Love Poem

Driving to work yesterday, I listened to the radio, about Derek Walcott, this poet who found himself in the sea and in the light of this world.

Where I am now, spring rampages in with a fierce rush of lengthening days, of light white with snow but suffused with burgeoning warmth. Winter rallies with bitter cold, but each passing week, the harshness of that season dwindles. We will see green again. Spring, while she may linger in her arrival, has never yet failed to delight.

“Love After Love” by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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Not Quite Janis Joplin

Years ago, when I withdrew my daughter from a private school and home schooled, I had an incredible sense of freedom. That private school had been incredibly rigid, so tightly constrained the parent handbook suggested how to run birthday parties. What on earth was I thinking then?

When I enrolled my kids in the local public school, I discovered a freedom I hadn’t expected from my dismal memories of school. Perhaps it’s simply the diversity of kids, who come from homes with parents running the gamut income-wise, but also in home life, with mothers who range from stay-at-home moms to professors with PhDs. Maybe one of the best aspects of rural Vermont schools is their encompassing, egalitarian qualities: the kids are literally all in it together, and by and large, the kids don’t mind.

Oddly, the end of my marriage was also a pivotal point of incredible freedom. If not this life I planned, then what? I seized that breaking as an unexpected opportunity to rethink how the heck I got to here. What breadcrumbs do I want to follow to get myself unlost from this forest?

Here’s pre-dawn reading before my wood stove….

Much of contemporary feminism uses the language of power. Girls need to be “empowered,” women need to fight for “self-empowerment,” “girl power,” etc. There is little conversation about what that power is to be used for, because that is supposed to be obvious: whatever the girl wants.

But growing up in a system that measures success by money, that values consumerism and competition, that devalues compassion and community, these girls and women have already been indoctrinated into what to want. Without close examination, without conversion into a different way of thinking and acting, what that girl wants is going to be money, power, and, possibly, her continued subjugation, because a feminism that does not  provide an alternative to the system will still have the system’s values.

…. Moving beyond that (patriarchal) structure means forgoing the rewards that structure doles out for participation. But it also gives you back your agency.

Jessa Crispin, Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto

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Where else but Hardwick, Vermont, in the first days of spring?

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Morning March Music

I unlocked the elementary school yesterday morning when the day was yet in that black-turning-blue phase of dawn. I was there to get the coffee going for that venerable New England tradition, pie breakfast. Allow me to brag for a moment about my town. With a population of 902 (including newborns), nearly 200 pies appeared in the school kitchen, carefully wrapped, many warm from home ovens.

Pie Breakfast is a hustling sweet-and-savory morning, bursting with conversation, live music, laughter, lots of kids. The most welcome melody I heard, though, was the red-wing blackbirds in the white pines below the library. My booksale volunteers and I stood on the icy pavement in the brilliant March sunlight, surrounded by two feet of sparkling snow, listening to the first harbinger of migration’s return, the promise of spring, the full-throated song of mating.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all…

– Emily Dickinson

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A Condensed Parenting Manual

There’s an odd line from Lee in Steinbeck’s East of Eden that’s always stuck with me, since I first read the book when I was sixteen or so: I will not put my finger in any human pie. What a strange metaphor (as if we’re baked goods?).

Tomorrow is Woodbury Pie Breakfast, the community-wide sit down to pie and coffee, live music and cabin fever conversation. This afternoon is pie baking in my house, as I suspect it will be in many Woodbury kitchens. The question around town is, What kind of pie are you baking? Or, wishfully muttered, I hope I get some of Skip’s chocolate with raspberry swirl this year.

Pie is easy – crust and filling – but human pie? Human creation? A family member this winter drove to North Dakota and joined the Standing Rock Protests, then disappeared underground, in a variation of Five Easy Pieces, with not a word to family he had left behind. He must have profoundly believed he was called to that Jihadist path, leaving behind a grief like earth crudely harrowed up but untended, uncultivated.

Steinbeck is likely at the heart of my own raw parenting philosophy. As one daughter steps into adulthood, and the other teeters on adolescence, my mantra repeats Socratic self-examination: What the heck are you doing – and why? What an annoyance it must be to have a mother more concerned with keeping the darkness of Nihilism at bay, rather than building a really stellar college application.

March is always the season of entropy, cabin fever, quarreling. We’re surrounded by depths of snow: Currier and Ives picturesque, and a real complication, too. And that’s another metaphor.

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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Snow Child

It’s an Ezra Jack Keats kind of snowy day (or days) in Vermont. If you’re not out foolishly driving around (and not many are), the snow is spiraling down exquisitely. After hours of tedious work inside, while the snow swirled against the windows, I walked along our unplowed road. Pausing on my way to meet my neighbor, I remembered those winters when my firstborn was a toddler, and winters really were one months-long housebound snowstorm.

Every day, I pulled my chattery child along the road on a runner sled. Always, at the same place she would beg me to lumber through the deep snow into the woods and pluck a few miniature hemlock pinecones from a low hanging branch.

Years later, unboxing this red snowsuit for her younger sister, I discovered tiny pinecones in every pocket.

It was so wonderful to be there, safe at home, sheltered from the winds and the cold. Laura thought that this must be a little like heaven, where the weary are at rest.

– Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter

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Chipped Lives

It’s so darn cold here I woke up in the dark this morning with the cold scraping my cheeks. Leftover pork bubbles on the wood stove with red chili and beans: we need heat and bright color.

Despite the cold, the March light is sparklingly beautiful. My young neighbor and I slid around the ice surrounding the sugarhouse, covered with a few inches of sugary snow. I offer him salvaged doors and windows, piles of wood; he’s happy.

Less here; more down the road. This morning, while my wood stove slowly warmed our house, I remembered a Hemingway line about the surprise at the end of Ulysses. Finishing Finkel’s new book this morning, I discovered an incredible surprise in his ending. The line I snipped below is perhaps one of the few pieces of advice I could truly offer my 18-year-old daughter, this young woman who has already met the hole in her heart with burning rage.

The neighbor loads his Subaru. I’m relieved to have these potential pieces of home travel down the road. Build a greenhouse. Plant more seeds. Thrive.

I think that most of us feel like something is missing from our lives, and I wondered then if Knight’s (the hermit) journey was to seek it. But life isn’t about searching endlessly to find what’s missing; it’s about learning to live with the missing parts.

– Michael Finkel, The Stranger in the Woods: the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

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My Familiar

The past two mornings, a large fisher cat has slunk through my snow-covered garden, scoped out the compost, and wandered back into the woods, with that odd, weasel-esque serpentine back motion. The creature is dark as a rain-sodden forest floor.

My house is for sale now, and strangers have been wandering in and out. Do they admire the blue I’ve painted the windows? Are they as annoyed with the unfinished trim and stair treads as I am, or are they starry-eyed, as I would have been, years ago?

I’ve told none of them of this wild creature wandering in and out, my own particular secret, the wildness I’ll carry with me, no matter where we go.

The truth felt stranger than the myth.

Michael Finkel, The Stranger in the Woods: the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

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fitting reading, these days

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