We’re eating pumpkin pie made with not enough maple syrup. In the scheme of things, that’s pretty darn minor. The kids, I’ve noticed, have stored the maple syrup in the cabinet above my head — which, no biggie, I could easily stand on a chair per usual and help myself. Nonetheless, why bother?
The bathtub drained is plugged, the chickens wandered on the back porch and shit, we’ve eaten brown rice for three days now and no one seems in the least interested in leftovers. It’s autumn, sometime, pretty leaves all fallen and withering.
Dusk, I walk a few loops around the high school. A flock of starlings sweeps over the sky and perches in the bare branches of a maple tree, chittering. Back at my car, my daughter and her friend are on the hood of my car, laughing at something — maybe me? — hungry. They’ve been making “guts” for a Halloween project, but ran out of red food dye to mix with their Vaseline and corn starch.
Really? I say. What’s the recipe? In the thickening gloaming, I sit on my car hood, too, listening, as if there’s all the time in the world.
…we are everything, every experience we’ve ever had, and in some of us, a lot of it translates and makes patterns, poems. But, my God, we don’t even began to touch upon it. There’s an enormous amount, but we can touch such a little.
Here’s a line from a children’s picture book — my younger daughter’s favorite — You must do something to make the world more beautiful.
Last evening, I overhead the girls planning to spread lupine seeds gleaned from the flowers blooming before our house. Maybe that thousand and one readings of Miss Rumphius sowed deep, or maybe spreading these blossoms is just instinctual, part of being alive.
There’s six years between my daughters – a significant gap. When the littler one was two, she had a habit of raising her arms and saying, Uppy, to her sister. Naturally tall and strong, my older daughter was happy to tote her sister on her hip or back.
Both in adolescence now, those years narrow.
Late yesterday afternoon, while I’m laying phyllo with olive oil, spinach, and feta, my daughter returns from skiing, red-cheeked, happy. Since the morning, she’s braided her hair. She wears a red ski cap of her sister’s, a gift from friends whose son lives in Norway. Across her forehead is VITAL. I loved this cap on her sister, and I love it on this girl, too. VITAL. And again: vital.
Chattering, peeling a clementine, she tells me one of her coaches asked if she has a sister. My girls love this question. With so many years between them, their similar faces serve as reminders of each other – and the hat, now, too, I think.
It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats.
In an acceptance form letter for an essay, an editor suggests reading that slim college handbook, Strunk and White. For a mini-refresher lesson, I click on the link, since it’s been many years since I opened my copy. (Do I still even possess a copy? I’m a little worried I may have jettisoned that in my move…)
Between useful directions like Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas, I read Writers will often find themselves steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.
Last night, my daughter and I stood outside in the cold, talking with a neighbor, looking up at the small white lights my daughters strung over our barn. The neighbor tells me about the man who last painted the barn before I bought this property, how painstakingly he prepped the clapboards and sealed each nailhole.
I lean against the cornerboard, thinking of all that hard work. Clouds have blown in, and the moon is obscured. Rain and more rain predicted for today.
Inside our house again, my daughter carries the cats up to her bed.
Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.
I stood on my back deck last night, leaning against the house and watching my friend get out of her Subaru with a bowl of meatballs. My daughters had strung white Christmas lights all over the barn’s front side that afternoon. The white clapboard had that classic New England winter festiveness, complete with a red-bow wreath someone gave my daughter.
I stood there thinking how in my twenties I would have believed I would live here forever. Forever was part of my twenties’ worldview. In my forties – like just about everyone else I know – the erosion of loss (marriage, business, house) has altered the landscape of my worldview. I stood there thinking that, at some point (God willing, many years hence), someone will live here, and maybe paint that barn cotton-candy pink. For that moment, though, in early December, I leaned against the solid house in the cool afternoon, thinking how fine it was to have guests for dinner and my daughters inside, baking cookies.
I don’t knit, but when I watch someone who does, I think that they must have found some of the same inner peace that I discovered during my expeditions (for example, the South Pole)…. A great many of us have a desire to return to something basic, authentic, and to find peace, to experience a small, quiet alternative to the din….The results that you achieve – firewood to warm you, a sweater you have poured yourself into – are not things that can be printed out. The fruit of your labor is a tangible product. A result that you and others can enjoy over a period of time.
Note this: a Vermont November day in the fifties. My girls toss text notes to me from Hardwick to my windowless desk in Burlington: Who did you loan the pie pans to? When will you be home?
The teenager and her friend are hatching a plan to pick up an old friend at the airport which requires, first, that ancient human activity: waiting.
The friend, nervous, taps her phone.
I take out the hat I’m knitting, and – like that – the girls ask for needles and yarn. My teenager, former Waldorf student, knits quickly, weaving in a second color. The kittens leap from one ball of yarn to another. Our needles, fingers, and voices work, in this other old activity: women at handwork.
Twilight comes to the little farm
At winter’s end. The snowbanks
High as the eaves, which melted
And became pitted during the day,
Are freezing again, and crunch
Under the dog’s foot. The mountains
From their place behind our shoulders
Lean close a moment, as if for a
Final inspection, but with kindness,
A benediction as the darkness