Dusky December

Vermont December is not the season of picking garden zinnias or gathering wildflowers.

December is the season of intentionality: wear a hat and mittens everywhere, dry your boots before the wood stove when you return, drive carefully on the slippery roads.

As the holidays edge in, I keep on with my daily routines of tending the fire, going to work, checking in with my daughters about who’s cooking dinner. On the more submerged level, our lives go on, too. My youngest dreams of her future. I read about the bad year 536. In these early winter days, I return to my original love affair with reading — novels. Fiction reminds me, over and over, in an infinite number of ways, why we love this world.

The pandemic has taken plenty from us — much more from so many people than my little family. But it’s also given us this tiny quiet space, too, like the breath at the beginning of each day, just before dawn. In this space, I see my path could bend many ways. Don’t, I caution myself, write a mad letter to the former in-laws. Instead, leave Christmas gifts of homemade soap on the neighbors’ front steps.

“The best way out is always through.” 

― Robert Frost

Homework

How could I have forgotten that the light in October is exquisite?

Unlike hazy summer, Vermont autumn is clear. The woods are emptying of leaves. The wind sweeps through the towns and over the hills.

From my garden, I cut a cabbage, boil the leaves slightly, and roll up meat and rice, filling the pan with sauerkraut — a Romanian recipe from my grandmother, who died before I began cooking.

Bit by bit, our hours migrate from the garden and back porch in the house. We no longer eat dinners in the sunlight. When I return from work, I see crumbs on the kitchen table, remnants of my teen and her friends.

I imagine these girls figuring out their online chemistry class and plotting their future. When I ask what’s happening in those hours, I hear, We’re fine.

In the evening, the teen spreads out her graph paper and notebook. I knit on the floor with the cat beside the wood stove while her sister reads the day’s news aloud.

The teen shoves her graph paper to me and asks if her approach to problem-solving is correct.

I look at the paper and suggest, Call your uncle. That’s out of my skill set.

The cat flips over and purrs.

The teen bites the end of her pencil and goes back to work.

“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.”

Joy Harjo

Somewhere in Vermont’s February…

Summers, the dawn is raucous with songbirds. In February, I stand outside in the dark, the cold swirling around my hands and head, hungry, hungry, it seems for my warmth. The icy snow makes the lightest tap against the kitchen window. We’re socked in by sleet and ice and snow in Vermont, the winter wrapping around us. When my daughters were little, how I chafed against those endless winter days. Now, I’m glad to be awake and working while the household sleeps. The cats have wandered downstairs for their breakfast, and curled up for their post-breakfast rest. Our house is warm; the daughters are well; the bills are paid; I have work.

Let the snow pile up. Among those many motherhood lessons is a solid carpe diem — and to log in a few more hours of work before the day drifts along….

Winter solitude—
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.

— Basho

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Bright Spot

Walking by my daughter’s room, I answer a math question, which delights me immensely. I can do math. More accurately, I did a lot of math in high school, some in college. This particular problem isn’t even all that challenging. But high school math class is somehow buried deep, deep, in my mind, and possibly no longer even accessible.

And yet, like so much else, I feel obligated as a parent to just know this stuff. I grew up in a household where, no matter what the homework, my physicist father could answer my questions — although he always made my siblings and I sharpen a pencil and show your work, legibly. 

I know I can do plenty of things as a mother, or at least competently enough — including keeping a solid roof over our heads — but still, there’s that glimmer of pleasure as I walk by with my arms full of laundry: can cook dinner and do geometry, too — at least for one evening.

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.
E.E. Cummings
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Red Yarn Quest

The thing about winter is its beauty.

Very early this morning, I start my daughter’s car before she heads to work. Beneath the stars, it’s cold, and dawn is pushing away the night. The winter dawn is pale blue, like the edge of the ocean.

Inside, our house is warm, the cats fed and sleeping. I have piles of work to do and that makes me happy because it’s all hard but all worth doing.

My teenager is deeply immersed in a book series — and I’m insanely happy about that, too. She’s lusting after a driver’s license, a relocation to California, but, in the meantime, she’s still here, and, willingly or not, has agreed to come with me on a small expedition I’ve conjured, to discover the headwaters of a local river. Her older sister advises, It’s easier just to do those kind of things…

It’s somewhere in November. Time to knit to red sweater. If I use fingerling yarn, this project could last me months…..

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Days of Afternoon Sun and Insects

Late afternoon, insects — hundreds, nay, thousands — hovered over the soccer field, mixed in with dust motes and seed chaff.

The teenage girl snapping photos for the yearbook said, Gross. The parent beside me marveled at the teeming life. Bat food.

The other parent and I exchanged random bits — traffic in Waterbury, a small write-up in the local paper, why our country can send a man to the moon but hasn’t created decent birth control. Little bits of our own, bat-esque food.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

— Rilke

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