At the end of the afternoon, I’m out with my skis, insufficiently dressed against the zero degree temps, hoping the movement will warm me even as I caution my youngest every day — bring enough clothes.
I ski on the former railroad bed, behind a daycare. Earlier this winter, a new playground was built for the kids, of wood and ramps, and I wonder if some of the federal coronavirus money made its way here. The daycare itself is in the basement of an old building, and so the playground has a kind of bittersweetness, too, a bandaid of a much larger problem.
On the bridge over the river, I pause. Snowmobiles and a groomer have driven through here, and so the skiing is easy. Animal tracks mark the snow down the center of the frozen river. On the bank I ate wild grapes in the late fall. For now, it’s just me and the fresh snow and the sunlight while it lasts, the woodland creatures, the river flowing deep beneath that ice.
Birds migrate and caribou circle the cold top of the world. Perhaps we migrate between love and suffering, making our wounded-joyous cries: alone, then together, alone, then together. Oh praise the soul’s migration.
The moon shines brilliantly tonight as I walk down the street to the co-op for cheese and cauliflower. Lady Moon: round as a dime and luminescent like no earthly thing.
In the best of times, January can rage like a shrieking stranger, a visitor who’s arrived with too many needs.
This year, time has slowed to incomprehensible. We wake; we do our things. Work and email. I paint a room. I endeavor to write another book. I keep Unstitched moving along.
The ordinary happens: snow falls. All day and into the night. When I wake in the morning, there’s inches and inches of fresh, sparkling snow. It’s not a blizzard, not feet upon feet. I have little trouble finding my Subaru in the morning. But the snow sugars our world for this day in utter beauty.
The rest of everything is still there — the pandemic, the crumbling American Empire, the chaos of human relationships in my house and all around — but walking home, the cold is so sharp that the snow squeaks beneath my boots. For a moment, I’m a child again, mystified that fluffy snow can yield a squeak. But there you go. A mystery incarnate.
Here’s an interesting essay emailed in by a reader about growing saffron in Vermont — yes, saffron & Vermont.
The cold comes at my face like a knife when I take out the wood stove ashes. The early morning is perfectly still, full of sunlight. This is not the songbird season.
I’ve now lived through a few dozen Vermont Januaries, beginning as a young woman when I spent so many January nights walking around beneath the winter sky, amazed at all those stars in the deep country dark. Januaries of nursing babies, of a long driving commute, of sledding and baking bread, and enduring the beginnings of cabin fever’s madness.
Always, there’s the cold that reminds us immediately of our own fragile mortality and an inevitable thaw. By the end of the month, daylight returns in a rush. In these chopped-up days of uncertainty, I remind myself of these constants.
‘We forget about the spaciousness above the clouds
Twilight drags out again — not a sign of spring by any means but a hopeful sign. The light’s returning to us. After work, I rush through my outside chores, then keep walking and walking. I’ve somehow slightly twinged my knee, and so I walk with the faintest of limps, which amuses my athletic daughter no end. Why wouldn’t your body hurt? she asks me.
We live in such a crazy, mixed-up time. Some of this is just us — a high school student, a grown daughter, four jobs between us, an EMT class, a recently published book and another I’m writing, an absent father, my single motherless — and then a world where the Expected Everydayness is suddenly flipped inside out. The rules have all changed, or at least it’s worth rethinking all the rules.
No phones, ever, at dinner. But then my youngest asks why? and we call my brother. He’s working at his brewery and steps into a quiet place. My daughter and I eat calzones and talk skiing and Covid. We talk bread making. And that is really darn nice.
Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hurt: ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.”
In below zero temps, I stop by the library on my way home from work to pick up an interlibrary loan book. My friend in her mask runs down from her balcony office, and we huddle against the library’s 100-year-old radiator.
She tells me about the death of a person in town, from Covid. My friend is wearing a sweater from yarn she spun and dyed, from goldenrod blossoms she gathered. The sweetness of early fall is a long, long way from us. I’d been thinking that someday these days will be but a remembrance to us, and here I’m hearing word of family who will never forget these bitter January days.
I finish the afternoon chores I’ve set out to do — buy cheese at the co-op, get the mail at the post office, stop by the superintendent’s office to sign the high school budget warning we voted on last night. At home, I feed the wood stove and the cats and set pizza dough to rise.
Then I do my final outside chore — I gather bits of bark and kindling from the barn floor and a few dry sticks into a cardboard box. In the early, dark morning, I’m up first, and this kindling box is my easy way to begin the day. I think of it as a little gift to myself.
The cold is fierce around me. I stand in the barn, holding that box in my leather gloves, thinking of nothing at all. Just standing there.
In Vermont, winter has begun in earnest. My daughters ski in snow-and-freezing rain, then return home to sprawl around the wood stove with hot chocolate and homework. The red tulip bulbs I planted last autumn seem like a dream.
I carry the compost out, and a cold wind rushes over my potato patch.
My daughter makes toast this morning before heading to work in the bitter dark. I remember the winter she was four, and I baked a red velvet cake with her, to brighten our world. Little things, I remind her, are the stuff of our bigger lives. Day by day, towards spring ephemerals.
…. you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice….