Gifts.

Before I leave for the North Danville Library on Tuesday, I sit for a moment with my daughter at our kitchen table. She eats a quesadilla, and we talk about things that matter — who’s behaving in what way and why that might be. The rain has knocked off for a bit, and I drive the way I often knit, more by feel and memory than anything else.

At this time of year, the farm fields are their deepest green. Sunflowers appear in gardens and along houses, their yellow leaves weathered by cold nights. I passed the house where my former sister-in-law lived when her four children were little. In the backyard, we built a playhouse. Her oldest daughter slept in the upstairs bedroom, and milk trucks rumbled down the road in the very early mornings.

The Brainerd library is housed in a former schoolhouse. I parked and stood for a moment in the lot shared by the library and a church. Cows ambled in the field behind the parking lot. Across the street, children pushed each other in a swing hung in an enormous tree. I imagined these were a few after-dinner moments gleaned in the falling twilight before bedtime.

I had been generously invited to talk and read a little about my book Unstitched. Driving over, I remembered the two years I spent writing this book, much of these hours at my kitchen table. Writing a book can be such a long and lonely process. So these moments of connection and resonance, of meeting readers and other writers, are manna to my soul. The library was well-cared for and had a real sense of so much living that had happened in those walls.

Unstitched is about hard things — addiction and guilt, poverty and illness. But I left that night and drove back home along the roads that had no traffic with my heart full of happiness kindled by an evening of literature and discussion and homemade cookies in a beautiful library with kind people. At home, the stars sprinkled over the sky, and the night was still warm enough that I could pretend winter was not in the near offing. Inside, my daughter and I picked up our conversation where we had left off.

Some Miles.

So many miles passed this weekend. Two trips to Vermont’s big city of Burlington for the Green Mountain Book Festival — Saturday as a participant, Sunday as audience. One trip alone, one trip with a friend. This past summer, I put some genuine effort into what I named my own personal healing project from the isolation and sadness of the pandemic — a project I admittedly dabbled in, without real expectation of success.

Here’s what I did: I gardened, spent as much time outside as possible, swam whenever I could, slept under the stars, and basically tried hard not to care very much (or maybe be distracted) by things that don’t mean very much.

What a pleasure to be back among the literary world, where people walked in and out of rooms in the lovely Fletcher Free Library, listening to poets and writers, the young and the very old, talk about writing. In an innate kind of way, these are my people.

Outside, rain fell in a dismal September day. I’m not a cardholder at this library and have only intermittently walked through its doors. Sitting in the main reading room in my raspberry-jam-hue sweater, I could have kept listening to the stories, language pared down and muscular, judicious with adjectives, evocative of Vermont and the people living here.

Media spin notwithstanding, the pandemic hasn’t vanished. Our world has been upended. And yet we move on.

A few lines from Jay Parini who graciously read beside me this weekend:

“It is not an easy thing to alter the trajectory of your life. People have expectations on your behalf. You come to believe them yourself.” 

And, last, I’ve kindly been invited to the North Danville Library this coming Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Take Joy.

There’s a line in a Raymond Carver that describes a woman as a long tall drink of water. The line reminds me of my oldest daughter — a kind of welcome draught. Myself, I’m more like a splash in the face.

She and her friends are in their early twenties and have lived an amount of life that surprises me at times. At her age, I’d had a whole, full childhood and was drifting through young adulthood, through college and graduate school and what amounted to an awful of driving around the country and sleeping in the back of our Volkswagen Rabbit. I’d sandwiched in a number of jobs, but the economy was sparse in those days. The pre-internet world was slower, less fierce, less competitive. In the collective vocabulary, the words climate change, pandemic, trauma, were never bandied around.

