Some Miles.

So many miles passed this weekend. Two trips to Vermont’s big city of Burlington for the Green Mountain Book Festival — Saturday as a participant, Sunday as audience. One trip alone, one trip with a friend. This past summer, I put some genuine effort into what I named my own personal healing project from the isolation and sadness of the pandemic — a project I admittedly dabbled in, without real expectation of success.

Here’s what I did: I gardened, spent as much time outside as possible, swam whenever I could, slept under the stars, and basically tried hard not to care very much (or maybe be distracted) by things that don’t mean very much.

What a pleasure to be back among the literary world, where people walked in and out of rooms in the lovely Fletcher Free Library, listening to poets and writers, the young and the very old, talk about writing. In an innate kind of way, these are my people.

Outside, rain fell in a dismal September day. I’m not a cardholder at this library and have only intermittently walked through its doors. Sitting in the main reading room in my raspberry-jam-hue sweater, I could have kept listening to the stories, language pared down and muscular, judicious with adjectives, evocative of Vermont and the people living here.

Media spin notwithstanding, the pandemic hasn’t vanished. Our world has been upended. And yet we move on.

A few lines from Jay Parini who graciously read beside me this weekend:

“It is not an easy thing to alter the trajectory of your life. People have expectations on your behalf. You come to believe them yourself.” 

And, last, I’ve kindly been invited to the North Danville Library this coming Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Lost, Not Lost.

Tuesday afternoon finds me somewhat lost on the way to a soccer game. In a rush, I glance briefly at the map, take a mental note, and head off. My cell phone has given up its ghost, and I know I have a paper atlas in the back of my Subaru, jammed beneath a box of oil, if need be. I drive the way I knit — by feel — and generally that gets me there. In this case, driving by feel gets me to Hazen’s Notch, a twisty dirt road climb. The road has been recently graded; it’s slick with falling rain.

I’m headed to a town where I haven’t been in nearly 25 years. The last I was here, my then-husband and I were following a lead on a vacuum pump for maple sap. We pulled into a two-story house that was recently built. A pregnant woman dialed her husband at the town garage, and he drove up in a moment. That afternoon, I wanted to be pregnant. While our husbands talked about the pump, I asked her about the pregnancy. She wanted to buy a crib with the money from the sap pump.

We paid in cash. The pump remained one of the most reliable pieces of equipment in our sugarhouse. It became my nemesis, too, with the absence of housing around the belt. I feared for my hair and scalp, my fingers. It drank oil like crazy. It worked hard.

This Tuesday, I’m not really lost. I know, enough, where I’m headed, how to read the sky and rivers, the mountains, to get me in the right direction. I pull over near a swamp where maples are in full red already. What do you know, I think to myself, that sight is worth the drive.

Here we are…

Above pretty much sums up where we are now. 23 years into this parenting gig, it’s now me and the teen, and if a housecat has moved into a box on the kitchen table for the winter? Well, so be it. And the other cat refuses to drink water except on the kitchen sink? Well, so be that, too.

As a young mother, I read a literal library of parenting advice and made a trillion mistakes. I take my (diminished) reading time much more seriously these days. I continue to make mistakes. And I’ve decided the cats are fine companions, even on the table.

In so many versions of my previous life, this wouldn’t fly. Now, listening to Biden talk about his proclaimed End of the Pandemic, I wonder, What’s all that about? Who gets to decide what, anyway, and why believe anyone else when your experience doesn’t jive?

Rain comes down in buckets. A friend gives us a bucket of apple drops. I cook bacon in the oven and buy the best loaf of bread I can find for our dinner. Our tomato and basil plants are still churning out their delectables. Sure, winter is in the near offing. Much more than winter, too. Our cat is the happiest creature I’ve ever loved. We offer him drops of milk on our fingertips, licks of butter from a smooth silver knife, tender kisses on his head.

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down
into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

— William Carlos Williams

Found Sign: Enjoy this life.

Late on a Friday night, I’m reading on the couch when my oldest calls. There’s no heat, yet, in her apartment. The evening is tinged with near frostiness. I’ve returned home from an interstate drive in the darkness, thinking over the pieces of my manuscript. In my imagination, I see Lena, my main character, with her emerald green haircut.

A half-moon rises in the darkness as I drive along the Connecticut River. These days — long days — I’m grateful for these imposed breaks, for the opportunity to see the moon rise along an unfamiliar horizon, to stop before a church and read the congregation’s exhortation: Enjoy this life.

My dear cats are sprawled before our glowing wood stove. Listening to my daughter reminds me of my mother — our spunk and sassy irreverence and love of flowers — but my daughter is utterly herself. I close Beth Macy’s Raising Lazarus, and our conversation unfolds over the few miles between us. September, and the swimming season has passed. I hope for decades ahead to see what my daughter makes of her life. For now, this September evening.

... I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet...
Hayden Carruth

Moisture.

Rain begins falling yesterday evening and falls all night. Through the open windows, the wet scent of soil drifts into our house. The cats sit on the sills, a little confused apparently by the breeze and wet.

For whatever reason, I wake remembering a visit to the emergency room with one of my daughters a number of years ago. I had wait for my then-husband to pick me up, and my little girl and I sat in the empty waiting room. It was night by then. My daughter slept in my lap. The nurse on duty was a mother in a parenting group that we had both participated in a few years before. Her daughter was in school then, and she had long ago ceased having any weekday morning free. We spoke for a little while, and she gave me a bottle of cold water to drink. It was June and hot, and the water was delicious. Such a small thing, remembered so many years later. Doubtlessly, she’s forgotten it.

This rain has the same deliciousness — tinged with fall, yes, but watering my dry garden. Summer’s gone. We’re in the season of red maple leaves.

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

By Don Paterson

Take Joy.

There’s a line in a Raymond Carver that describes a woman as a long tall drink of water. The line reminds me of my oldest daughter — a kind of welcome draught. Myself, I’m more like a splash in the face.

She and her friends are in their early twenties and have lived an amount of life that surprises me at times. At her age, I’d had a whole, full childhood and was drifting through young adulthood, through college and graduate school and what amounted to an awful of driving around the country and sleeping in the back of our Volkswagen Rabbit. I’d sandwiched in a number of jobs, but the economy was sparse in those days. The pre-internet world was slower, less fierce, less competitive. In the collective vocabulary, the words climate change, pandemic, trauma, were never bandied around.

So on these balmy, early autumn weekends, it’s a pleasure to see her strap the kayaks on her car and head off for a pond ringed by mountains. Summer in Vermont is always too short. But this year, in particular, has been especially brief. Maybe it’s where I am in my life, with my youngest about to fly from the proverbial nest. But the stresses of the pandemic — hardly just for me, but collectively — have worn profoundly into our world. A delayed car part on order seems something hardly worth considering. As a personal sanity strategy, these lovely, golden autumn days, I pause outside and listen to the cricketsongs, the ruffle of wind on leaves that aren’t long for this world.

One thing I wish I knew in my twenties is that happiness matters. At that age, I had a whole confused theory about happiness versus pleasure, saving my soul and the planet, writing and sacrifice, and a narrow view of good parenting. Silently, I think to myself, Take joy where you find it. Surely our world needs more laughter. And rowing your narrow boat makes you strong.

…. Last, Streetlight published an essay of mine today. Many thanks!