First Star I See Tonight

Dislike of burning fossil fuels notwithstanding, I love driving through the White Mountains, this journey from my brother’s house to mine. Last night in the crepuscular light, my feet wet in sandals from kayaking, my 12-year-old daughter quiet beside me, we wound through the granite mountains as dusk fattened into dark.

Just before we left, my brother and I walked through his house, talking, feeding his dogs leftover bits of dinner. My brother remarked how much he remembered this one particular hike we took as kids on countless Saturdays: in black-fly spring, humid summer, autumn’s splendor. We saw a snowy owl, an opossum in a tree hanging by its tail, scads of wildflowers, a few other hikers.

Driving through that gorgeous sprawl of granite and forest, white-clapboard towns and curvaceous river, with the sky morphing from blue to onyx by our evening’s end, my daughter and I talked about little things, her hands around glass my brother had given her from his brewery. Playing music from her teenage sister, she asked if I knew a particular song she didn’t: AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. Sure, I knew that one.

Through all the other junk in my head, I realized about the time we saw the first single star poised over a St. Johnsbury steeple that the infinity of childhood hiking – through days laughingly glorious and those heartless ones when we bickered and were terribly out of sorts – braided in one long inseparable whole, as sacred as I’d ever get in this earthly realm.

Will my daughters, looking back on their childhoods filled with both love and grief – as we all come to, in some variation of measure or another – see the same? Perhaps that actually may not matter. Maybe the journey together will be sufficient.

that midsummer night…
the cold moon
fills my whiskey glass

– Chenou Liu


Sacco River, New Hampshire




Growing up in southern New Hampshire, the summer sky often skimmed over with smeary white humidity, and I spent a lot of my childhood summers reading library books on the cool front porch behind the trumpet vine. Our box fan in a green metal cage was missing a screw and rattled until my mother jammed it somewhat quiet with a folded-over piece of cardboard.

These days, it’s often just the 12-year-old and me. Yesterday, I found her, hidden on the back porch, reading. While the summer to me seems to be soaring by in a few heartbeats, for a child I often forget a day is yet a day.

Good book? I asked.

Her eyes came to me slowly, returning from this fictional land with people I’ve never met. She nodded. Yeah.

Walked and walked
Here still to go—
Summer fields

– Buson


Hardwick, Vermont, community garden

Repeating Patterns

A few years ago, my daughter bent all the paper clips in our house into necklaces, a project involving pliers and colored beads, with incredibly cool results. One necklace still hangs from the windowsill in my room, crooked over the sill.

At the time, I was running a business out of our house that involved frequent and complicated mailings. One morning, I fumed around the house, muttering about the lack of paper clips, before I realized all those boxes of small metal pieces had been transformed into kid art.

There’s one pattern in my life: my intent adult life knocked up against the busyness of childhood.

In the end that day, I mailed out those so important papers sans paper clips, and here I am, years later, having forgotten what was on those papers while the necklace still hangs over my desk.

In the penetrating damp
I sleep under the bamboos….
One by one the stars go out.
Only the fireflies are left.
Birds cry over the water.
War breeds its consequences.
It is useless to worry,
Wakeful while the long night goes.

– Tu Fu, from “A Restless Night in Camp,” in David Hinton’s The Wilds of Poetry: Adventures in Mind and Landscape

Yin Yang, or Giving Rise To Complements

Here’s a simple thing which took me a ridiculously long time to learn: that famous yin yang symbol isn’t particularly about a dot of white in a tear of black or vice versa. Instead, the black and white are all smeared together.

As an American woman, for years I perceived the world as opposites: you’re in the house or out, it’s light or dark, we’re dead or alive. Through gardening, I began to perceive growth demands decay, and then I carried that notion to writing: creation depends on destruction. The universe is intricately braided with myriad shades of being, color, sound….. There is no one single thing separate and opposed to the whole other rest of the world.

So when my daughter comes with me on a drizzly and rainy afternoon in the woods behind our house, I’m grateful this the childhood world she knows, the place she is rightfully at home in.

….These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders….

– Tao Te Ching


Photo by Molly S./Woodbury, Vermont


Texting as Mosaic

A lot of my humanly effort goes into writing, or at least trying to improve: can I write more clearly? More eloquently? Can I push deeper, and then even deeper, beneath what I’ve already written and glean yet more?

And then, I meet texting. I have a teenager. I witness this girl text. With considerable patience, she’s shown me the texting ropes. She even texted me when she forgot her lunch, and I most helpfully texted back that no, I wasn’t delivering her lunch in the next ten minutes, and she should mooch off someone else. But I don’t think I texted mooch. It might have appeared as lop or something. Lop off someone else?

Then, last night, I had my first texting “conversation” with my brother. (He would describe my effort as half-assed, sister, I’m quite sure.) In the midst of this electronic bubble back and forth, the house quiet at night with the children sleeping, the wood stove burning and my solitary light burning, we went on and on, although I had spoken on the phone with him the night before, and my late-night work was unfinished. This conversation was like deep sea fishing, pulling up one thing after another from the past. Do you remember this teacher? What was happening in 1987? In these little bits of phrases, I began to see woman in blue and what’s grammar and don’t hate Vermont surface and swim. That day, I had been writing about Chinese poetry and my novel and the seamless stream of language, and before me words appeared, hilarious and poignant and loving, too. Like a broken glass readied for a mosaic. And now I’ll be the mosaic-maker.

… this self-congratulatory belief in my ability to chart my own destiny was patently ridiculous. Worldly things are worldly things; two bad seconds on the highway can take them all away, and sooner or later something’s going to come along that does just that.

Once you have it, this information is unignorable, and it seems to me that you can do one of two things with it. You can decide that life doesn’t make sense, or you can decide that it does.

–– Justin Cronin, “My Daughter and God,” in Best American Essays 2015


Woodbury Elementary School/Woodbury, Vermont