine exchange and what that might mean. I offer a tiny green heart to my daughter with the words Be mine.

Here’s a love song to Vermont:

To our Mother of Mud Season
(may she come early and be soon gone)
and the happiness of cows and the sadness
of meadows; to snow in April, and cowslips and marsh
rose and bulk-tank days, to serenity
and late-winter languor…..

From Tony Whedon’s “Things to Pray To in Vermont” in Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poetry


Woodbury, Vermont

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Cabin Fever, #1

Somehow, we’ve reached the middle of February: this is the period of deep winter, and its many juxtapositions. The sun shines blissfully all morning on the sleeping cats sprawled around my feet on the kitchen floor. The neighbors’ septic backs up; we meet in our nearby driveways, shoveling snow yet again, and he laughs, Not my best day.

The older daughter takes a highlighter to her textbook, determined to pass an EMT course, while the younger plans an elaborate visit to Burlington. Through my perpetual email, I wonder if she’s imagining Burlington as the spring paradise of blooming fruit trees rather than the gray pavement I see once a week.

My taxes are unfinished in messy pile beside stacks of overdue books from three libraries. I mean to invite over parents of my daughter’s new friend. I miss drinking coffee with my friend in Montpelier. In the basement of either the town hall or the town clerk might be boxes of legos for my young library patrons: a kid gold mine I need to spelunk. Somewhere out there is my next husband. When will he arrive?

This is February.

March will bring my library’s pie breakfast, when hundreds of people in town bake pies and carry them in both hands to the elementary school’s second floor cafeteria. Two live bands, endless conversation and gossip, coffee and more coffee, sweet and savory pies, and hundreds of Vermonters in snow boots. Pie breakfast is March’s small town brilliance.

The moon has nothing to be sad about….

— Sylvia Path, from “Edge”



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My brother is standing on a ladder shoveling off our back porch roof when a sheet of snow from the house roof creaks loose and cascades over him. With my daughter’s help, he empties little chunks of ice and powdery snow from his pockets. Rain falls a little.

After we clear the snow, the three of us stand on the back porch — scene of summer hanging out — and I mention the sweet William that grew last summer, and will presumably again this summer, in the wild patch below the railings. I can imagine the tiny, frilly flowers in three hues of pink, laced with white.

All around us, the world is painted in hues of green pine, brown bark, and all that snow, on branches, over the garden, the trampoline frame nearly buried. It takes imagination to envision the lushness of spring — singing frogs, mating birds, tender green, and all those wildflowers, unstoppably unfolding from the earth — but we imagine it. February.

‘This is Just to Say’

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

— William Carlos Williams


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