Winter Dreaming

I found a paper butterfly on my car windshield yesterday afternoon — a gift, I’m guessing, from a local child.

My youngest and her friend, dreaming of summer and drivers’ licenses, create a plan of mountains to hike. While a pizza bakes in the oven, she lists summits on their list: Pisgah, Hunger, Belvidere….

I love this. While I worry about these girls driving, about the two of them heading off without a parent or big sister, I love that their dreams involve tying on hiking boots and pushing for summits. I love that they love mountains.

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Small Journey

My younger daughter drives the two of us on a cold January afternoon to Montpelier. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to the state capital, although (pre-pandemic) I was in Montpelier at least once a week.

We’re in search of a birthday present for my oldest daughter — a single present, that’s all I’m looking for — and we go into only one store. At the register, the owner tells me how happy she is to see people; the city has been a ghost town for the last week.

In the downtown’s heart, we pass empty storefronts. I’ve never seen so many vacancies in Montpelier before. On one main corner, my daughter notices the bakery where I once bought her chocolate chip cookies is locked, too.

Where I can’t bear to pass by is the library, the beautiful stone building where a year ago I often spread out my laptop and papers and worked for hours. In the large reading room, the well-heeled snapped on lamps and read and wrote. There was a couple who always appeared who seemed to be gambling online. The homeless and college students filled chairs. After school, children ran through.

At my daughter’s request, we walk through Hubbard Park in the cold and up the stone tower to see the city surrounded by mountains.

When we walk down the snowy steps, a mother and her daughter are sitting on the tower’s stone floor. There’s only openings for windows and doors, and the girl is crying with cold. The mother struggles to tie an icy lace on the girl’s ski boot.

Been there, I think, done that.

I no longer have the keys to my own car. My daughter drives past the state house where no one is out. Not a single person on the granite steps. Driving home, she suddenly says, The good thing about living in Vermont is spring. Even if winter seems forever, there’s always spring.

[Kintsugi], the Japanese method of repairing broken pottery [uses] gold to bind the pieces together. In this way, the break becomes what is beautiful, what is valued. It is a way to embrace the flaw, the imperfect. In place of the break, there is now a vein of gold.

— Nick Flynn, This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire

Photo by Gabriela S.
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Finally!

In the midst of surely what will be known in American history as a lousy time, Bernie Sanders inadvertently made knitting cool.

When my youngest daughter was a toddler, one winter I cracked open a knitting book my mother had given me from her stash and taught myself to knit two-stranded mittens. In those days of diapers and playdough and winter isolation, I experimented with yarn weight, needle size, and colors. The prettiest mittens I knit had one cuff gnawed by mice when I left the pair overnight in our sugarhouse.

When we moved from one house to another and we jettisoned so many belongings, I considered that particular knitting book before I packed it in a box. At that point, I wasn’t sure I would ever knit another pair of mittens, but I packed the book, more out of sentimental affection than anything else.

This morning, I pulled the book from the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I was looking for a pattern after offering to knit my brother a pair of mittens. In the center of the book, I found pages of one daughter’s artwork. She had a set of Noah’s ark stamps as a little girl, and had carefully stamped and colored a scene.

This daughter went through a period when a hand-me-down paperback Noah’s ark book was her favorite bedtime tale — all those animals and Noah’s family cozied in a handmade boat, first having a party, then enduring through a tediously long journey, with the rewards of the olive branch, the dove, dry land, and the rainbow at the end.

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Border Crossings

On inauguration eve, I dream of wandering through my childhood hometown and wake thinking of the November morning four years when I woke early and realized I would have to tell my daughters that Donald Trump won the presidency.

Four years seems so long ago — far longer ago than my own childhood of the 1970s when not all that much seemed to happen.

As I lie in bed reading about the Vikings — these ancient, fascinating people — snow drifts down outside, twinkling in my neighbor’s porch light. She’s up, too, as are my neighbors across the street, all three of our houses awake this morning long before dawn. In a different world, I’d pull on my coat and slip into my boots, walk through those unshoveled inches of fresh snow, and offer a piece of coffee cake my daughter baked.

In my own family life, we’ve slipped through so many borders and changes in these four years, one tiny ripple in the endless ripples of human life. Today, January 20, yet another change. May this be for civility and decency.

The Viking Age was very much a time of borders—between cultures and ways of life, between different views of reality, and between individuals, including at the level of liberty itself.

— Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

Photo by Gabriela S.
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Getting With The Program…

A few days of snow and rain and slush and scattered sunlight — mid-January in Vermont when the snow-heavy woods are enchanting.

