Define Our Life Thus

Walking home through the cemetery fields, I noticed how brown the grass is — pretty much withered.

That’s a particularly beautiful walk, high enough up above the village that I can see how Hardwick lies in a narrow valley along the river, cradled between forested mountains.

So much of my life often seems defined by absence — the children’s missing father, not enough money, shy of parenting patience, lacking skills to fence in my daughter’s chickens. And yet, here we live, nestled between these mountains, with two sweet cats and three laying hens.

Reminder to self: define by what is, not what isn’t.

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Montpelier, Vermont

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And At Last….

Rain.

…. Last weekend, driving to the other side of Vermont, I pulled over and read the Gazetteer to navigate through back roads. My daughter leaned forward from the backseat and asked, in complete seriousness, Are you actually reading a map?

Indeed, I was — and capably, I might add.

This morning, in the garden, I lifted my face to the mist-swaddled sky and wondered, Are you actually raining?

Indeed. Yes.

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face…

— Don Paterson, “Rain”

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Mid-July… Slow Down The Days

The summer’s so brief and nearly unbearably beautiful in Vermont that I believe we stock up these days for the monotone of winter ahead. Maybe it’s different for families who travel a lot, who possess the luxury of multiple vacations, but the few days my girls and I camp each summer, sleeping beside lakes and under cool trees, return to us often in winter conversations…. Remember when the raccoons ate our food? When the canoe nearly tipped? When we watched the full moon rise from the breakwater?

Practice resurrection.

— Wendel Berry

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A Postcard From Vermont…

…. might include a redwing blackbird suddenly rising from the stream behind the post office as you emerge from the weed-lined path with your brass key. The bird’s feathers hold the hue of burned-out embers.

Or a crumpled Bud Lite can propped neatly against the cinder blocks of the building’s foundation.

Or maybe cows crossing the road as you’re waiting behind a trash truck, the girls tossing cherry pits out the open windows.

Put your mouthful of words away
and come with me to watch
the lilies open in such a field,
growing there like yachts,
slowly steering their petals
without nurses or clocks.

— Anne Sexton

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Hardwick, Vermont

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Kid and Cat Hanging Out

With both my daughters in their teens now, I spend a stupid amount of time thinking over what makes our lives, what fills our days, how has their childhoods unwound?

Yesterday, looking up from my laptop at the kitchen table, I realize this — kid with cat — is the main action around here. Thank goodness.

Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream…

— T. S. Eliot

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Our Kitchen, Hardwick, Vermont

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Monday Morning, Back to Work

When my little daughter was three, one morning in the kitchen she noticed the orange day lilies had opened their buds, and she ran upstairs to her sister, calling, Willies! Willies, sissy!

Yesterday, driving around Vermont — perhaps in an attempt to shake off a funk — day lilies bloomed everywhere, colorful masses along the roadside and white clapboard meeting houses and tiny shacks with fantastic views of green and blue mountains.

Fully into July now, I know our summer will be filled with work — some terrific and some not so — with the family complexities of single parenting, of keeping our life not only cohesive but creative. There’s lists of things I’d like to do — climb the Underhill route to Mansfield’s summit, paint the trim, plant two fruit trees — but lying in bed this morning, listening to the songbirds crack open the daybreak, I decided to par this down to one single thing: swim in the pond until the water grows cold and hostile. I lay there thinking that’s free to do, and then wondered when I had lost the sense of free in this life might be.

… (the day lily is) coarse and ordinary and it’s beautiful because
it’s ordinary. A plant gone wild and therefore become
rugged, indestructible, indomitable, in short: tough, resilient,
like anyone or thing has to be in order to survive.

— David Budbill, from “The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July”

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Sudbury, Vermont

 

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Summer, 13

My 13-year-old daughter, after considerable thought, purchased in May a blow-up swimming floatie in the wedged shape of a piece of pizza. The only drawback, in her eyes, are two mushroom pieces on this pepperoni-and-green pepper pizza.

For the $8, this purchase has been hands-down one of the best in our family this year. Yesterday afternoon, swimming again, she and the two friends she’s known all her life drifted down the pond. I swam on my back looking up at the sky, watching two, utterly white clouds nearly touch each other before they drifted apart, disappearing over an oak tree.

On shore, I looked at the girls drifting and laughing, splashing, and then lay down and read Random Family, about life in the Bronx. Not so many years ago, I could never have imagined I would emerge from hovering over toddlers, and yet here I am, reading and taking notes while the girls swim happily. I was merely the transportation of girls and pizza floatie.

Finished, the girls gathered their towels and flip-flops and walked up the weedy path. They didn’t look back.

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