Here You Go. Love The Planet We’re Leaving You

My 13-year-old took part in last Friday’s Youth Climate Strike — coincidentally one of the warmest days in veritable weeks in Vermont. Since I usually work at home on Fridays, I folded up my laptop around noon and walked downtown. I met the photographer for the local paper in front of the diner, and we joked around for a bit until the students walked down from the high school.

The principal had called the parents the night before and given the heads up that this wasn’t a school event, but he let us know when the kids planned to leave. He walked down with the kids, too, and a number of teachers came, too. The Buffalo Mountain Co-op staff came out to cheer on the kids.

The kids lined up on the suspension bridge over the Lamoille River. I stood talking with my daughter’s humanities teacher and reading the kids’ signs. My favorite: The dinosaurs thought they had more time, too. The day was impeccably sunny. Some of the kids came with an intensity to talk about the climate; others simply to escape the school, take a walk, and get some vitamin D. Then the kids headed back up the hill, chatting, happy.

I can’t help but wonder: 36 years from now, when my younger daughter is my age, will she remember this day? And what will the world be like then? Contrary to the often pessimistic bend of my nature, I’m forcing myself to envision a brilliantly beautiful day, clamorous with youth, optimism, and ebullient joy in a fine March day, a gift in Vermont.

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Hardwick, Vermont, middle and high school students

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Money and Community — and More

As Woodbury’s town librarian (population 888), my wages are paid directly by the townspeoples’ property taxes, a few donations, and Woodbury Pie Breakfast. Now the main yearly event in town, nearly 300 people showed up at the town’s little elementary school, trudging up the stairs to the second floor gymnasium, to eat pie yesterday morning.

Friday evening — and this is my most beloved part of pie breakfast — people arrive with covered dishes, explaining this is pumpkin and maple or bacon and sausage with a little dill. 

Late last fall, Vermont’s State Board of Education mandated that Woodbury’s elementary school merge with two other local schools — one school much larger. After a winter of endless adult meetings about how to keep Woodbury’s school and library open, what pleasure — and relief — to fill the school with live music, the redolence of warming quiche, laughing kids — and adults in need of coffee.

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Of all my photos, this is my favorite: the little girl waiting for pie to be served, while adults do adult things….

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Wide Open Windows

Hallelujah! What I believed had permanently departed my patch of Vermont returned: sun! Warmth!

Yesterday afternoon while I’m holed up in the Montpelier library, working, my daughter texts me, asking if she can open the house windows. Please? It’s hot.

At home, we open the upstairs glassed-in porch too. Her cat presses against a window screen, entranced by — what is that? — singing chickadees?!

My daughter asks, Why are you so happy? Is it spring?

I answer, It’s enough, right now.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being…

— Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “Spring”

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Sign of Spring: Honda Takes Flight

A pale blue Honda Civic, circa 1985, parked along Route 14 not far from our house, has flown that nest.

The Honda had quite the winter, parked between an apartment building and the busy highway. The car was completely buried by snow at least twice. The back window was left cracked open. Someone removed the hood and then replaced it, repeatedly. One sunny afternoon, a young man washed its rear window with steaming hot water from a kitchen garbage can.

People have moved in and out of those apartments all winter, by pickup and U-Haul. Now, the Honda.

Craigslisted? Simply ready to roll?

While winter and road salt have eaten into Vermont, here’s an old Honda, hopping back on the road — or so I’m believing.

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
— From “The Pasture,” Robert Frost
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House town offices, snowy Sunday morning

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Reading Harry Potter

Like in-laws who have overstayed their welcome, winter lingers. While you might be wanting to mop mud from the in-laws’ boots off your kitchen floor, they keep coming and going, anticipating lunch and then dinner.

So, too, winter.

Sunday afternoon, my daughter reads Harry Potter with a cat curled sleeping beside her. I stretch on the rug with the other cat, reading David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. She pauses to relay a Dumbledore tidbit. I consider sharing the word desertification, and then decide the heck with that. Later, we put on our boots — again, again. In the woods, we follow a narrow snowshoe trail.

