Days of Afternoon Sun and Insects

Late afternoon, insects — hundreds, nay, thousands — hovered over the soccer field, mixed in with dust motes and seed chaff.

The teenage girl snapping photos for the yearbook said, Gross. The parent beside me marveled at the teeming life. Bat food.

The other parent and I exchanged random bits — traffic in Waterbury, a small write-up in the local paper, why our country can send a man to the moon but hasn’t created decent birth control. Little bits of our own, bat-esque food.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

— Rilke

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God, Ghosts, Aliens

My daughters start a fire in the rock pit in our yard at the end of a sunny day, a day of hiking and laughter, of putting away a gorgeous onion harvest, of weeding and transplanting daisies from a friend, of painting the lower barn door blue (please, mom, why not just white?)

There’s no one else, no visitors, no company stopping by, just the three of us cooking outside sprawling on the grass as the dusk gradually filters down and pulls out the brilliance of pink zinnias, a tangle of nasturtiums, gold in a maple in the cemetery. We’ve nowhere else to go but into the house and sleep.

My older daughter shares a conversation she had with her coworkers that night, about the probably of God, of ghosts, of UFOs, and the girls dive into what they’ve read about Roswell.

Under my bare feet, the grass holds the day’s warm sunlight yet. Listening, I remember the barren patches in this grass when we moved in. The grass is lush now, like a well-tended cat’s fur.

My younger daughter, with a new kind of adolescent edginess, announces her own nihilism. I offer, But here’s the rub there: what about life? What about youand then I wise up and shut up. A few tendrils of mist settle into the valley below us. In the night, rain will move in, but for now, it’s just us and the sunlight, and all that evening ahead.

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Stranger, Passing Through

I’m weeding in my garden when an unfamiliar voice calls out. In the evening dusk, I’m thinking of my younger daughter eating dinner with her soccer team and, simultaneously, of walking to high school in the New Hampshire town where I was a teen. For no reason at all, I’m remembering walking on Union Street, which followed the railroad tracks above the Piscataquog River.

A neighbor I know only by sight is passing through. He stops and smokes a cigarette while we talk. His mother lived in my house, years ago. We talk about raising kids — his two sons, my two daughters.

The daylight recedes quickly. He asks for work, shoveling my roof in winter. We look at my house and its simple roof lines. We’ll do it, I say, and then he admits how much he hates shoveling roofs.

Mist has crept in, blurring the palette of zinnias and coreopsis in my garden. He’s gone, quickly, before I can ask more about his mother and this house.

On this final morning in August, ten feet tall, the sunflowers in my garden bloom. I planted late, but the mighty faces have peeled back the leaves over their gold faces, opening up to the sun. Their roots, thick as fierce fingers, dig into the sandy soil.

Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from.

— Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

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Miniature Mandibles

I’m reading outside with my bare feet on the firepit stones when I feel something like my cat’s tongue on my toe. I’m reading intently, in the few remaining minutes before my daughter returns from soccer practice and my attention will abruptly shift into chat about school and peers and the righteous outrage I suddenly see emerging in this teen. How had I forgotten that one of the most interesting aspects of adolescence is an emerging moral sense of the world? What’s wrong? Who’s right? (And, please, as a parent, could I just remain low and out of the light?)

I’m reading, of all things, Wendell Berry, when I realize a grasshopper is nibbling my toe. It’s the very end of August, the sunflowers are opening, the basil is prolific, the beans have spread into a sculpture in the middle of my garden. I close the book and let the grasshopper gnaw.

We are dealing, then, with an absurdity that is not a quirk or an accident, but is fundamental to our character as people. The split between what we think and what we do is profound.

— Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture

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Loon Piece, State 14

Having never lived in a large city — or any city at all, really — I don’t know the social lay of the land, or the complex paths of how people know each other.

In my small world of Vermont, I now write monthly for the online State 14, and my short essays are often paired with the incredibly talented Nathanael Asaro. His mother sold her handmade soap beside our maple syrup and root beer float booth at the Stowe Farmers Market, and we spent an awful lot of hours — sweaty, shivering, or under perfect skies — talking and laughing.

My friend has long since quit the soapmaking and finished law school. I’ve quit the syrup business and moved on, too. But here’s a connection between the two of us surfacing again.

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Nathanael Asaro

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More School

Today, my youngest daughter starts high school. Time flies, sure, but it seems so long ago she first started school, a tiny girl. She was homeschooled until third grade, on our 100 acres, where I worked at home in our maple sugaring business, and at certain times in the year worked incredibly hard. It was a kind of life that, in retrospect I suppose, made some kind of sense to the adults.

When she was seven, she wanted to go to school. So, I sent her. Since then, she’s pretty much always loved school. Last night, I noticed she had packed so many bags, she appeared to be making a semi-move to the high school, approximately an 11-minute walk from our door.

Like anyone else, I’ve made a zillion — no, a zillion and a half — mistakes as a parent, some just downright terrible. But one thing I did realize at a certain point with my older daughter was that this is her life, and if I wanted her to live her own life with authority and imbued with her own female empowerment, I had to realize her life is different than mine. My own adult ideas, 90% or so of them, might as well go by the wayside.  Although I’m not in any way about to vacate the parenting scene, isn’t work out your own philosophy inevitably where the raising children scenario leads?

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Derby, Vermont

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Soccer Mom-ing

My daughter is now six years into soccer — a number that surprises me — as if, for me, each fall is a surprise. You’re playing soccer? How cool is that….

On a hot afternoon, I walk to the high school, in a rush from work, dust from the street blowing into my eyes. On these warm afternoons, there’s always pleasure at the chance to sit on the grass and simply spend an hour, talking with another parent about work and relationships, and the sometimes painful, often laughworthy moments in our parenting lives.

What’s odd is this: standing on the field, I study each player, figuring out which girl is mine. My own daughter. I blame this strange phenomenon on bad eyesight, until another mother confesses the same. The ponytail girls are growing up. I’m unable to recognize this metamorphosis — in my own daughter — but the girls are heading toward young womanhood, body and soul.

The way of the world, my soccer-mom friend says, and offers me some of her seltzer.

I am doing something I learned early to do, I am
paying attention to small beauties,
whatever I have-as if it were our duty
to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.

— Sharon Olds

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Hardwick, Vermont, August 2019

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