Fox Running Down the Road…

Midday, driving from here to there, a fox runs across a field towards me, its jaws clamped around what appears to be a yearling groundhog. I immediately slow my Subaru. The fox runs quickly, darting across the road. I pull over and jump out, watching the fox run along the shoulder. It’s backwoods Vermont, and no one’s around but me and this fox intent on carrying home its slain prey.

Surely the fox knows the road is empty of humans but for me, and I am no threat. Running, running, the fox disappears into the hayfield. In no great rush, I admire the lake through the trees. It may rain, or not. The hazy swimming weather has been usurped by cold, by the strange smoke from the Canadian wildfires so far from us. Here, this midday, it’s just me and the fox and the groundhog turning doubtlessly into fox kits.

Eventually, a pickup appears and stops. The driver’s an acquaintance, and he rolls down the window and asks what’s up. I lean against the door. He and I grouse for a bit about town business and human chaos. When he’s gone, I linger just a little longer, remembering the rushing fox, those moments of human and wild.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you…” 

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Loons, Wiser Than Us.

Back when my girls were in the early sand bucket age, loons were a rare sight on the lake. The grownups would knock off whatever chat we had going when we spied those distinctive birds — spotted backs, red-eyed. I grew up in New Hampshire and never saw a loon as a girl.

But even now, those calls — how eerie, how utterly mesmerizing, how definitively not of the human world. This afternoon, before a planning commission meeting and just as a little light rain begins, I walk over to that beach where we drank so much coffee. There’s two cars in the parking lot, people staring at the lake and the sky that’s bruised with storm. The loons holler across the rippling water. Vacation in Vermont and you might think summer is all sweetness and ice cream — but here’s a slice of cold rain, those two black-necked beauties, and an infinity of sky.

Myself, the Householder.

Furious, long before four this morning I’m at my desk with coffee and manuscript and my needy cat who must have his nose rubbed. A few months ago I asked a neighbor to knock off his cash carpentry payments to my ex-husband, a father who’s never made a child support payment. The neighbor brusquely told me I didn’t understand the complexity of the situation and walked out.

Now, he’s sent word that I made him and his wife feel unsafe. Oh Lord…. me and my 4’9″ stature and my insistence that I do know the complexity of my story and my uncomfortable female rage. I’ve doubtlessly repeated this, but his is a Kafka-esque flip of the word unsafe. And since when are other people’s children negligible?

I’ve been here before — like too many others, as this is hardly my unique problem — and I do what seems sensible to me. I tell no one where I’m headed and hike through the forest and up along a ridgeline. The hike cools my head. I discover white trilliums and wash my face in a low-running stream. The woods are hurting for rain, thirsty, thirsty.

I left with a question — what will I do? — and returned with my answer. Out of chaos, always, springs the pulsing might of creativity. At home, I hole up with Joanna Biggs’ A Life of One’s Own: Nine Women Writers Begin Again, and Biggs points me to Toni Morrison. In the evening, I pull a few weeds from the lily-of-the-valley that guard my house’s foundation. Such a delicate, pure, tiny flower.

 Q. You don’t feel that these girls (of teenage mothers) will never know whether they could have been teachers, or whatever?

A: They can be teachers. They can be brain surgeons. We have to help them become brain surgeons. That’s my job. I want to take them all in my arms and say, “Your baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you want to be a brain surgeon, call me — I will take care of your baby.” That’s the attitude you have to have about human life.

— Toni Morrison, Time Magazine

18th Birthday.

Here’s the thing: 18 years is a whole lot of parenting. 18 years is hardly a heartbeat.

My youngest was born by caesarian at 8:13 a.m. Leaving the hospital a few days later, corn nubs had emerged through the soil. As we drove by farm fields, I admired the new corn, marveling at its beauty. I had seen corn growing my whole life. And yet….

Perhaps that and yet sums up parenting. As a little girl, my youngest wore a green fairy tutu from her grandmother for about two years straight. These days, we are past the days of tiny teacups and Go, Dog, Go. Our family dynamics are now getting down to the hard questions: what does it mean to be a woman? what shall I do with my life? and how many times does sunscreen really need to be applied on a senior skip day at the beach? The questions go on….

blessing the boats

                                    (at St. Mary’s)

may the tide

that is entering even now

the lip of our understanding

carry you out

beyond the face of fear

may you kiss

the wind then turn from it

certain that it will

love your back     may you

open your eyes to water

water waving forever

and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that

— Lucille Clifton

‘In sorrow, pretend to be fearless.’

In Praise of Coldness

“If you wish to move your reader,”
Chekhov said, “you must write more coldly.”

Herakleitos recommended, “A dry soul is best.”

And so at the center of many great works
is found a preserving dispassion,
like the vanishing point of quattrocentro perspective,
or tiny packets of desiccant enclosed
in a box of new shoes or seeds.

But still the vanishing point
is not the painting,
the silica is not the blossoming plant.

Chekhov, dying, read the timetables of trains.
To what more earthly thing could he have been faithful?—
Scent of rocking distances,
smoke of blue trees out the window,
hampers of bread, pickled cabbage, boiled meat.

Scent of a knowable journey.

Neither a person entirely broken
nor one entirely whole can speak.

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.

— Jane Hirshfield

Conversation in the Moonlight.

At the open hatch of my car, I’m writing a mental grocery list, when something — what it is I don’t immediately know — happens. I’m fucked, I think. I’ve broken my hand.

A pneumatic hatch strut has broken, and is pinned between the hatch and taillight, the plastic light smashed. I turn my hand around and around. My hand suddenly seems very small, utterly familiar, a thing easily ruined.

People walk around me, going in and out of the co-op. Weirdly, I remember a car crash from my twenties when a Subaru Justy ran into my gold Rabbit. My Rabbit was knocked off the road. I got out and ran. The Justy had spun around and around and came to a stop, the wrong way in the middle of the road. No one was around. The Justy’s driver was crying, her window rolled down, saying, “I’ve killed you.” I begged her to get out of the car, leaning towards the Justy in the falling snow but not touching it, saying, “But I’m alive. I’m here.”

In a twist of great good fortune, my hand isn’t broken, only bruised. I go in the co-op and buy scallions and yogurt. The hatch and the strut are an irritation, another thing to sort out and solve, a fixable occurrence.

Later that week, after the dinner guests have left and it’s just me and my daughters and their friends, the five of us pull our chairs around the fire. The neighbors have taken their little kids into bed. The band in the village has quit by then, too, and the frogs are signing again, snippets of frog melodies.

In the darkness, we talk about relationships and marriage, what holds people together, what makes people endure. What makes people split. I toss another chunk of wood on the fire. A glistening half moon hangs over my house. Listening, I turn my hands around and around. So often, my hands are full and busy. Now, the moonlight falls in my open palms.

We keep talking and talking and talking. The moonlight is endless.