I’m likely to lay down the grim reading and pick up Potter as a survival guide, in the current season and for the longer haul….

That epic era once derided as ‘prehistory’ accounts for about 95% of human history. For nearly all of that time, humans traversed the planet but left no meaningful mark.

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The Twisty Road North

Late afternoon on a Friday, I take a winter road trip north, nearly to Canada, along Route 14 so rutted with frost heaves my little Toyota bounces. The pavement and passing cars are bleached with road salt — rust, pernicious rust, I keep thinking, apprising the mortality of my vehicle.

My daughter and I return in the dark from her concert. It’s 8:30 pm, but might as well be midnight. No one’s on the road but a tractor with blinking lights before a barn. This is farming country. The few gas stations and general stores in the small towns we pass through have all snapped off their lights, shut up, gone home.

Even in the dark, this highway is familiar, although we rarely drive this way anymore. In the dark car, eating crackers, we swap stories. My daughter tells me about the  high school she just visited and its long locker room. I point out the state’s largest landfill. Whoo-hoo, my daughter says. A claim to fame. We pass a farm where she once believed Santa’s reindeer lived. I was so sure of that! She tells me about a tiny turtle on Lake Memphramagog I’d forgotten. She repeats the story with precise details; in a flash, I remember that brilliant April morning, the black and white checked dress she wore and loved.

Listening to her, at age 13, I hear her imagining a different life. What would it be like to live here? I think of her as so young, but I’m wholly wrong. Her stories keep flowing. Along this road we hardly ever travel, she has a whole history already, a detailed map of her past.

What an age 13 is: so full of wonder, of mystery: which direction will I steer my life?

To move, stay put, say the Buddhists. To see, stop looking. Don’t imagine paradise in the sky. Make paradise in the kitchen.

— Kate Inglis, A Field Guide to Grief: Notes for the Everlost

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A sampling of our everyday snowbanks this March

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Birthday Blessings

This afternoon, I stepped out of my library with a child to look at the sky. He was glad he had returned a stack of library books, a kind of clearing of his child conscience. In my clogs, I leaned against the building, a squall fattening in this valley, tucked up against Woodbury Mountain. What a winter this has been. Snowbanks dominate Hardwick like a pop-up mountain range.

Later, a friend and I leafed through a Vermont guide to wildflowers. Remember spring beauties? Remember trilliums?

Early March is my father’s birthday and, two days later, my mother’s. In their  80s now — old but not very old, not even close to very old — my parents who lived through WWII, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the eternity of the Reagan-Bush regime, through having careers and raising children, teaching and writing books and caring for the infirm and the dying, through decades of friends, through all the everydayness of living — and now through the particularly heartless regime of Trump — here’s Hayden Carruth’s birthday poem for love of a woman and love of living.

“Birthday Cake”

by Hayden Carruth

For breakfast I have eaten the last of your birthday cake that you
had left uneaten for five days
and would have left five more before throwing it away.
It is early March now. The winter of illness
is ending. Across the valley
patches of remaining snow make patterns among the hill farms,
among fields and knolls and woodlots,
like forms in a painting, as sure and significant as forms
in a painting. The cake was stale.
But I like stale cake, I even prefer it, which you don’t
understand, as I don’t understand how you can open
a new box of cereal when the old one is still unfinished.
So many differences. You a woman, I a man,
you still young at forty-two and I growing old at seventy.
Yet how much we love one another.
It seems a miracle. Not mystical, nothing occult,
just the ordinary improbability that occurs
over and over, the stupendousness
of life. Out on the highway on the pavement wet
with snow-melt, cars go whistling past.
And our poetry, yours short-lined and sounding
beautifully vulgar and bluesy
in your woman’s bitterness, and mine almost
anything, unpredictable, though people say
too ready a harkening back
to the useless expressiveness and ardor of another
era. But how lovely it was, that time
in my restless memory.
This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.

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