Summer, Age 14

14 years ago yesterday, I sat in my friend’s kitchen nursing my newborn while she labored to bring into the world her daughter. Her mother-in-law served me a bowl of chicken soup from an enormous pot she had cooked.

Returning from a walk yesterday evening, I spy my daughter reading on front porch with her cats. Those days with an infant I hardly had a sense of evening from afternoon, in that churning wheel of nursing and diapers and tending.

Time passing threads all through my writing — how can it not? — and yet, sometimes I find myself staring through a window, thinking, here we are, right at this very moment.

The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

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Sticks and Girl

My daughter picks at dirt on the cuff on her jeans, troubled by this, which interests me. She’s a remarkably easy and even-tempered girl, and I sometimes wonder at her own and distinctive understanding of the world’s order.

In my bare root order, I have a handful of what seem to be sticks with filigreed root balls. Walking behind our garden in the damp April evening, she asks me if I’ll still live here when these sticks become trees.

I’m planting for the property, I answer. That answer suffices for her. She stands with me, as we envision stick widening into trunk, twig fattening into branch.

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2 Things About Winter

Saturday morning, the snow is above my knees on the long path from the parking lot to the library. Halfway up the door, the snow has blown off the school’s soccer field, and I tug the door open. Snow and I tumble in.

A patron shows up while I’m shoveling, his glasses fogged with snow. He’s walking in my footsteps, and he’s laughing. Why do we live in Vermont?

After dinner, my oldest daughter asks her sister and I to go on a walk with her. Cold but not that cold, we walk against the landscape of sunset.

No one else save a few pickups pass us. A flock of geese flies inexplicably south. This whole long walk I remember exactly why I live in Vermont. We return after 7:30 and it’s not yet full dark.

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Above Freezing

Thaw. First thing, when I step outside the kitchen, I smell melting snow, the slightly sweet and fecund scent of the earth in just a few patches—the flower pot I’ve left outside on the deck all winter.

Some days, we have long days, beginning before dawn and packed full of so much. Some afternoons linger, but those are few now, sparse, far beyond those countless hours of nursing, when time was swallowed in baby care.

After dinner, the 13-year-old walks down our road with me, not far at all. Waiting for her while she puts her chickens away for the night, I lean against the barn door, gazing through the twilight. I’ve never lived in a house with the sky so open overhead. On a ridge, we look down into the shallow, mist-covered valley, where the town, at dusk, is beautiful, flickering bits of lights.

We’re so many months yet from working outside on the deck, me and the chittering birds, the sunlight on my keyboard and hands. But it’ll come: this reprieve is a reminder of spring, a certain promise of evening swims again.

Never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers.

—Kobayashi Issa

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Beautiful Travels

Reading Daniel Mason’s new novel, The Winter Solider, I’m reminded of first reading Russian novels — Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev — when I was a teenager. How hungry I was for those books — what will these characters do? — in their snow-buried landscapes. Tender green shoots of spring poked through the gritty ice.

This reading mirrors the kind of life I carved out as an adult. Live on a hundred acres of woods, work outside in all weather, pull your toddler along the backroad in the sleet, just because…. Know that where the moon rises above your house is essential. Be afraid; know that the snow and the long-toothed northern cold can and will maim and kill, but how beautiful this world is…..

They were five hours east of Debrecen when the train came to a halt before the station on the empty plain.

— Daniel Mason, The Winter Soldier

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Cambridge, Vermont