A profound cold stills our world for a few days, narrows our lives. All night on Friday, the wind screams and howls. By Saturday afternoon, the wind drops. I ski out to the river. The air is broken glass, so sharp breathing hurts.
To celebrate my oldest daughter’s birthday, we eat at a little restaurant/bar in Plainfield where I haven’t been in fifteen years. We’re at a back table so cold that the other three keep on their jackets and I note the usefulness of my handknit sweater. This observation impresses no one except myself. My daughter orders a drink with a lemon peel. The food is scrumptious, rich with garlic.
In their zipped-up jackets, side by side, my daughters talk and laugh with their ongoing story that includes frozen pipes, getting lost, a red prom dress, what happens when a car is started at 27 below zero, and the IRS. Outside, a round moon is ringed with yellow luminescence, so brilliant the sky around the moon is blue, surrounded by night’s black. Our boots crunch over ice as we list the moon’s might: tides and weather, childbirth and madness, the beauty of moonbeams.
In writing you work toward a result you won’t see for years, and can’t be sure you’ll ever see. It takes stamina and self-mastery and faith. It demands those things of you, then gives them back with a little extra, a surprise to keep you coming. It toughens you and clears your head.
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.”
Robin songs come through my open window this morning. Although I’m still keeping the wood stove at least tepidly warm, we leave the bedroom windows open all night. In this corner of Vermont, we’ve had Easters of snow, others of hot sun.
After dinner last night, we started talking about what this holiday is about anyway. My teenager pulled her sweatshirt hood over her head and scooted down on the couch. Unintentionally, she looked like a little kid again, listening to the chat around her and diving in at times.
I remembered the Easter she was four or so, and her friend from down the road came to play. The girls ran around under the giant spruce tree in our scrappy yard. When I stepped out of the kitchen to sit on the porch and talk to the girls, the little children were running around with two large snowshoe hares that were molting to brown. The girls asked me what was wrong with their fur; it was so patchy and strange. They were worried the hares were injured.
Our house was surrounded by thousands of acres of wilderness, but we had never seen hares, only their tracks all through the woods. The hares stayed for a visit that morning, running between the girls. Delighted, the girls kept calling, “rabbits! rabbits!” I moved on, distracted by whatever chore I was sure I needed to do. When I returned, the hares had disappeared. We never saw them again.
This morning, my alarm buzzed before dawn, and I lay there, wondering if I really needed to keep on with what I’m doing. Indeed, apparently, I do, although I often feel like a molting hare. The robins sang sweetly, actually for dear life. I got up to feed the cats and make coffee.
It’s been a very long two years. Savor whatever birdsongs or sweetness or coffee comes your way.
Beloved friends from long ago stop by for coffee and conversation on their way from here to there. We’d last seen them when we first moved in this house, less five years ago.
We take that figure of five years and turn it around and around — so much has happened in those five years. As with everyone I meet from afar these days, I ask what’s happening where they live. The conversation has a strange, almost wartime sentiment, as we compare notes.
In mid-afternoon, I bury daffodil bulbs. The soil has already begun to freezing. My bare fingers burrow through silvers of white frost, the teeth of winter beginning to grow. Finished, I brush off my hands on my jeans and stow my shovel in the barn.
All day on my oldest daughter’s birthday, I remember that this was the day I became a mother. The day is imbued with a rosy holiness, transforming the everyday world of mundane things — a laundry basket, a cheese grater, a dutch oven — into pieces of our miraculous life. Parenting is a long, long road — there’s no doubt about that — the world would be unimaginable without this road.
At the end of a very long labor with this baby, I saw myself descending deeper and deeper into a dark, stone-lined well, my arm outstretched, reaching for my baby who I knew was somewhere down at the well’s bottom.
This child was born at the very end of the 20th century, in contemporary Vermont. Modern medicine made her life possible, and certainly saved my own, too. Every year, when I’m grateful for this young woman’s life, I remember the strangers who brought her into the world.
At the end of our dead-end road, my neighbor and I call to each other, checking in, seeking news.
Their 5-year-old loves kindergarten, cut his own hair, lost his first tooth, and is learning to read.
My neighbor laughs at all this, holding a giant box of diapers. When they came down with a cold, he and his wife had to get a Covid test — negative! hurray! — and daycare has been screwed up as their provider had to get her own Covid test.
The old lilac bushes surrounding our houses turned a particularly pretty shade of gold this year, but those little leaves have fallen now. Across the cemetery from our two houses, one sugar maple determinedly holds its leaves, a shimmering reflective pool for sunlight in the afternoon.
And so life goes on.
The kindergartner jumps down the front porch steps, sees me, and points into his mouth. See!
From my distance, I nod and cheer. And so Saturday goes.