Words and Stale Bread.

Where I am these days…

I’m standing in front of the town office where I work when a Subaru swings in, and the driver pulls up beside me. I’d been eating the stale focaccia and watching a swiftly moving rainstorm moving across the lake. The driver is someone I’ve know off and on for years, through school board and select board meetings, through the connections that unite people in Vermont towns.

We share a conversation about a resident who’s using his parcel of land hard, hard, so unnecessarily. Rain spits a bit. I gnaw at the side of the focaccia, worried about stressing my tooth with its repeated root canal work.

Of all the many things I’ve learned or observed in the pandemic, our collective need for these small moments has surfaced repeatedly. We’ll come to no plan of action, no change, but for this moment in a breezy June midday, there’s one more stitch in my life, tugging me back in the community life.

On my drive home, a deer leaps before my own Subaru — all long legs, glancing over its shoulder as it disappears into the woods. I take the long way home on the ridge above the Black River valley that twists along Route 14. The two-lane blue highway passes a highway that flows two ways — north and south.

… Today the fields are rich in grass, 
And buttercups in thousands grow; 
I’ll show the world where I have been– 
With gold-dust seen on either shoe. 

Till to my garden back I come, 
Where bumble-bees for hours and hours 
Sit on their soft, fat, velvet bums, 
To wriggle out of hollow flowers….

~ William Henry Davies

Foxes. Friends.

June, and I work in the garden or the outside tables as much as possible, countering my indoors job and the pandemic years that have thrown me (and humankind) off-balance. Despite the unusual cold and wind, I often read outside in the evenings while the neighbors’ boys bike on our dead-end road, calling out my name.

Just beyond the pin cherry trees, the foxes come and go, reddish-brown, their front legs black. They’re not disturbed in the least by the man who walks his leashed dog in the cemetery, both man and dog head down, preoccupied with what, I have no guess. Across the milkweed and lupine, the foxes and I stare at each other, before I silently head my way, or they head theirs.

They go about their lives of hunting and playing, their ears and eyes alert to the world around them. I go about my human life of language and thought — a life that sometimes seems fixated on lists and transactions. For these moments, coming and going like the sun through clouds, this relationship feels like one of the realest in my life, devoid of our human tendencies towards deceit and self-absorption. I’m not about to become a fox, but I might become a slightly better human for these true friends.

The gods, we are taught, created humankind in their own image. Everyone has an urge to create. Its expression may flow through many channels: through writing, art, or music or through the inventiveness of work or in any number of ways unique to all of us, whether it be cooking, gardening, or the art of social discourse. The point is to honor the urge. To do so is healing for ourselves and for others; not to do so deadens our bodies and our spirits.

~ Dr. Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

On the Road.

On a rainy Saturday, I pause on an empty road and snap a photo. I’d been listening to NPR’s coverage of the January 6 insurrection, one more plot point along the disintegration of the American Empire.

For June in Vermont, it’s darn cold. I’m wearing a winter hat, and the damp wind reminds me of the ocean, how the salt air cuts into you. Listening, I remembered August 1974 when Nixon resigned. My family was moving that day, and my father, fixated, insisted on setting up our tiny black-and-white television. My sister and I asked what the word resignation meant. My father, dealing with movers and three little children and a curious pack of new neighbors, paused to teach us the meaning of that word and gave a comedic impression of I am not a crook, and then explained what that meant, too.

Decades later, and a whole lot of crooked politics later, I still think of the open road as my family’s version of Huck Finn’s Mississippi River. Not long after we moved that August, my parents drove their three little kids in our green Jeep to the ocean. We had lived in the southwest and never seen the ocean — so much water, so much sky, the impossible proved possible. My father taught us how to fly a kite, its long tail fluttering in the wind.

...Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist...
— Hayden Carruth, "The Cows at Night"

Peony Metaphor.

A few years back, owners of a stellar nursery gave me a cardboard box with a twisted root inside, tangled ends clotted with dirt. I planted as directed, and then the bartzella was at the mercy of nature and its own self whether it would grow, or not.

This June, the irises have flooded a purple pond around the lilacs. The mock orange is opening its snowy petals. And these yellow peonies with their ugly name — a few days of inimitable beauty.

A day of cold rain in the forecast today. A Saturday of writing and catch-up chores and my determination to do something about the mold on the bathroom ceiling. It’s mid-June. We’ve lived in this house for five years. The blossoms are rampart. I’ve added my own gifted dull root. For a few days, heart-pausing beauty.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready

to break my heart

as the sun rises, 

as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers…

— Mary Oliver, “Peonies”

Acquaintance. Full Moon.

In an evening walk, I meet a woman I haven’t seen in years. We stop and talk for a few moments. She’s hardly been anywhere for the past two years, and we talk about how that feels. In the balmy evening, little bits of tree pollen float through the sunlight.

Never tall, she’s about my height now, and I’m really short, and I’ve gotten shorter in the past two years. But here we are, talking about lupines, happy to be alive. We exchange a hug — something that seemed forbidden, utterly scary, not that long ago.

Later, as I close up the house for the night, I walk across the dark lawn to my garden. The round moon, like a perfect drop of cream, rises. Frogs chirp.

Here’s one thing: the pandemic has made me think of each day as each day. A whole day — filled sometimes with hard things, or dull things, sweetness, or all kinds of things. But what does a day mean? A night? Nothing more, perhaps, than this: full and frogs and a moment to revel in this.

Foxes. Writing.

Foxes set up kit-making and housekeeping in a den behind our house again this year. Last year, three kits scrambled around. This year, two kits tumble over each other, already growing long-legged.

Their den is in the woods not far from our yard and garden, beyond a patch of weeds and across a stretch of sand. On a recent hot afternoon, I saw a kit stretched out on the sand, sleeping or half-sleeping, soaking up the rays.

A naturalist and his class make arrangements to stop by one evening and see my wild neighbors. Before they arrive, I’m reading outside when my friend stops by. The foxes appear. Near my garden, the neighbor’s gray cat watches, too, in the disdainful way cats do so well. My friend and I marvel at the juxtaposition of wild and domestic, and then the foxes scamper away. We’re knitting and talking when the others arrive. Not on the human agenda and with other things to do, the foxes do not re-appear.

Besides myself and my daughter, I’m not sure who else has seen these foxes. I’ve witnesses these creatures roll over each other and hunt baby woodchucks. They’ve doubtlessly seen me wander about, doing my garden chores. For long moments, we’ve stared at each other over that distance of milkweed and pin cherries, sizing each other up as a potential threat. Each of us appears to have drawn conclusions.

When the naturalist and his companions disappear, I’m slightly sorry they haven’t met and admired the foxes. But there’s also a part of me that relishes this secret world, this relationship devoid of human words.

Last…. here’s the essay I finished reading just before my friend appeared. This is from the final essay (‘On Becoming an American Writer’) in Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.

‘Only in America do we ask our writers to believe they don’t matter as a condition of writing… To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it… All my life I’ve been told this isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter, that it could never matter. And yet I think it does. I think it is the real reason the people who would take everything from us say this. I think it’s the same reason that when fascists come to power, writers are among the first to go to jail. And that is the point of writing.’