Dissonance

One good thing a day — take joy in at least one thing a day — is my new mantra.

Swimming or drinking coffee. A colleague moved a rock in her garden — how happy that made me. Spying foxes down in the woods. My daughter’s pleasure in making bracelets. A giant swan floatie my daughters bought while I was at work one day.

I’m not hoarding; I simply note that one thing. The odd thing is, once I note that, I find endless amounts of good things — the Sweet William in my garden, laughing on the phone as I ask a librarian to put out a book for me, please, and then calling through the (closed) library’s door — thank you!

None of this alleviates or alters the world — that I live in a state of incredible wealth where thousands of people have lined up in their cars for eight hours to receive a box of free food. The future is utterly obscured — from a national level literally igniting, to a personal level, where so many people’s lives around me are in upheaval.

This summer, as my daughter steps happily into the driver’s seat, I sit beside her, cautioning — slow down for this intersection. Don’t expect others to turn their turn signals. Be wary of children on sidewalks.

The truth is, I resist this stage of parenting, of giving her the physical keys to head into that vast and confusing world. Yet, it’s her world, too.

So, I identify those good things, like stones in a turbulent river, as we undertake a crossing.

Dissonance
(if you are interested)
leads to discovery.

— William Carlos Williams

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Independence…

Just after dusk, I stand by my garden talking to a friend when all kinds of things begin happening — a luminescent full moon quickly rises; a fox appears at the edge of a nearby woods and watches us; and our kids burn sparklers. In the neighborhoods and hills around us, people set off fireworks. Colored sparkles decorate the horizon.

Like everything else — a completely confusing holiday.

In the night, I wake when a light rain begins to fall, and I get up and take in my sandals I’ve left on the back porch. For a moment, I stand in the darkness, breathing in the scents of damp soil and rain. Maybe for a bit, I wonder, it might be better to understand the world not as a whole, but piece by piece, beginning with the moon and the kids and the teenagers, the sandals I’ve taken in and that I’ll wear today, dry.

Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together, and it is made of people who can never fully know the good that they have done.

— Tracy Kidder

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Greensboro, Vermont

 

 

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Spiritual Crisis

Tanned and wearing overalls, a woman comes into my library and gathers a stack of library books for her children. For this moment, it’s just the two of us. She’s a woman who doesn’t usually check out books for herself, but she asks for a recommendation. I ask her what she wants — fiction or nonfiction? Something easy?

She pauses and then tells me, I need something good. I’m having a spiritual crisis. I’m turning forty and raising two kids and….

I add, And the world’s falling apart?

She laughs. Yes. That might be it.

I pull Maggie O’Farrell’s book off the shelf, and she doesn’t look at it, simply adds it to her pile while we keep talking. She’s a woman who seems, to me, to have been fortunate with finances, surrounded by family. We talk for a bit more, and then I offer that change is opportunity — painful as that might appear.

We step outside, take off our masks, and walk around the gardens, talking about cucumbers.

The things in life which don’t go to plan are usually more important, more formative, in the long run, than the things that do.

Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death

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Car Keys

In the evenings, my daughter lifts the car keys from the hook on the wall, and we drive.

In the passenger seat, I laugh a little, and she looks at me from the edges of her eyes. What?

I haven’t accepted, yet, this switch from driver to passenger seat, and she says seriously, I got this, before smiling with utter pleasure. She no longer asks where we should go; she’s at the wheel.

In the midst of so much other upheaval, from global to personal — my teen has hit the summer of growing up. If I had my license, I’d drive across the country, she says. I have two more months before school starts.

A light rain falls. Neither of us know if school will start, or what her last few years of high school will look like. I’ve driven across country numerous times, but what will her trek look like?

My thirsty garden drinks up the rain. At our house, an enormous mock orange bush reaches our second-floor bedroom windows. For weeks now, I’ve wondered if this bush will bloom this year — here it is, madly blossoming, sprinkling the grass with its fallen white petals.

Such a moon —
the thief
pauses to sing.

