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.’

Small Kindness.

I buy a battery at the auto parts on my way home from work. The young man there asks if I want him to install the battery. Heck, yes, I do.

The afternoon is sunny and breezy, not too cold, not overly hot at all, just about perfect weather. An acquaintance follows me outside, asking about work. A few years back when I asked for a used trampoline on our neighborhood virtual bulletin board, he sent me links for a few, and I found one. His grandsons were some of my favorite readers in the library where I worked. The boys have grown and moved on, too.

The three of us talk about land and taxes, whether rain will fall tomorrow, and how everyone seems short of help these days. Eventually, as often happens these days, the conversation winds around to the price of land in Vermont and what that means for our future.

The young man pulls out my old, nearly given-up-the-ghost battery. He tightens in the new battery and has me start the car. I’m in the kind of rush I’m in too often these days — running from here to there — the kind of hustle I do between work and parenting. The engine starts easily. I thank him profusely for this small gesture of kindness. He gives me a thumbs up. I wish him good luck with his project, and that’s it. We’re each off to our ways.

“Writing is work. Anyone can do this, anyone can learn to do this. It’s not rocket science; it’s habits of mind and habits of work.” 

— Alexander Chee

Mother Noise.

Summer study…

In the middle of the night, I read Cindy House’s memoir Mother Noise. House struggled with a heroin addiction. Eventually, I turned off the light and lay awake, listening to the cricket song through the open window. It was the deepest, loneliest part of the night, somewhere in the stretch from midnight to four a.m. Four a.m. is the hour that seems reasonable to rise and get the coffee brewing. For years, I dreaded this time of night. One of the great pleasures of sobriety is that the nether world of dreaming has returned to me.

For days, the trifecta of my daughter’s 17th birthday, her junior prom, and the anniversary date I was married 28 years ago has soured my mood. Here’s the thing about being a solo parent: you’re forever cut in half, wondering why the hell the other parenting half of the children is attending a party elsewhere.

But in those hours, thinking of Cindy Noise, I began wondering about what else might have happened rather than the story I keep telling myself of a father still parenting his daughters. The thing is, my life — like anyone’s — might have turned out entirely differently. I became sober. But I could have become a heroin addict. Given a different set of circumstances, sure, why not? I loved inebriation, as long as it was good. For the first time, the real possibility of this looms before me.

The crickets chirp on. I begin to sense my life shifting, just a little, just the smallest way out of sour.

Later that afternoon, I’m driving with my daughter. She parks at an empty storefront beside the run-down laundromat in town. On the granite steps of that former bank building, a little girl, about five or so, is sitting beside a large stuffed giraffe. The giraffe is hard-worn, well-loved. The little girl holds a picture book between the two of them, her lips moving. She stops when she sees me standing on the sidewalk. I glance down at her pink sandals, her purse open with a memo notebook inside. Then I nod and hurry along, leaving this child to what she’s doing.

Oh, sweet world. So much harshness. So much to cherish.

Girl on a Bicycle.

Walking to mail a package, I hear pebbles grinding under bike tires and step back to let a girl on a bicycle pass by. She’s about ten or so, and she shakes her head and slows. I step back on the grass and tell her to go ahead. She swoops around me, wordlessly, then cuts out from the sidewalk to the road.

We’re along a busy road, but for this moment, there’s no traffic. She heads down the center of the road, crossing back and forth over those the double yellow lines. She doesn’t wear a helmet on her dark curls, and she’s riding a beat up old bicycle. She pedals quickly down the hill, the wind lifting her hair.

In a world so burdened by fear, encumbered by care, this girl flies down the pavement, heads into the parking lot of a storage facility, and disappears.

Self Portrait.

My daughter turns 17. On our way home from dinner in Montpelier, she drives my car with her friend in the passenger seat. The girls have known each other since they were eight-years-old and their legs dangled from chairs. The girls take the long way home, passing an estate on a dirt road with a stunning view of the mountains and sky. Cows graze in the fields. One girl plans to be a lawyer, the other a doctor, and they scheme to buy a house like this. In their pretty sundresses, the girls are laughing.

At dinner, the server spilled a Shirley Temple on my daughter, splashing her with cranberry juice and ice. Both girls have stickiness up and down their bare legs. Someday, years away maybe, they’ll still laugh about that birthday drink and splash. Meanwhile, I keep looking through windows, seeking stories, seeing pieces of myself.

Here’s a review of Unstitched that made my heart sing.

Brief Interlude.

17 years ago, I was at the end of my second pregnancy. The apple blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. The month of May had been especially rainy and cold.

My second child was born via caesarian. The morning she was born, I walked down to our sugarhouse and closed the front doors we had left open the night before. My oldest daughter who was six was eating breakfast at the house with her father. She was wild with excitement. Baby sister? Baby brother? What was going to happen?

Rain had fallen the night before, and the path to the sugarhouse was slick. I was huge, an unwieldy ball of a woman who was so ready to finish this pregnancy and meet this baby. I had waited years to have this second child. It was early in the morning, and friends were already on their way to meet us at the hospital. I lingered in the open front doors, breathing in the scent of mud and that particular sweetness of new leaves. We’re always leaving and arriving, aren’t we, in this transient life. This year, the lilacs have already faded, the earliest I remember.

I stood there just a few moments before I locked the door and took the longer path back to the house. My six-year-old was in the driveway looking for me. Ready.