So on these balmy, early autumn weekends, it’s a pleasure to see her strap the kayaks on her car and head off for a pond ringed by mountains. Summer in Vermont is always too short. But this year, in particular, has been especially brief. Maybe it’s where I am in my life, with my youngest about to fly from the proverbial nest. But the stresses of the pandemic — hardly just for me, but collectively — have worn profoundly into our world. A delayed car part on order seems something hardly worth considering. As a personal sanity strategy, these lovely, golden autumn days, I pause outside and listen to the cricketsongs, the ruffle of wind on leaves that aren’t long for this world.

One thing I wish I knew in my twenties is that happiness matters. At that age, I had a whole confused theory about happiness versus pleasure, saving my soul and the planet, writing and sacrifice, and a narrow view of good parenting. Silently, I think to myself, Take joy where you find it. Surely our world needs more laughter. And rowing your narrow boat makes you strong.

…. Last, Streetlight published an essay of mine today. Many thanks!

Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow.

Sunday, we drive across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. There, the mountains are much taller and rugged than Vermont’s shorn down ridges. I grew up (mostly) in New Hampshire, and granite in boulders and quarried slabs is as familiar to me as my kitchen knives.

I sit in the backseat, knitting, and all the way there and all the way back, I have the strangest sensation of a sewing needle linking these two states and the pieces of my life — girlhood and young motherhood and the cusp I’m on again as my fledglings head off gleefully into the wild. In New Hamsphire, we meet my brother for lunch in a leisurely way, nothing serious, batting around trips and ideas, family stories. We sit outside in the shade. As we leave, he tips back his head and says, What perfect weather.

We return home with tiny cheesecakes in jars, a few groceries, a kind of sleepiness and fullness from the drive. We’re back in time to feed the hungry housecats their early dinner. In the garden, I pull up some gone-by marigolds and cucumber vines. Working, I think of all these little bits and pieces of our lives, how I often struggle to put these together. And yet, sometimes, how our lives are sewn together, as if miraculously. End of August. And now onto what I hope is a long sweet autumn.

Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.

The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change.

— Thomas Wolfe

Storywalk.

I often read other blogs filled with all kinds of interesting things and wonder. Where on the planet are you writing? So often, I begin a post with “The weather turns foul or cheers up, the leaves unfurl or fall off and die….” Weather is ever-present around here. And yes, we’re still swimming, but the days are already dimming.

I found this lovely page from a children’s storybook along a path. The local children’s librarian put these on posts on a short path from the library to the lake. On my way into work this morning, I stopped at the lake and opened my lap. I worked intently for an hour, just me and three loons, and some woman who appeared with her two golden retrievers. The water lay flat and smooth, about as perfect as anything gets in this world.

Recently, I read over a few of Shirley Jackson’s terrific essays about writing. She writes, “The essence of the story is motion.” So, too, I wish we better understood this about life. That endless monologue running through my head… well, the walk through the woods is the essence of me.

Washing Up.

Greensboro, Vermont

Late Friday afternoon, I swing by work for a few things and bring a friend. The day has cooled, and the evening is perfect in an August storybook way. Afterward, we stop by the beach where a few families are lingering with kids. The parents are clearly ready to head home. The children reluctantly leave the warm lake.

My friend and I sit on enormous pieces of donated granite that function as benches, admiring the spill of sunset over the serene lake, when an acquaintance drives up. He’s there for his daily swim. We kick around a few random exchanges, and somehow the conversation bends around to money. He tells us that his brother was a golf caddy in high school. Every night, he washed his tips in the sink and then ironed the bills.

We laugh and then swim. But later, driving home, I think about the teenage boy, decades ago, scrubbing up his tips, making them new. What was he thinking? And where did that take him?

Home again, the crickets sing mightily around my house. A moon hangs in the sky, and the constellations emerge. All that shadowy summer night, so much infinity.

A few lines from Brad Kessler’s novel North:

The Noonday Demon was invented at the monastery. You had to plumb the depths to reach the heights… Depression [at the monastery] is impossible to avoid; it’s where God enters — through the wound.

— Brad Kessler