This Old Book

Walking with my friend through town, we find a cache of free, reeking-of-basement-mold books — a strange collection of Zen and psychoanalysis and car repair that might have come from my own  jammed shelves.

I pull out a skinny book with no title on its cover, only a black-and-white photograph of a long-haired girl in a white dress on a pile of rubble. An early edition of Brautigan’s The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.

For the rest of our walk, I hold the book loosely in one hand, past the the old granite cutting sheds, houses well-tended and houses abandoned, through the wet woods and blossoming bloodroot and a hillside of trout lilies just beginning to open. I keep thinking about my second book I’m finishing now, how I’m lacing together the connections within that story: a stolen jar of farmers market cash, a dead dog, a torn crimson scarf.

That night, reading the book, I discover a bookmark jammed in the book’s pages, from the Bedford, NH, bookstore of my childhood.

In a Cafe

I watched a man in a cafe fold a slice of bread
as if he were folding a birth certificate or looking
at the photograph of a dead lover.

 

— Richard Brautigan

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And Then We Receive This Day

As if the air is transformed into honey, the afternoon moves languorously. I prop open the library door — an everyday event in the summer — but fresh now, the parents and I leaning in the open doorway. I’ve been rearranging, and my arms are full of children’s books about the moon landing and the Middle Ages.

The children in short sleeves play in the mud, even the big boys in the sandbox, and tromp over what remains of the icy patches of snow. Crocuses bloom against the library.

A man who lives in town and helped build the library, years ago, returns books and pauses to talk, telling us about a close call he had with a tree falling on his shoulder — a lightening, averted brush with disaster. He’s alive and well on this fine April day.

He tells one of the littlest boys that he married the boys’ parents, as a Justice of the Peace. The boy is serious, amazed. Could his parents ever have been not married? Not together?

The afternoon wanders along, as if out of time, suspended in sunlight. Spring.

You need to expect the unexpected, to embrace it.

— Maggie O’Farrell’s terrific I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death

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Summer days selling syrup at the Stowe Farmers Market….

Kid and Her Cat

Whether the sun will ever appear in the Northeast Kingdom appears a matter of faith. I know the sun will return, likely soon, likely tomorrow, that long days of warmth will quickly melt the snow in the rose bed and bring those tiny grape hyacinths to blossom, but in the meantime….

And then: how could a girl making egg rolls with her cat cutely observing not renew my faith?

Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.

— Madeline L’Engle, Walking On Water

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Continuum

This afternoon, driving home with my friend, our 12-year-olds in the backseat with their skis, sharing crackers, my friend remarked that the days were longer already. A few very cold days into 2018, and already the light — like a long-ago companion — returns. If I have time to reflect on a deathbed, I’m sure the evening’s crepuscular light is something I’ll miss when I pass out of this life.

This weekend had a suicide in town, a grief-soaked death, a death I can’t yet write about.

This weekend also had my library filled with new babies and mamas — one infant so little she was yet womb-sleepy. These mothers braved subzero temperatures, with their determination to meet, their pleasure in their new motherhood, the shared exchange of company and steaming tea.

These two pendulum swings of the human condition. How much grief, and how much milk-laced joy.

We’re one week into this new year. My daughters and I sat in our kitchen this morning, eating sausage, drinking coffee, talking and talking and talking… Savoring Sunday.

Perhaps there is after all nothing mysterious in Zen. Everything is open to your full view. If you eat your food and keep yourself cleanly dressed and work on the farm to raise your rice or vegetables, you are doing all that is required of you on this earth, and the infinite is realized in you.

— D. T. Suzuki

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Hardwick Postcard #7: Middle School

At the middle school concert’s intermission, my merry-eyed daughter sat behind me with a girl I didn’t know, so I turned around and introduced myself. Being 12, the girls laughed at this weirdly formal introduction, and then the couple beside me began laughing, too. I had been sitting beside the girl’s parents.

It’s a little world we live in.

I chatted with the new friend’s parents. Quickly, the girl’s mother and I realized we had both served on an elementary school board. The lights dimmed just as we started a conversation that could have launched into a very long conversation about school consolidation.

For all its myriad faults, public education — at least in Vermont — is still all about the local community. Chances are, at a middle school concert, you’ll sit beside people you like, and, equally possibly, besides people you don’t.

But you’re all still there.

My father sent me this Wendell Berry essay. Read it.

In 1936, moreover, only a handful of people were thinking about sustainability. Now, reasonably, many of us are thinking about it. The problem of sustainability is simple enough to state. It requires that the fertility cycle of birth, growth, maturity, death, and decay—what Albert Howard called “the Wheel of Life”—should turn continuously in place, so that the law of return is kept and nothing is wasted. For this to happen in the stewardship of humans, there must be a cultural cycle, in harmony with the fertility cycle, also continuously turning in place. The cultural cycle is an unending conversation between old people and young people, assuring the survival of local memory, which has, as long as it remains local, the greatest practical urgency and value. This is what is meant, and is all that is meant, by “sustainability.” The fertility cycle turns by the law of nature. The cultural cycle turns on affection.

Wendell Berry

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Main Street, Hardwick, Vermont

Vermont Postcard

A few years ago, an enormous storm dumped gravel on local farmers’ fields and generally wrecked significant agricultural damage. Farmers around here are small, small-scale, no one ever gets adequate insurance compensation, and the storm hurt.

I bought this sketch below at a community fundraiser for local farmers at the Woodbury Town Hall, where the people from the surrounding towns came together for a dinner and live music, and many folks donated all kinds of beautiful handmade things that switched from hand to hand with some cash.

Some money, no doubt, was raised. The night was a goodwill, community gesture after a bad event. This is the better, more generous, gracious element of Vermont. We are not always so kind.

Walking around this small town where I live – Hardwick – whether to the post office, or crawling under broken boards with my visiting nephews to get into the  empty granite sheds for an “historic” tour, I keep returning to the notion that more deeply understanding all the variations of this small town, I would gain some tenor of illumination.

Just to mix things up in the little-light month of December, I’ll aim to share a few snips of life within walking distance.

Whether the recollection is of fascist Italy in the 1920s, of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, of the Soviet Union during the Great Terror of 1937-38, or of the purges in communist eastern Europe in the 1940s and ’50s, people who were living in fear of repression remembered how their neighbors treated them. A smile, a handshake, or a word of greeting – banal gestures in a normal situation – took on great significance. When friends, colleagues, and acquaintances looked away or crossed the street to avoid contact, fear grew.

–Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century

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