Winter’s Grass-Is-Greener

Driving down the Woodbury gulf in the twilight, staring at the road — snow-crusted, ice packed, with two curving black lines of asphalt worn through winter — I remember all those years of driving mountainous Route 9 in southern Vermont and wonder, What if I’d stayed in Brattleboro? What if my kids went to school there? I made soup with my publisher and used the Brooks Library with their enormous windows? What if I lived on Elliot Street again?

That’s January thinking.

My gaze lifts from the treacherous road to the gray and white mountains folding around that narrow valley, with the waterfalls and the rocky cliffs high overhead.

Trouble follows you anywhere. I know that. The last time I was in Brattleboro, itinerancy surprised me, the darker threads of our society thickening. I was glad I hadn’t stayed, that I had swapped a larger town for a smaller one. In the end maybe, it’s all Vermont roads, with those mysteriously beautiful mountains always greater than us, rising silently.

The winter wind flings pebbles
at the temple bell

— Buson

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Store Window Art, Hardwick, Vermont

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Mid-Jan

Like a long-ago friend, the cold has settled in. Those summer nights sleeping with the windows wide open, listening to the peepers’ throaty hum, might as well be a memory from a long ago life.

With gusto, the girls ski, their appetites enormous, their cheeks red as cardinal feathers.

Halfway through January, we’re meshed in winter’s routine, with so much of the season ahead. In breaks of thaw, memories of spring will tease us again, reminding us of loosening earth, the rustle of rain on leaves. Robins singing their love songs.

It seems to me that the desire to make art produces an ongoing experience of longing, a restlessness sometimes, but not inevitably, played out romantically, or sexually. Always there seems something ahead, the next poem or story, visible, at least, apprehensible, but unreachable.

— Louise Glück

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Kid note. Sunday afternoon.

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Early Hours

In the night, rain thickens to snow. Wind has washed away yesterday’s balmy temperatures.

The cats and I are awake hours before the girls, myself with that eternally running list and dialogue, the cats warm-pawed and hungry. Satiated with their breakfast, one lies on my legs, the other on my feet, while I read The Perfect Nanny, a book brutal and beautiful.

I parse Slimani’s sentences: How has she written this? How has she put this together? and wonder, Who of my library patrons would read this? 

Ice pelts the windows. Our house is blessedly warm, the kitchen filled with light.

She feels alone with the children. Children don’t care about the contours of our world. They can guess at its harshness, its darkness, but they don’t want to know anything more.

— Leila Slimani, The Perfect Nanny

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Mist and Clouds

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Hill Farms

A drawback to easy-access tech is a proliferation of images, everywhere.

And then, this. From the library, I picked up Richard W. Brown’s The Last of the Hill Farms: Echoes of Vermont’s Past, a stunning book published by Godine, with the most amazing black and white photographs of rural farming Vermont.

Check out page 95, with the moon sailing over a barn’s cupola, righteously high with a cow weathervane, intimating great height over farm fields. Broken-paned, paint peeling,

There it is: that elegant, perpetual juxtaposition of human endeavor and the lasting beauty of our landscape.

A neglected landscape silently gathered the patina of the passing years. Weather stained the unpainted barns and farmhouses the color of tarnished silver and gently bowed their rooflines with the weight of one hundred winters’ snow. Seemingly forgotten by the rush of progress, they aged with a poignant grace: spare, worn, yet, to my eye, hauntingly beautiful.

— Richard W. Brown, The Last of the Hill Farms

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Kid Zen

My 12-year-old shoveled a path across our sizable lawn, ending at the cemetery’s fence, putting considerable effort into this project.

My teenager, arriving home from work, asked me, in her trademark language, What the hell?

The next morning, I stood on the porch, watching my girl walk through her path, leap the fence with her backpack, and then plunge through the snow on the cemetery side. She lifted her hand once and waved at me.

The girls are both teetering on the precipices of new ages — one into adolescence, the other leaving adolescence for adulthood. I loved that dogged determination of my daughter, shoveling snow through a field in the bitter cold. A few mornings later, doubtlessly wising up to avoid wet jeans all day at school, she opted to head down the road and take the unshoveled path. At the top of Spring Street, she waits for her friend, holding her sister’s insulated mug with hot chocolate.

This girl reminds me that the journey really is the thing, that parenting isn’t ever about a goal or an ending place. Innately, she knows this, while I’m still standing on the porch step, watching.

A scholar tries to learn something everyday; a student of Buddhism tries to unlearn something daily.

— Alan Watts

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Continuum

This afternoon, driving home with my friend, our 12-year-olds in the backseat with their skis, sharing crackers, my friend remarked that the days were longer already. A few very cold days into 2018, and already the light — like a long-ago companion — returns. If I have time to reflect on a deathbed, I’m sure the evening’s crepuscular light is something I’ll miss when I pass out of this life.

This weekend had a suicide in town, a grief-soaked death, a death I can’t yet write about.

This weekend also had my library filled with new babies and mamas — one infant so little she was yet womb-sleepy. These mothers braved subzero temperatures, with their determination to meet, their pleasure in their new motherhood, the shared exchange of company and steaming tea.

These two pendulum swings of the human condition. How much grief, and how much milk-laced joy.

We’re one week into this new year. My daughters and I sat in our kitchen this morning, eating sausage, drinking coffee, talking and talking and talking… Savoring Sunday.

Perhaps there is after all nothing mysterious in Zen. Everything is open to your full view. If you eat your food and keep yourself cleanly dressed and work on the farm to raise your rice or vegetables, you are doing all that is required of you on this earth, and the infinite is realized in you.

— D. T. Suzuki

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And A High Today of -10º

We’re surrounded by cold. Two days of school this week. The air cuts.

The cats have wholly given themselves over to this season, indolently lying on blankets, nestled in cardboard boxes and the laundry basket, wrapped in each other, luxurious in their fur and the warm house.

At ease. Peaceful. Marvelously content, sweet little beings.

Meanwhile, I read Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions.

We need to stop telling the story about the woman who stayed home, passive and dependent, waiting for her man. She wasn’t sitting around waiting. She was busy. She still is.

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