Loons, Wiser Than Us.

Back when my girls were in the early sand bucket age, loons were a rare sight on the lake. The grownups would knock off whatever chat we had going when we spied those distinctive birds — spotted backs, red-eyed. I grew up in New Hampshire and never saw a loon as a girl.

But even now, those calls — how eerie, how utterly mesmerizing, how definitively not of the human world. This afternoon, before a planning commission meeting and just as a little light rain begins, I walk over to that beach where we drank so much coffee. There’s two cars in the parking lot, people staring at the lake and the sky that’s bruised with storm. The loons holler across the rippling water. Vacation in Vermont and you might think summer is all sweetness and ice cream — but here’s a slice of cold rain, those two black-necked beauties, and an infinity of sky.

Conversation in the Moonlight.

At the open hatch of my car, I’m writing a mental grocery list, when something — what it is I don’t immediately know — happens. I’m fucked, I think. I’ve broken my hand.

A pneumatic hatch strut has broken, and is pinned between the hatch and taillight, the plastic light smashed. I turn my hand around and around. My hand suddenly seems very small, utterly familiar, a thing easily ruined.

People walk around me, going in and out of the co-op. Weirdly, I remember a car crash from my twenties when a Subaru Justy ran into my gold Rabbit. My Rabbit was knocked off the road. I got out and ran. The Justy had spun around and around and came to a stop, the wrong way in the middle of the road. No one was around. The Justy’s driver was crying, her window rolled down, saying, “I’ve killed you.” I begged her to get out of the car, leaning towards the Justy in the falling snow but not touching it, saying, “But I’m alive. I’m here.”

In a twist of great good fortune, my hand isn’t broken, only bruised. I go in the co-op and buy scallions and yogurt. The hatch and the strut are an irritation, another thing to sort out and solve, a fixable occurrence.

Later that week, after the dinner guests have left and it’s just me and my daughters and their friends, the five of us pull our chairs around the fire. The neighbors have taken their little kids into bed. The band in the village has quit by then, too, and the frogs are signing again, snippets of frog melodies.

In the darkness, we talk about relationships and marriage, what holds people together, what makes people endure. What makes people split. I toss another chunk of wood on the fire. A glistening half moon hangs over my house. Listening, I turn my hands around and around. So often, my hands are full and busy. Now, the moonlight falls in my open palms.

We keep talking and talking and talking. The moonlight is endless.

Birds are a Kind of Souls.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table talking with my daughter about past, present, future — one or all of those mixed in together; it’s late adolescent talk; the future hovers around us all the time, all day long — when I see a robin swoop up to our porch beam, its beak full of limp weed.

For the first time in the half dozen years we’ve lived here, robins are building a nest a few feet from our kitchen door.

In our other house, robins crafted fat nests in our sugarhouse and under our balcony. We witnessed baby beak feedings and collected blue ragged shells. Twice, a hawk ate fledglings — the course of nature, but sorrowful.

Rain has fallen all day. There’s an underlying promise of deepening green with the rain, but the hours have been cheerless and cold, filled not with any bad news but the accrual of petty things that drag at all our lives.

A robin stands on the porch railing, eyeing us through the glass door. Its mate flies in quickly, busy busy in the nest. Time is of the essence in bird movement. The robins are a little story come to stay with us for a short while.

Build and thrive, I think. Thrive.

“I was convinced that birds were kinds of souls. Not the souls of people but of previous birds whose mystery and beauty were so necessary on earth that God would not allow them to be anything in their second life but birds again.” 

— Howard Norman

Our Moon Shone on Helen of Troy, Too.

Rain falls in the night, a pattering through the open window on the mock orange bush. The rain winds through my half-asleep dreams of different places I’ve lived with open windows and falling rain. I’ve often thought of the moon as my constant, my anchor in the arc of the universe. Moonbeams fell on Helen of Troy’s face, too. But spring’s gentle rainfall? Such a sweet sound.

A rouge frost browned pieces of our May world, and the rain promises deeper green. The morning after the frost, a man in line at the post office told me he’d lived in Vermont all his 63 years and had seen frost in July. I detailed the frost damage to my daffodils; he shared his apple blossom woes.

July? I asked, are you sure?

He laughed, quite sure indeed.

As I lay listening, the morning songbirds began, a snippet, then a rising thread of song, pushing away the night.

May, Fire, Frost.

May, and I’m kicking a few pieces of firewood in my wood stove, pleasing the cats on the red rug, luxuriating in keeping the door to our glassed-in porch open, the heat pushing into this three-season (but really one-season) tiny room.

We are in the days of lengthening light, spring exuberance. The sun rises crimson. A young woodchuck grazes on the lawn, then wanders into our fire pit, curious perhaps about us humans, or simply searching.

I am a gardener; we are outright foes. But this morning, my cat Acer and I watch the woodchuck through the window beside my desk, the morning’s cool pushing in through the screen. Acer steps on my keyboard, rubs his head against my elbow, reminds me that I left him for a few weeks.

I’m still thinking of that window in the apartment where we stayed in Florence. On the tile floor, the tall window open, I watched dawn flow over the red roof tiles, the pigeons sweeping over the roofs. I live in the world of the hermit thrush, mewling catbirds, carmine cardinals. A friend tells me she plans to cover her apple tree with a bedsheet tonight, to ward off the frost. Huh, I think. May.

Consider your origin.

— Dante

The First Green of Spring

Oh sure, the May sunlight, the way the steady breeze tosses the growing grass all day, tugging new leaves open — the robins and sparrows chittering and nesting, singing as they fatten their nests, get their bird family going — even the woodchuck grazing beneath the apple tree, feasting on violets and fattening its sleek being — all beloved, all dear — but really, it’s the tree blossoms, the spring beauties, the dutchmen’s breeches, the Johny jump-ups scattered in whatever way and whatever place they need to emerge. What a world this is, our Vermont May season. Flowers.

Here’s a poem from David Budbill.

“The First Green of Spring”

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
to a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,

harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
on this message from the dawn which says we and the world
are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And

even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here
now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.