— Buson

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu

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Sleeping Outside

Lake, rock, sun, rain…. much to my incredible surprise, we actually managed to camp on an island in Lake Champlain this summer. For years, we’ve gone every summer — the girls and I — sleeping in a lean-to and inevitably forgetting something.

This year, we wore masks on the ferry ride there. But for these 48 hours, for this bit, we lay on the rocks, swam in the cold water, ate by the fire, and kids were just kids again.

On our walk around the island, I stopped and talked with a woman sunbathing on the rocky beach. For five minutes, we gushed and talked — and then said goodbye, good luck, and I followed the girls who had already disappeared out of sight.

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Rain

Rain fell yesterday morning. I stood in my dusty garden, thinking, Bring it on.

Halfway through the morning, the light held the thin green translucence, like we moved in a piece of sea glass that was alive.

All afternoon in my library, people wandered by, singly and in pairs — nothing more. Most had tidied up, wearing sundresses and ironed shirts — all with masks — as if swinging by the library was an outing. Which, perhaps, it likely was. We spoke with the same underlying uncertainy and loneliness, and a tender care with each other.

At the very end, I loaded up two bags for a 10-year-old hungry for books — my good deed for the day.

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June

Hello, roses!

The day I bought this house, I realized roses bloomed beneath the dining room windows. Of all the things I scrutinized when house buying — location and purchase price and paint — I never considered these old, overgrown rose bushes. So early in the season, Japanese beetles haven’t yet set in with their hunger. The blossoms emit the sweetest fragrance, drifting around the back of the house.

Hello, gorgeous and ineffable summer.

There will never be more of summer
than there is now.

Alex Dimitrov

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This morning, the world smells so good. With my coffee cup, I walk around the dewy garden in my bare feet. There’s weeding to be done and more sowing of seeds and plants. We’re in a long dry patch, and I’d love some rain. Every night, I water patches of my garden.

But this morning, for this moment, how good this all smells, the crickets singing, and this whole day spreading before us.

I recently remembered that, when I was a girl, I wanted to live on a farm with a blackberry thicket. I didn’t particularly want a cow, but how I lusted after fruit trees and garden rows and overgrown lilacs. Behind our house now, the wild blackberries are profuse with blossoms near that fox den.

The pandemic continues. The virus spreads. But, for now, we’re home and outside — and it’s glorious summer.

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu/Caspian Lake

 

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Yes

Driving home from work, I see my daughter and her friend walking through town, talking. I pull over, and they run across the road. We stand there for a little while, talking. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this at all. They tell me a little about kicking around a soccer ball that morning, and remark how hot the day has suddenly become.

They finish their walk, then we all go swimming.

These days, I sometimes think of my grandparents, whose lives were marked by the depression. As a kid, when we went out to eat with my grandmother, she’d swipe ketchup packets, because, she said, you never knew when you might need it.

For these teens, the pandemic will mark their lives, too. Someday, I imagine, they’ll be saying, remember when high school stopped, and we all stayed home?

They won’t forget. Sleepovers and cozy breakfast in the kitchen are on permanent hiatus, but summer is back. Sitting on the bank, watching them swim, I’m happy for just for this moment — sunlight and pollen-flecked water, croaking bullfrogs in the weeds, laughter — a little more childhood yet to come.

Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together…

Tracy Kidder

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu

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Driving Lessons

In the evening, as the dusk moves in, we play hearts on the back porch, my feet wet from watering the garden. It’s dry, with no rain in the forecast but thunderstorms possibly moving in this weekend.

After dinner and dishes, before I water, the 15-year-old drives, and I sit in the passenger seat. She’s largely on her own these days while I’m at work. In the high school parking lot, I get out of the car and watch her park and back up and park again, over and over. At last, she stops and leans out the window. She’s taken an extra key and put it on her first key ring, beside our house door.

She grins at me, full of exuberance and joy. “Want a ride?” she asks, then pulls up beside me, leans over, and opens the door. “Let’s take the long way home.”

The world? Moonlit
Drops shaken
From the crane’s bill.

— Eihei Dōgen

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