Why Read?

February — surely the freaking longest month of the year in Vermont.

Unable to endure the unremittingness of winter, I’ve taken over the couch with my laptop and Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive. Unableto tell my friends and library patrons about this book — as then I might be forced to hurry, hurry and read, read, to pass this novel along — I’m sunk down deep in this story. What to love? The book is the American road trip (and I’m a sucker for road trip stories, a veteran of innumerable mishaps along my own blue highway adventures), told by a mother who understands the importance of buying coffee for grownups and cookies for the kids, of unrequited lust, of a marriage bending, of the thrust of creative work, of how all those pieces fit and don’t fit together.

I slept on this couch for over a year after my husband left, unable to sleep in our former bed, the room we built with the balcony and double glass doors, the windows on three sides, the moon rising over my prolific garden. The couch, I discovered, was enormously comfortable, and the (former) marriage bed a possible remnant from the Middle Ages.

I purchased this book with library funds, with actual property tax dollars from the taxpayers in Woodbury, many of whom I know. When I’m finished with the novel, I’ll pass it along, happy to hand it over to my reading friends. But in the meantime, I spy many February days on the calendar remaining. I’m in no particular rush to finish. The brighter and warmer days of spring are most likely an illusion — and I’m hoping for a breathtaking ending to this novel…..

But the sea
which no one tends
is also a garden…

William Carlos Williams

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Sunny Sunday

We’re in the February funk, with every family I know sick in one variation or another and a silly amount of snow and ice. Wealthier Vermont families make plans to fly elsewhere, the rest of us reveling in the days of longer light. Snowbanks to the contrary, every day carries us along towards spring.

One of the Saturday morning knitters at my library bemoans she always chooses turquoise yarn. The women around her ask. What’s the problem with that? Turquoise is beautiful. She’s unconvinced.

Turquoise, gem of the deserty red Southwest, exotic color in our snowy north.

Gently, a woman reminds her that knitting need not be about the finished mittens or sweater, but the pleasure of putting it together. Metaphor for winter? Perhaps…. Certainly, that’s easier to acknowledge on a sunny morning like this one……

Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.

Elizabeth Zimmermann

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Hallejuleh

Behind a building in Burlington along Lake Champlain, with a ripe scent of eau de sewage, what did I hear in a nearby maple tree? Singing blackbirds!

I tossed my laptop and coat in my Toyota, covering the windshield scraper on the carseat, and walked along the icy and slushy parking. In the late afternoon, I stood beneath that tree. In the tree’s tiptop bare branches, the blackbirds gazed out at the lake, busily harmonizing.

A woman walked by with her down jacket zipped to her knees, hood tight over her head, walking a dog in a sweater. Time to unzip, let in a little sunshine, live a little.

Until the next ice storm.

“Mockingbirds” by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.

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Snippets From the Snowy North

Snow falls on my 13-year-old’s hair as we walk through the falling snow. 13-year-old girls are empirically unable to wear hats. Ski helmets, sure. But hats? Get real.

Nonetheless, I ask her to walk with me. Beneath a pine tree, our neighbor’s streetlamp glows day and night at the end of her driveway, weirdly reminding me of the lamppost in Narnia. In this Vermont transformed to the otherworldly by so much snow might a faun appear around a snowbank? Has this neighbor left the lamp lit for someone? Or has she merely closed her curtains and forgotten?

We’re keeping tabs on the neighbor’s progress on his pale blue Honda. Before the storm, he’d removed the hood and laid it on a snowbank. With the recent storm, the car is buried again.

We speculate. Did he return the hood before the recent storm? Oooo, we hope so, thinking of the car engine open to 10 more inches of snow. Implicitly, we’re rooting for him, as if repairing this vehicle is synonymous with spring.

The Chinese junk
not stopping
moving on through the mist

— Buson

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Pre-storm….

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Postcard From the Edge of Snowland

10 degrees out when I head to the post office. In a sort of collective ah, screw it to concerns about global warming, many of the cars around town simply keep running—some, no doubt, to keep drivers’ toes warmish, others simply to maintain juice running through the battery.

Home with a cold, my daughter spreads out her photos that arrived in the post office box this morning. Despite my ontological hesitations about linear time, she strings together her memories. When did we go to Burton Island? Prince Edward Island?

On the couch, drinking coffee beside the sleeping cats, I keep writing cheerful pieces about spring—paid work for a family magazine—encouraging folks to get out. I believe in these things, and I’m glad for the work. I’m particularly happy for this work on days when I need to be home, in my ratty jeans with soup bubbling on the stove.

But spring? Daffodils? Lying on the grass between the blueberry bushes?

Possible. But not all that probable.

Unless, of course, my kid is right, that time is linear, and we’re not trapped forever in this vortex of midwinter.

…..and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

— Mary Oliver

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Memory, Body

In the middle of the night, I’m awake thinking of myself, years ago at 30, standing at the roundabout in Montpelier between Main Street and Route 12, baby on my back, trying to figure out where my life—where our lives—would go. It was October then, 1999, and the news amped Y2K fears.

Every time I walk along that section of street in Vermont’s capital city, I think of that cold autumn’s crepuscular hour, as if I pass through its shadow again. The notion of linear time is supercilious. Walking with a friend in the Hardwick town forest, we talk about our 13-year-old daughters. Both of us mothers now, long past adolescence—and yet, we’re both 13. Our conversation crackles with memory.

That baby on my back is now 20. No one but myself will ever remember that evening. And yet, there it is: always with me.

Women have been driven mad, “gaslighted,” for centuries by the refutation of our experience and our instincts in a culture which validates only male experience. The truth of our bodies and our minds has been mystified to us. We therefore have a primary obligation to each other: not to undermine each others’ sense of reality for the sake of expediency; not to gaslight each other.

— Adrienne Rich

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Februrary sunbathing….

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Go Fly a Kite

Friday night finds me unexpectedly alone in the house—one daughter at a basketball game and the other working—just myself and the two cats. The cat who appreciates personal space I leave alone in his cardboard box, and the other cat lies on my legs while I read on the couch.

I’m reading the long-listed for the Booker Prize graphic novel Sabrina. By the end of it, I’m so disturbed, I’m in an even funkier, end-of-the-week mood.

Here’s my main goal for the weekend: go out into the wind.

As a kid, we flew kites. On the beach and on the fields up the street and definitely on a few picnics, too.

There’s nothing quite like the tug of a well-flying kite in your hand. Maybe we won’t fly a kite this weekend, but I’m going to sweep the kitchen floor and maybe even mop, and then head out into this whipping wind, let the clutter of my internal chatter drift, and step into the roar of mighty spring.

The spring breeze.
Being pulled by a cow
To the Zenkoji temple.

— Issa

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