Yesterday, in the early frosty morning, my daughter and I stood in her elementary school’s muddy parking lot, with no one around, in a brief pause between kids and adults coming and going. Red-wing blackbirds chorussed in the leafless branches of a maple tree. As long as I live, I can’t imagine ever tiring of that melody.
Even with the frost, the morning already smelled of thawing mud. We could sense the earth and its critters shaking off winter’s slumbers.
Like that: the light of April rushing back in. Spring.
….In spring, when the moon rose, it meant
time was endless….
– Louise Glück, “The Silver Lily”
‘Tis the season of mud in Vermont. I once had a neighbor (now relocated back to an enormous city) who hated mud. Her daughter and my daughter were both little then, with rubber boots and pink raincoats decorated with kitties, and the girls adored splashing in March and April puddles, digging with sticks in the ditches along our roadsides, and baking mud cakes in kitchens they built with fallen branches, on carpeted floors of pine needles. Sweet days.
The girls spent many more hours at my house than at hers, shedding their filthy and soaked clothes on our porch and sprawling before the wood stove to warm up, eating popcorn and drinking honeyed tea and giggling. Sweet days.
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downwards through the mud and slush of opinion and tradition, and pride and prejudice, appearance and delusion, through the alluvium which covers the globe, through poetry and philosophy and religion, through church and state, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, till we come to a hard bottom that rocks in place which we can call reality and say, “This is and no mistake.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Vermont’s Congressional delegation came to our local high school yesterday, Hazen Union in Hardwick – Bernie Sanders with his mighty vehemence and voice, Leahy with his longevity, and Welch with his even-handed thoughtfulness. Welch joked that Vermont’s delegation could meet in an elevator – and does.
But Bernie was the one who got the packed gymnasium cheering loudest. He began with acknowledging that these are tough times, strange days indeed, but, nonetheless, he said, I woke up feeling pretty good this morning. To his loyal crowd of fellow citizens, this boundless optimism shone: the steadfast belief in goodwill, the persistent faith in a moral universe.
All of us share this world for a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focussed on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the decency of all human beings.
– Barack Obama
I unlocked the elementary school yesterday morning when the day was yet in that black-turning-blue phase of dawn. I was there to get the coffee going for that venerable New England tradition, pie breakfast. Allow me to brag for a moment about my town. With a population of 902 (including newborns), nearly 200 pies appeared in the school kitchen, carefully wrapped, many warm from home ovens.
Pie Breakfast is a hustling sweet-and-savory morning, bursting with conversation, live music, laughter, lots of kids. The most welcome melody I heard, though, was the red-wing blackbirds in the white pines below the library. My booksale volunteers and I stood on the icy pavement in the brilliant March sunlight, surrounded by two feet of sparkling snow, listening to the first harbinger of migration’s return, the promise of spring, the full-throated song of mating.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all…
– Emily Dickinson
It’s an Ezra Jack Keats kind of snowy day (or days) in Vermont. If you’re not out foolishly driving around (and not many are), the snow is spiraling down exquisitely. After hours of tedious work inside, while the snow swirled against the windows, I walked along our unplowed road. Pausing on my way to meet my neighbor, I remembered those winters when my firstborn was a toddler, and winters really were one months-long housebound snowstorm.
Every day, I pulled my chattery child along the road on a runner sled. Always, at the same place she would beg me to lumber through the deep snow into the woods and pluck a few miniature hemlock pinecones from a low hanging branch.
Years later, unboxing this red snowsuit for her younger sister, I discovered tiny pinecones in every pocket.
It was so wonderful to be there, safe at home, sheltered from the winds and the cold. Laura thought that this must be a little like heaven, where the weary are at rest.
– Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
The past two mornings, a large fisher cat has slunk through my snow-covered garden, scoped out the compost, and wandered back into the woods, with that odd, weasel-esque serpentine back motion. The creature is dark as a rain-sodden forest floor.
My house is for sale now, and strangers have been wandering in and out. Do they admire the blue I’ve painted the windows? Are they as annoyed with the unfinished trim and stair treads as I am, or are they starry-eyed, as I would have been, years ago?
I’ve told none of them of this wild creature wandering in and out, my own particular secret, the wildness I’ll carry with me, no matter where we go.
The truth felt stranger than the myth.
Michael Finkel, The Stranger in the Woods: the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
fitting reading, these days