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.”
The Craftsbury Public Librarian invited me to host a book discussion for my book — full disclosure, I’ve known Susan since before I was a mother.
Because there’s a pandemic, we sat outside in the library’s tent. Because it’s Vermont and October, it was raining, but that not chilly. And October brings out the handknit-hat crowd.
For months, I’ve been worried about Unstitched joining the public ranks from my own teeny tiny little world. Unstitched is about opioid addiction and addiction writ large, but it’s also about my story, too. Besides sharing the stories of others, I share mine, too. As my youngest daughter would say, Did you have to take out the whole skeleton? Maybe just a bone or two would have done.
I took out (most of) the skeleton.
But yesterday’s afternoon made me realize, yes, this is why I wrote this book. To have it gnawed over by those I know and complete strangers. Chewed over. Shared. At the very end, a woman who hadn’t read the book asked if I had a copy to sell. I didn’t. But a woman across the tent jumped up and offered her copy. Seeing my book go hand in hand — that, my friends, is manna for the writer’s soul.
The wild grapes I’ve discovered on my run have withered. I stop and gnaw their purple skins. These edibles are at that interesting place between half-sour and vaguely sweet, tangy.
These grapes sum up Vermont autumn — sweet while it lasts, but fleeting, fleeting. On this last day of September, I go about my day with that familiar sense of the garden for this year at its end, the cold and early days drawing around us.
It’s a mixed sense, like so many things in this life. No more swimming in the evenings or driving barefoot, the windows rolled down and the breeze pushing in. Instead, the cats loll before the wood stove. The daughters talk and talk. I pull the curtains. Here’s where we are, for now.
“Slow, slow! For the grapes’ sake, if they were all, Whose leaves already are burnt with frost, Whose clustered fruit must else be lost— For the grapes’ sake along the wall.”