Alive Within: Generosity

A number of years ago, I was leaving a lake after a day of swimming with my daughters, and the gas tank fell out of my ancient Saab. A friend, also leaving the lake with his two young children, stopped to help. We put all the children in his Subaru, including my baby in her carseat, and he drove to a hardware store where we purchased straps, returned to my car, and then he tied up the tank. The gas tank was still secured in that way, when I gave the car to someone else.

The following summer, my baby had an allergic reaction at their pond, necessitating a terrifying ride to the ER. While it seemed my life was always in crisis around these folks, their barn, greenhouses, and farmhouse a few years later were incinerated by a gas explosion. That was in sugaring season, and one of the last things Kate had done in her kitchen was prepare a meal for my family, a gift during our arduous work season. She didn’t keep that meal for themselves; rather, she retained the presence of mind to have a mutual friend drive up the muddy road to our house the next day and deliver that homemade meal.

When I returned her dishes, with a meal I had made for her family, she exclaimed, “These are my things!” In that fire, she had lost nearly everything they owned.

The truth is, I think, that neither my life nor her life was so very far out of the ordinary; there’s undoubtedly differences in degrees and certainly in details, but all our lives are filled with some kind of traumas and miseries we would never willingly accept.

And yet we do.

Today, buying pepper plants at High Ledge Farm, their greenhouses filled with flourishing seedlings, their house beautifully rebuilt, I thought again of the time these folks took to be generous. May their gardens grow well this year.

There… was my answer for why the homeless guy outside Gillette gave me his lunch thirty years ago: just dead inside. It was the one thing that, poor as he was, he absolutely refused to be.

– Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Woodbury, Vermont


Reasons to Love Vermont

Yesterday, bees and butterflies busied around the garden while I planted leeks and peas, and today it’s darn near freezing. Reasons to savor Vermont?

A bit of pink pushes through the apple blossom buds. Siberian irises have dislodged stone in our backdoor entryway, and the rose-cheeked children appear to have grown two inches overnight, rivaling the dandelions’ growth. For dinner, we’re eating pork from a friend’s pig and my tart greens and another family’s sheep cheese. We hear coyotes in the morning, waiting for the school bus, and the principal made phone calls for my daughter and her friend to get together “because I like them so much.”

The sweater I knit is sifted with garden dirt, and my hands are stained from weeding. Rain pours; walk around the house, and the sun shines brilliantly. How could you want to be anywhere else?

….Can I leave
you the vale of ten thousand trilliums
where we buried our good cat Pokey
across the lane to the quarry?
Maybe the tulips I planted under
the lilac tree? Or our red-bellied
woodpeckers who have given us so
much pleasure, and the rabbits
and the deer? And kisses? And
love-makings? All our embracings?
I know millions of these will be still
unspent when the last grain of sand
falls with its whisper, its inconsequence,
on the mountain of my love below.

– Hayden Carruth, “Testament”



The Little Hermit Thrush

Around my garden, hermit thrush are nesting for the season, singing their enchanting melodies, amazingly pure and piercing sounds from a bird so small it’s a handful of feathers and bone. The thrush is not a songbird from my childhood. As an adult, backpacking along the spine of the Vermont’s Green Mountains and sleeping outside, I first heard these unmistakable notes, and here, at this house on the edge of forest, these birds became my companions.

Now the thrush’s song has been a litany through my adult life, from before I become a mother to watching my children grow up. The birds lived here before I planted a garden, and no doubt will remain, long after my work with a hoe and spade have ceased.

Morbid? I don’t think so. There’s a real grace to be gathered here, listening to these symphonies of tiny songbirds – admission gratis. These mating calls are an audible tapestry that renders time not so sparse and dear but stretches it out into an immense arc of infinity. Sing on!

Nothing’s certain….

Watching, we drop to listen,
a hermit thrush distills it: fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end what source
links to wonder….

– Amy Clampitt, “A Hermit Thrush”

Woodbury, Vermont, twilight


Summer in All Her Radiant Glow

Whatever is your life fills up with – be it classes, farming, the bond market, heroin – tends to become the idols you worship. At one point in my life, my attention was often occupied by Sleepy Bunny, a small once-white and once-fuzzy stuffed animal my daughter dearly loved. We didn’t go anywhere without ‘the bunny.’ That bunny remains with us, although my days of preoccupation with stuffed toys and diapers and perpetual snacks have altered considerably.

Raising children often seems to me stepping from one rock to another, and I have to remind myself that the journey itself is the point, stupid, and not some distant end. Watering in the hoop house this late evening, I snipped a handful of basil flowers, pressing the spicy, sweet blossoms to my face, and brought this fragrance into my kitchen. The crickets are chirping now, this final day of July, and the mud is cooling beneath my feet.


I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love…

But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

– Jane Kenyon

Elmore, Vermont.  Evening and girls.
Elmore, Vermont.
Evening and girls.