Small, Good Things.

A friend and I drive to a nursery on a back road in Plainfield, VT, through fields that seem impossibly green. The trees have barely begun to bud. I buy a snowdrift crabapple tree there. The tree is so tall that my friend and I spend some time carefully nudging it into the back of my Subaru.

I’ve met the staff on my annual pilgrimage there. They all speak quietly, as if our words might disturb the rows of potted currents and grapes. I ask again for planting advice. As I listen, I suddenly realize I’ve gone at this tree planting and cultivating thing all wrong. Beneath my trees, I should create a forest garden of duff and broken up straw and that humus-y compost that plants must love like chocolate. Daffodils bloom in the gardens beneath their trees.

I expect the staff has told me this before, but for whatever I reason I didn’t listen, or their advice drifted the way of so many words.

All the way home and all afternoon, I keep thinking about these woodland gardens and about a Raymond Carver story, “A Small Good Thing.” Two years plus into the pandemic, in this jumbled world, a small good thing….

That night, my teenager comes home and suggests we get a creemee. Friday night, and there’s no one out. We stand under the moon, licking ice cream cones, the peeper screeching in the swamp behind the pizza joint. A small good thing.

Daffodils: Verb?

I’ve been a patient at numerous Planned Parenthoods, in three different states, since I was a young woman. These days, I keep remembering a nurse practitioner I met in Bellingham’s Planned Parenthood. I had waited a long time. It was a very hot afternoon. Dust blew in through the open window. She apologized as she washed her hands and simply said it had been a busy day.

I was in my early twenties, had brought a book to read, and I didn’t care.

The staff at Planned Parenthood gave me information I needed when no one else did. This was information and advice that shaped my entire adult life. I was never turned away — even when I had nothing to offer as payment — never denigrated, never treated coldly. My oldest daughter is now the age I was that afternoon. In those young optimistic days, I believed inherently in progression. I didn’t see then that history repeats itself, turns back and bites the same wounds.

In this sunny, hopeful month of May — daffodils. Maybe I’ll think of this as a verb, not a noun: daffodilling.

Remember Joy.

The May I was pregnant with my second child, rain fell every day. I remember this keenly because my husband wasn’t working that month. I was about to have a baby, and I wanted very much to be finished with pregnancy. I had been so ill for eight months, and I just wanted to move on.

As it turned out, a gorgeous healthy baby girl was born on May 31. The summer was long and hot, just perfect weather in Vermont.

This year, I didn’t realize until today that we had passed over into the month of May. I’m writing this, as I’ve been in the same kind of dissatisfied funk that I was seventeen years ago. It seems silly to admit this — at the time, perhaps, I was in a funk only because of my own dissatisfied soul. I had — and have — plenty. I was talking to new acquaintance yesterday about the general dissatisfaction and irritability that blossoms up everywhere these days. It’s complicated — it’s always complicated — and by no means do I want to diminish that. I don’t want to diminish where I was in those days, either. Now, I can look back at those days and marvel, at least a little, that I did manage to survive intact, more or less.

That summer, though, I knew it would be the last summer I would ever have an infant. Almost right away, I was lucky enough to know that. I remember thinking, let the laundry go unwashed if need be.

This afternoon, walking around my house in a gently falling cold rain, I remembered those days. My daughter has one year of childhood left. Already I’ve begun to recriminate myself for what I should have done, how, given another shot, I’d be such a better mother. In the rain I came back to that same thinking I reminded myself of years ago, Be here now. Remember: drink joy, too.

Running.

Fisher Railroad Bridge, Wolcott, VT

Twice in one Friday, I’ve met acquaintances from long ago — the first at the coffee shop, the second at the transfer station. Now, having lived here for thirty years, I run into people who I’ve known in the past — maybe not well — but I know deep parts of their stories. I wonder what parts of my life they remember — and if I remember my story as they do.

On the way back from the transfer station, I stop along Route 15 and admire the Fisher bridge, the last of the covered railroad bridges in Vermont. Such effort went into building this infrastructure, and it was used for such a comparatively short time.

Because I’m wearing my running shoes, I follow the graveled rail bed. I cross the highway and follow the former track bed behind the lumber yard that smells sweetly of sap and freshly milled boards. There’s no one around on the rail bed at all. I run on the path right beside the river. The river is wide and slow moving, relatively tame for April. We’ve had little rain and less snow. I chance upon a pair of nesting ducks, and the mallard leads me away. I imagine in the heat of July how lovely it might be to swim across this water.

I stop to catch my breath. It’s me and the glossy mallard and the breezy cold afternoon. I wonder if we’re pulling out of the pandemic, truly. The brisk late afternoon takes my wondering and tosses it downstream. Eventually, I turn around and head back to wherever it is I need to be.

“It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” 

~ Mark Twain

Stranger Aid.

Retreat Meadows, Brattleboro, Vermont

A stranger in the post office asks me if I can free her mail from her box. It’s a narrow box, nearly at the bottom of the wall. I crouch down, extracting envelope by envelope, taking care not to tear the paper. It’s clear she hasn’t collected her mail in some time. She waits patiently while I tug with some effort. While I hand up envelopes and fliers and magazines, I talk and talk, rambling on about the mail and whatever inane thing drifts into my mind. Around us, people open their boxes, collect their stuff, and disappear. I keep at my project, now kneeling. Finished, I shut her box door.

She thanks me, and we go our separate ways. Walking home, I keep thinking about that simple thing, how easy it is to give to a stranger. There’s likely an obvious lesson here. But one thing is clear, I got as much from the mail extraction as this woman.

… A cold and soggy April. Miniature daffodils push up through black soil. I keep feeding my wood stove.

Nameless Places.

My daughter discovered the foundation of an old mill near where she lives, a fieldstone structure built beside a rushing stream. A grist mill I speculate.

Sunday afternoon, and the day has warmed. The bugs haven’t risen yet. The spring ephemerals haven’t unfolded from the forest floor.

With one daughter grown, my youngest nearly so, my own parents well along in old age, I think about the things I wish I’d done as a parent. I wish we’d traveled more, seen the northern lights, gone to concerts. I wish my daughters’ father had stuck around. That trite phrase — glass half-empty or half-full — comes to mind. But maybe a truer comparison is this foundation, this well-crafted structure that has now morphed into a wilderness home, where birch trees set seeds and grew in improbable places.

We keep walking, and she shows me a small swamp in a hollow far off the road. The peepers are singing. The mud beneath my boots is black and rich. Water runs through it.