In the night, a wild wind throws rain through my bedroom window. It’s before midnight. At twilight, the maples shimmered with a rosy-golden light, but our world has shifted. The wind’s tempestuous, shaking the storm against my house, driving away that autumn dreaminess.
The cats and I are awake. I lie on the couch, reading Ducks. Our little world has seen a proliferation of cats recently — a gray one the neighbors’ boys named Follower, a glossy black, a white-and-brown tabby, a tortoiseshell. The light on the back porch kicks on when the cats, one by one, appear, sodden, and then race off again. A raccoon sniffs my sandals I’ve left out beneath the overhang. My two cats stare through the window, mesmerized.
All night long, all day long, leaves fall. The butternut tree I planted a five years ago is skinny trunk and branch. Magnificently golden, the neighbors’ maples shed their leaves into a giant carpet. Their little boys rake and burrow. As their top branches reveal their starkness, the height of these trees soars above our houses.
October, and midday the light is tinged with sootiness as the sun bends away from my place on the earth. Whether it’s the pandemic or where I am in life, the old patterns I knew for years have splintered, fractured. To my list I write long before dawn, I add: cover the garden with leaves.
The water wheel spins holding up the milky way, and then spills it out.
My seatmate on the flight from Burlington to Denver chats me up. He complains a bit about the travel time, and then we kick around a few thoughts about what travel by Conestoga wagon would have been like. He says, You don’t come back from that trip.
True. This cross country flight is now familiar to me in the strange way of airline travel — through different airports, with people I’ve never met, juggling the odd variables of cancelled flights, rerouted paths, and so much human energy and mass, compelled to travel for so many unique reasons.
Talking, he and I figure out that we know two people in common, well enough that we can name traits we like about these people. A few hours in, I find myself in the same scenario that I’ve been in on prior flights — he pulls out his phone and then we’re talking about the Air BNB he’s about to visit, the friends he’s meeting, and the story goes on from there. True, I’m a captive audience, sandwiched between him and a young woman planning her wedding on a white board. What the heck. I’ve nowhere else I can go, and I’m hardly adverse to a few hours of laughter.
The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend. There was a certain magnificence in the high-up day, a certain eagle-like royalty, so different from the equally pure, equally pristine and lovely morning of Australia, which is so soft, so utterly pure in its softness, and betrayed by green parrot flying. But in the lovely morning of Australia one went into a dream. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.”
I step out in the morning dark to get kindling from the barn. I’m grateful for many things, but a hot hearth is high on my gratitude list. The sprawling cats concur.
In the night, snow has fallen, a cold wind blows, and winter has spread out her garments. She’s here to stay.
At Thanksgiving, my daughters asked why I didn’t stay in the Pacific Northwest, where I went to graduate school. One reason was that I missed the drama of New England’s seasons. On this late November morning, I remind myself of this love for Vermont, that the need for winter’s stillness and beauty is driven as deeply into my body and soul as May’s blue squill around my house.
Here’s a link to a radio show at WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, I did with my former US Attorney Christina Nolan, who appears in Unstitched— a woman I greatly admire.
Driving into Greensboro this morning, I pull over at the lake. The mist is suffused with crimson from the rising sun. I have the odd sensation I’m walking in an Impressionist painting, shot-through with sunlight and wet, rising dew. A pink bird dips into the water, and I hurry along the frozen shore, wondering at this odd creature.
The bird is a common, ordinary seagull, floating along in this morning, just like me. Thursday morning.
Here’s where we are in the world of tender gold tamarack needles and cold mud.
For two nights, I got up and read Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child, unable to leave that world, needing to know how Elliott ended her book. I won’t reveal that. But here’s a few lines worth an extra mention:
“The world ‘understand’ comes from Old English — understandan. Literally, it means ‘to stand in the midst of.’ It does not mean we have reached some ultimate truth. It means, to my mind, that we have experienced enough of something new, something formerly unseen, to be provoked, humbled, awakened, or even changed by it.”
These words ring true for me in my own writing and, I’ll add, my experience of parenting. Elliott goes on to write, “Almost nothing counts more than the person who shows up.”
Here’s hoping you’re all weathering the weather wherever you are.
Everyday, the light shrinks a little, contracts inward. My oldest daughter and I take a walk after dinner in the inky dark. A cat crosses the street and disappears into the night. This time, too, will pass. We who live here know this — have no other option, indeed, but to endure this — but the short days contract us, too.
In the night, I wake and read before the wood stove with the two blissful cats. Page by page, I work through Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child, a brand-new copy from the library. Save for the clicking of our wood stove as it heats and cools, expands and contracts, our house is utterly quiet at night. Narcotized by the heat, the cats sleep too deeply for purring. I’m working the next day. A list in my poor handwriting awaits me in my notebook, the tasks I’ll diligently accomplish, one by one. Some are tedious — chores I’ll reluctantly do. But I cleave to that list, my daily rod — bread and butter and bacon for my household, and my soul, too. Around us, chaos and Covid. But for this time, cats, warmth, and words.
In self-defence, you know, all life eventually accommodates itself to its environment, and human life is no exception.”