Again, drinking coffee in our Subaru while my youngest daughter drives. These mid-winter days are wound through with the mittens I’m knitting and the book about the Vikings I’m reading, the phone call I made to a friend — come walk with me in the cold rain — and she did.

For a while now I’ve been saying that the bar is low — it’s something that I can offer my daughter the chance to ski with a friend. The friend’s parents and I stand in the parking lot, talking, talking. But, more accurately, the bar has vanished, and I didn’t even realize it. The world we live in is changing. History is reshaping our world. This weekend, for whatever reason, I realized: get with the program.

And the program at our contains the tangibles of yarn, colored pencils, snow.

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Strangers’ Laughter

I step out of our house just after sunset, and a crescent moon hangs over the road — a silent slice of gleaming beauty in a dark blue sky. By then, I’ve been on a school board call for hours, and I’ve had to remind myself repeatedly that what appears to be illusion at times — this strange, Hollywood-squares conversation — will shake out in ways that affect people’s lives directly: adults’ livelihoods, kids’ educations.

Although it’s five on a Friday, there’s not much traffic in town. In the little neighborhoods where I walk, no one is out. Against one maple tree, I see two plastic red sleds propped against the trunk.

As I round a corner, I hear laughter. I pause for a moment in the twilight, listening. A row of adults is bundled in coats and hats, sitting on a porch, talking and laughing. The cold air is wet with tomorrow’s approaching snow.

I’m no stranger to Vermont’s long winters, but mid-January 2021, and such a deep loneliness has set in — not just in my house, not just in my town, but spread ubiquitously. I stand under that gleaming sliver of moon, listening to the laughter of strangers. For the moment, I’m utterly stunned by the unexpected bliss of the moment, the sheer luck I have to be standing here, part of this shifting world.

“I don’t like ironing, but it reminds me that once, long, long ago, there was a semblance of order in the world.”
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Talking with Strangers

Yesterday, I was on the phone at work, talking with a woman I had never met who was helping me unravel a work question.

She paused suddenly and mentioned that she could hear the governor’s Tuesday press conference on the radio in my office. She told me she worked in the governor’s building and had been told to bring home work. Vermont’s capital — Montpelier — like so many places in our country now, is under careful public safety scrutiny.

Then, as I’ve found happening so often since last mid-March, a stranger and I had a passionate conversation about the uncertain state of our world. While a moment before we had been talking about details, we suddenly began sharing stories of our families.

Then her cell phone crackled, and we ended our conversation before her connection broke.

Green Mountains Review Online published the first chapter of my book Unstitched: Exploring Addiction in a Small Town. The book will be published by Steerforth Press in September. May our world be a less tension-choked place by autumn.

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Sunday, Sun, Reassessing

After a terrible week, my daughter heads to ski with a friend. Because of the pandemic, she doesn’t catch a ride with the friend. Because my daughter is 15, I’m the designated adult — for what that’s worth — in the passenger seat while she drives.

Sunday morning in rural Vermont, the roads are nearly empty. North of St. Johnsbury, we pick up the interstate for a small stretch, then turn off and head along the Passumpsic River.

I lean toward the windshield and point out a bald eagle flying over the fields and then a second eagle.

Excited about those eagles? she asks me. From the corners of her eyes, she glances at me. She rounds bend and the eagles disappear from sight.

While she skis, I take a long walk into the snowy woods, and then work in our car. There’s nothing new here: I’ve been wandering through the woods and working in my car, waiting for my kids for years now.

And yet — while everything is the same, nothing is the same.

On our way home, she drives again, and stops at a church so I can get out and take a picture of the steeple and the blue sky.

Below is a page from Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout.

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The Way Forward

Skiing along the former railroad bed in the late afternoon, I meet a fellow skier — a man wearing a gray knit hat who’s retired now from the local high school. In one connection or another, I’ve known him since before I became a mother.

We pause and talk for bit. He asks about my daughters, and then he opens our conversation to what’s happening in the nation’s capital. Behind him, I see the Lamoille River winding towards Lake Champlain, flowing its slow way to cross the Canadian border and head to the Atlantic Ocean.

As a complete non-sequitur, I say, The sun actually came out today.

We look at the blue sky overhead between the trees. It’s January in Vermont, and the sun’s presence is never a given here.

We talk for a few more minutes, acknowledging chaos and the pandemic, these odd days and that sun overhead — light without warmth.

Then we part ways, he to his ski, and I towards home.

But time is only another liar, so go along the wall a little further: if blackberries prove bitter there’ll be mushrooms, fairy-ring mushrooms in the grass, sweetest of all fungi.

— William Carlos Williams


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The 16th American President Said…

“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”

— Abraham Lincoln

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