Tuesday afternoon finds me somewhat lost on the way to a soccer game. In a rush, I glance briefly at the map, take a mental note, and head off. My cell phone has given up its ghost, and I know I have a paper atlas in the back of my Subaru, jammed beneath a box of oil, if need be. I drive the way I knit — by feel — and generally that gets me there. In this case, driving by feel gets me to Hazen’s Notch, a twisty dirt road climb. The road has been recently graded; it’s slick with falling rain.
I’m headed to a town where I haven’t been in nearly 25 years. The last I was here, my then-husband and I were following a lead on a vacuum pump for maple sap. We pulled into a two-story house that was recently built. A pregnant woman dialed her husband at the town garage, and he drove up in a moment. That afternoon, I wanted to be pregnant. While our husbands talked about the pump, I asked her about the pregnancy. She wanted to buy a crib with the money from the sap pump.
We paid in cash. The pump remained one of the most reliable pieces of equipment in our sugarhouse. It became my nemesis, too, with the absence of housing around the belt. I feared for my hair and scalp, my fingers. It drank oil like crazy. It worked hard.
This Tuesday, I’m not really lost. I know, enough, where I’m headed, how to read the sky and rivers, the mountains, to get me in the right direction. I pull over near a swamp where maples are in full red already. What do you know, I think to myself, that sight is worth the drive.
Above pretty much sums up where we are now. 23 years into this parenting gig, it’s now me and the teen, and if a housecat has moved into a box on the kitchen table for the winter? Well, so be it. And the other cat refuses to drink water except on the kitchen sink? Well, so be that, too.
As a young mother, I read a literal library of parenting advice and made a trillion mistakes. I take my (diminished) reading time much more seriously these days. I continue to make mistakes. And I’ve decided the cats are fine companions, even on the table.
In so many versions of my previous life, this wouldn’t fly. Now, listening to Biden talk about his proclaimed End of the Pandemic, I wonder, What’s all that about? Who gets to decide what, anyway, and why believe anyone else when your experience doesn’t jive?
Rain comes down in buckets. A friend gives us a bucket of apple drops. I cook bacon in the oven and buy the best loaf of bread I can find for our dinner. Our tomato and basil plants are still churning out their delectables. Sure, winter is in the near offing. Much more than winter, too. Our cat is the happiest creature I’ve ever loved. We offer him drops of milk on our fingertips, licks of butter from a smooth silver knife, tender kisses on his head.
As the cat
the top of
first the right
— William Carlos Williams
then the hind
into the pit of
Late on a Friday night, I’m reading on the couch when my oldest calls. There’s no heat, yet, in her apartment. The evening is tinged with near frostiness. I’ve returned home from an interstate drive in the darkness, thinking over the pieces of my manuscript. In my imagination, I see Lena, my main character, with her emerald green haircut.
A half-moon rises in the darkness as I drive along the Connecticut River. These days — long days — I’m grateful for these imposed breaks, for the opportunity to see the moon rise along an unfamiliar horizon, to stop before a church and read the congregation’s exhortation: Enjoy this life.
My dear cats are sprawled before our glowing wood stove. Listening to my daughter reminds me of my mother — our spunk and sassy irreverence and love of flowers — but my daughter is utterly herself. I close Beth Macy’s Raising Lazarus, and our conversation unfolds over the few miles between us. September, and the swimming season has passed. I hope for decades ahead to see what my daughter makes of her life. For now, this September evening.
... I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist
of mountain-dark, among farms
— Hayden Carruth
Rain begins falling yesterday evening and falls all night. Through the open windows, the wet scent of soil drifts into our house. The cats sit on the sills, a little confused apparently by the breeze and wet.
For whatever reason, I wake remembering a visit to the emergency room with one of my daughters a number of years ago. I had wait for my then-husband to pick me up, and my little girl and I sat in the empty waiting room. It was night by then. My daughter slept in my lap. The nurse on duty was a mother in a parenting group that we had both participated in a few years before. Her daughter was in school then, and she had long ago ceased having any weekday morning free. We spoke for a little while, and she gave me a bottle of cold water to drink. It was June and hot, and the water was delicious. Such a small thing, remembered so many years later. Doubtlessly, she’s forgotten it.
This rain has the same deliciousness — tinged with fall, yes, but watering my dry garden. Summer’s gone. We’re in the season of red maple leaves.
I love all films that start with rain:
By Don Paterson
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face…
A local radio station asks me to call in for a morning show this week. To cut down on the background birdsongs, I dial from my glassed-in front porch and stand looking out the windows at the hydrangeas which are particularly pink this year. My cat knocks over a glass of water. The water spills around my bare foot just as the announcer patches me on.
Radio’s particularly fun because the conversation moves quickly. The mystery of our conversation — the host and I talking about things that matter — travels invisibly into people’s living rooms and studios and cars and job sites. Meanwhile, my cat splashes water on my ankles. When I hang up, a friend phones me. As I tie my shoes to head to work, we talk quickly and make a plan to meet.
At the end of the week, I’m at a soccer game, watching the girls’ team, listening to the conversation behind me. Two men talk about roadside mowing along a stretch of back road I happen to know. I think I know this stretch really well, but listening to the men and how they describe the dips in the roads, the rocks in the ditches, the proximity of houses to the road, I realize there’s plenty I don’t know about this road at all. In the hot, late afternoon, I smell the sweetness of fresh sap mingled with two-cycle oil on their clothes.
Last night, my youngest and I were talking with my brother on the phone when my oldest called. My youngest patched her in. For a few moments, the four of spoke together — from two houses and a car mired in road construction. My oldest said, I’m calling to tell you the full moon is red. We each hung up and headed out to admire the night sky.
As season come
And seasons go
The moon will always glow
In a pouring rain, I pack up my car with recycling and trash. The empty cat food tins need to be out of my barn. My oldest stops by with her dog, and we stand in the open door of the barn. The barn’s inside is crammed with firewood in my fairly neat rows. Sometimes I imagine this space will be something else, but we moved here late enough in the childrearing years that the barn never became true kid headquarters.
The rain dumps. We stand drinking coffee and kicking around bits of this and that.
Truly, there are days when I wonder how the heck I’ve ended up at Alpine Heights in Hardwick, Vermont. I drive to the dump/recycling station. Years ago, when my oldest was in a carseat, the old man who ran the place took the time to talk with me. He told me to take my daughter swimming as much as I could, to enjoy summer, to savor her. He’s long dead now, passed on to the next world after a devastating accident. The dump/recycling world is run by savviness — plenty of things and money pass through here. The man asks what I’ve got and asks how I feel about eight dollars? I feel just fine about handing over eight singles.
My neighbors across the street had their water and sewer lines dug up and replaced this week. The contractor’s wife is someone I’ve known for years, off and on. Sometimes I meet her as she walks her tiny dog through town. When the contractor finished with the work, he gave the neighbors’ little boys a ride in his excavator. Such a simple thing, I think, and so much kid happiness.