A few streets down from me, a pregnant woman leans on a shovel in a driveway covered with a few inches of dense, soggy snow. It’s late afternoon, and a light snow swirls down as I walk. A pickup truck stops on the road, and I hear the driver offer to plow. There’s a little back and forth, and then she steps back. He sets down his plow and goes to work.
Every snowfall has its own kind of knowledge. As I walk through the streets and then across the former railroad bed and into the woods, I marvel at how much I know about snow, too. How a scattering of snowflakes can remind me of being 10 years old again, and a fourth grade teacher caught snowflakes on her tongue. Delicious,delicious, she said. Or how the three-foot Valentine’s Day storm snowed us in when my daughters had fevers and I wondered if I would ever return to the world of adults.
In the woods, the snow swallows up all sound for a handful of hours.
In these winter months, I’m reading about Claude Monet and his gardens. Here’s a line from the master: “… people must first of all learn to look at nature, and only then may they see and understand what we are trying to do.
This is: winter, not-winter, definitely-winter. Scattered, my thoughts fragmented, I wander down to the lake where the ice has set in now. The world is utterly still there save for a scattering of snowfall. The birds are silenced, and even the breeze has vanished. The profoundness of deep midwinter dwarfs the human world. I lean into it, letting the cold eat up my fury. On my way back, a squirrel runs across the road, calling back to me…
Sylvia Plath writes:
Winter is for women —
The woman still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dull to think…
Like darn near everyone else on the planet, the pandemic pushed me hard to evaluate how the pieces of human world fit together. In my life, the pandemic tumbled in on the heels of a brutal divorce when nearly every friendship I had cracked. It was a loss I had not anticipated. The pandemic made so many of us look at the world through a different and perhaps less clouded lens. What holds us together?
All this is a way back to the Galaxy Bookshop….. Saturday was a day jam-packed in the bookstore. All the writers Sean Prentiss and I had reached out to responded quickly and easily, happy to come. Gifts of donuts and local cheese, of sweets and olives, arrived. People flocked in, cheerful, and bought stacks of books.
The day reminded me of the events I organized when I was librarian: poets and novelists, speakers about bear habitat, moose in Vermont, the return of big cats, and a series about climate change I had just begun when the pandemic shut down that world. Those events were the times when the library was most vibrant, most alive. Community, togetherness, are age-old things, deep hungers, a joy to participate in.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
The light is slowly returning; I repeat this to myself in defiance of the gray and brown. How bright a fresh sparkle of snow would feel.
Is it mud season? Sugaring season? Has winter barely begun? One thing that does seem evident is that cabin fever has set in extraordinarily early this year. At work, a stranger phones in and asks for info. I offer the facts, just the facts, and then the stranger remarks, What I’d really like is a small piece of good news to start the new year. I can’t resist; I laugh. I note his bar is pretty darn low. I tell him about seeing a flock of evening grosbeaks Christmas morning in the box elders behind our porch.
That’s something, he agrees. He asks me a few more questions, then remarks that he doesn’t even need to care about these questions, anyway. He could let this go. He says thank you, goodbye, and hangs up. In a strange circumstantial way, I realize I was his good news.
“Caring for each other is a form of radical survival that we don’t always take into account.”
Our town’s beloved bookstore suffered water damage from a fire in an upstairs apartment last summer. The Galaxy Bookshop has been hop-skipping from living rooms to temporary quarters for months and has now reopened. This Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., the Galaxy celebrates its return with writers and local food.
If you’re in the area, or even reasonably nearby, stop in. One of my most favorite novelists on the planet, Tunbridge’s Jeffrey Lent will greet visitors in the morning, with the wonderful Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. The day’s intermittent guests include Daphne Kalmar, Christine McDowell, the Hewitts, David Hinton and Jody Gladding.
Thanks to Sean Prentiss (and his lovely wife Sarah) for getting this going.
So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.
The cats eye the dog with disdain. The dog considers the cats a potential meal or simple annoyance; we don’t know. The dog sneaks into the kitchen and steals the bowl of chocolate covered stars which horrifies my daughters. In that tussle, the braver cat slinks behind the wood stove and regains his favored position.
My oldest has no heat in her apartment, worries about her houseplants, has heat and then again has no heat. She texts me before five in the morning, and then my brother and I lie awake and text each other through the bedroom wall. I write, looks rough in Buffalo. I make endless pots of coffee. My brother, the brewery owner, drinks beer. We play Concentration, Chinese Checkers, Wordle.
The bathroom needs painting, and we discuss paint options, how Steam might pair with Orange Juice like our father’s study. The remains could be used in our tiny dining room.
After he’s home, he sends me three photos. In one, my youngest as a tiny girl stands in a borrowed homemade dress with mud smeared to her elbows and daubed on her face. My oldest leans down from an apple tree, sunlight in the leaves over her head. My brother pedals a tricycle. I remember the summer day I took that photo of my youngest. We had stopped by a site where her father was building a house. So much mud, so much pleasure for this child. Years later, I saw that homeowner ice skating with his young daughter. How much I wanted to know if he still lived in that house. How well had it held up for him? Instead, we exchanged chit-chat about the ice, and I never learned his story.
In the dog’s absence, the cats retake their rug and wood stove territory, protagonists in their own cat-language drama.