Capital Cup of Coffee

Sunday afternoon, the 13-year-old girls  watch a movie in Montpelier while I walk down the street to Capital Grounds. For two hours, my world is writing and a woman who sits beside me and eats a bowl of chili meditatively and the reflection in the storefront windows across the street of a flock of pigeons swooping in flight. I never actually see the pigeons — only their darting reflection.

At a table behind me, three men laugh. When they came in, one man had a walker, and I turned and asked if they needed me to move. He said no, and that the nice thing about this coffee shop is how everyone is on top of each other all the time, anyway. I remember visiting a different version of Capital Grounds years ago, in a winter when I was at home with a three-year-old. I caught myself reading a man’s newspaper over his shoulder.

When I leave, the November sunlight is thin, but it’s there. I take the long way back to the theater. Far overhead, the capital’s gold dome beams.

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Bog Trip

No school for 13-year-old, day off for 19-year-old, no snow yet, and November’s scant light: I fold up my laptop and, impromptu, declare we’ll visit Chickering Bog.

We follow a path through the woods, our boots brushing through fallen maple and ash and cherry leaves, then through a stand of tamarack where the dirt path is scattered with tiny gold needles. On the easy walk, the girls chattered, moving quickly against the damp, the three of them in their black down jackets and myself in turquoise. We’re not far from the world from houses and cars, yet the forest folds around us. I’ve been walking in various New England forests since I was a child, and although this particular path isn’t familiar, the woods are — filled with both that allure of what’s around that next bend or behind that glacial erratic? and, simply, the woods’ loveliness.

The path leads up to what’s more properly a fen. The boardwalk takes us near the middle where the girls find cranberry-red carnivorous pitcher plants. Beneath our boots lies the thousands-of-years-old mysteries of peat. And over our heads, all that sky.

A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the Beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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Calais, Vermont

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A Random Guest & A Snippet of Her Story

Yesterday, a woman came into my library with old photos and book donations. She arrived at a quiet time, and we sat and talked, our conversation winding around to her grandmother — a midwife who studied via a correspondence course while raising a brood of children.

In those days, the quarries in Woodbury were running at their peak, shipping marble and granite via rail all over the country. The midwife was called to the quarries’ terrible accidents — where men’s flesh and bones were mangled and crushed by stone.

Thin November sunlight flooded the library. I was in no particular rush to return to my work. A sugarmaker with her husband, she was glad of the pause from her work in the woods, too. She mentioned that now, as an adult, she has so many questions she’d like to ask her grandmother — what made you want to be a midwife? what did you see? She remembers her grandfather coming in from the morning milking and eating her grandmother’s maple cream by the spoonful.

Here’s a line from Elliot Ackerman’s novel Waiting for Eden, regarding training for overseas deployment:

Communication, we were told, would be our only defense against the stresses of isolation and confinement.

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Wild and Tame Creatures

On his favorite perch on the dining room windowsill, my daughter’s cat suddenly stiffens his back and presses his nose near the November-cool glass. Beside him, I’m typing, and I rub his back. He mews an inquiry, looking at me.

Through the window, I see eight wild turkeys, nosing through my young asparagus bed, planted just last spring. The turkey nearest us steps toward the window, raising its long odd legs. The cat and the bird stare at each other, the turkey’s head tipped slightly to one side, so its eye gazes at this little furry tiger cat.

The bird’s bigger than you, I murmur.

For the longest time, these two creatures stare at each other. Then the turkey goosesteps on its way, and the cat, true to his nature, curls up on the table beside my laptop and takes a nap.

Midterm elections, 2018.

I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.

— Suffragette Alice Paul

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When In Doubt, Do Handwork

My 19-year-old, pondering what to do with her life, buys fat skeins of yarn and begins knitting a blanket. The metaphor of comfort consoles me, too.

I just read David Grann’s The White Darkness, about Henry Worsley, descendant of Frank Worsley, of the Shackleton Endurance expedition. It’s hard to imagine a more manly man than Henry Worsley, who ultimately perished from complications of his solo South Pole trek. Yet Worsley sewed to calm his nerves. He was skilled at needlepoint. He volunteered to teach tatting — yes, tatting — to London prison inmates. How cool is that?

Shackleton… sought recruits with the qualities that he deemed essential for polar exploration: “First, optimism; second, patience; third, physical endurance; fourth, idealism; fifth and last, courage.”

State 14 ran the first of my monthly Postcards From Hardwick. Check out terrific Vermont voices here.

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#10 Pond

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Why Love Cats

My daughters’ cat and I are listening to Chris Hedges lecture about the collapse of the American Empire — extremely serious and unfunny — when the cat falls off the hutch and splashes into my pan of lemon-yellow paint.

The cat probably yowled; I certainly shouted. The creature scrambled through the dining room to living room, through my study, into the kitchen, where my daughter grabbed the paint-soaked cat. While she cleaned paint from the cat in the basement, I washed wet paint from our floors on my hands and knees.

We’ve lived in this house not much more than a year. While I love the maple floors, I generally don’t spend much time mopping.

While Hedges kept talking, I realized some of the narrow boards were birdseye maple. Through the closed basement door, I heard my daughter murmuring, comforting her beloved cat.

Whoever laid the floors in this house passed from this life decades ago. I thought of these slender, hard boards in a carpenter’s hand, his sight appraising the grain.

The decision by the ruling elites in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire…. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents.

— Chris Hedges, America: The Farewell Tour

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The Larch Season, November, Vermont

 

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My Long-Ago Mentor

The children’s librarian in the town where I grew up — Goffstown, New Hampshire — not only offered me first dibs on brand-new books (I began reading Judy Blume’s Deenie while walking home), she also came to my wedding. Every summer, I fill the glass purple vase she gave me for a wedding present.

So, when we were talking about the Giving Back issue at Kids VT — the magazine where I’m on staff — I wanted to write about Betsy Elliott. We aspired to write particularly about a few of the many people who give so generously, so meaningfully, without any expectation of return — maybe a kind of antidote to our troubled world. Here’s my short essay.

 

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