Small Find

Rain unearthed a tiny toy from the cotoneaster’s soil I planted a few weeks ago – a plastic white ram smaller than the length of my thumb.

The soil’s sandy here, loamier on the house’s southern side where an immense mock orange stretches nearly to the second-floor bedroom windows.

My archeological find, near the barn’s ramp, is good child’s play area, near the house but not too near, cool in grass in the summer, with the cement a fine place to spread out small toys. Orange tiger lilies and silver-lavender allium spread tenaciously along the barn’s side, and I’d like to think some small child knelt in the grass there, happy to be home from school, entranced in the roaming world of her or his ram and animal companions. I’d prefer to think this creature, its back legs gnawed or worn at its hooves, wasn’t discarded carelessly.

I gave the animal to my daughter, youngest at the house now. Folded in her hand, she carried it on a walk all through town, then laid it on the windowsill beside a geranium, in the sun.

Somewhere, Heidegger says we are constantly tumbling towards death, and every once in a while we get a clear glimpse of this fact. We must then adjust our minds to accommodate the new knowledge. It makes us sadder, but also more urgent in our living, more aware that lives are fragile, ephemeral, not to be wished away. It make us, it should make us, humble.

From my recent interlibrary loan, Pitiful Criminals, by Greg Bottoms

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Tiny Footsteps

Rain began in the night, the first we’ve had in a long time – unusual in Vermont where rain is often ubiquitous. I lay awake in the night, listening to the storm wash over the roof, listening to the wind and water blow in from the east. We’ve lived in this house such a short time that rain on the roof is still new to us. In our former house, the roof was so poorly insulated, weather pounded hard on the metal, and the girls and I find ourselves listening in this house: what’s happening?

I got up and went downstairs and outside in my bare feet, leaning against the house in the dark, sheltered from the rain beneath the porch’s overhang. In our old house, I often went outside in the night, and learned how to walk in darkness so pitch I couldn’t see my moving feet or, some nights, even my own hand held before my face. I drove away fear of darkness many years ago, and came to know the sparse starlight as a companion, the darkness rich with nocturnal forest life all around us.

Here, there’s plenty of wild, too. We’re just above a steep ravine with a stream, choked with trees, singing with verdant avian life. In the night, I leaned against the house, wondering who else in town was awake in this little hour, listening to the rain.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?

– Anonymous


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Years ago, my friend and I started this saying between the two of us – Are you in your spot? Generally, our given spots were the kitchen sink in those days, which pretty much sums up why we spent so much time laughing about what might appear to be a lame joke.

These days, our spots have widened – portable now, thanks to MacBooks.

My younger daughter’s spot in those days was with her sister. Even as an infant, strapped on my chest, her little brown eyes always tracked to her sibling. When she was two, her older sister toted her on her back. Like anyone else, they bicker; they fight. Sometimes they make each other cry. But when the teenager’s now-ex-boyfriend said they spent too much time together, the teenager said simply, We’re sisters. I consider this an incredible stroke of good luck, an amelioration of some of my parenting mishaps.

I remembered all this today when I read this sweet children’s book, The Big Wet Balloon, about the complexity of sisterhood, even as very young children.

I want to thank
my sister for loving me, which taught me
to love. I’m not sure what she loved in me,
besides my love for her—maybe
that I was a copy of her, half-size—
then three-quarters, then size. In the snapshots, you see her
keeping an eye on me, I was a little wild
and I said silly things, and she would laugh her serious
laugh. My sister knew things,
sometimes she knew everything,
as if she’d been born knowing….

From Sharon Olds’ “Ode to My Sister”


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My teenager, working in a nursing home, relays nursing lore that bad news comes in threes. Is this true? she asks. I love that she thinks I may have this answer.

It’s not true. Bad news knows no numerical limits.

But braided in with all that bad news are also other things, too – whether confirmation of a longed-for pregnancy or a sunny day’s stillness, a warm bit of reprieve.

You might as well answer the door, my child,
the truth is furiously knocking.

– Lucille Clifton


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October 1

I’ve seen fall foliage seasons where walking down our road was like wandering through a 3-D painting – so stunningly gorgeous the colors were nearly unbelievable. When my daughter was one, we spent a morning along our nearly empty road, me piling fallen red and gold leaves into her lap, while she lifted them with her tiny fingers and cooed.

The season may not have that radiant flame this year.

And yet, it’s fall, the season that reminds me perpetually of childhood, of staring through my third-grade classroom windows at the woods just beyond the playground and longing to play outside, of walking home in too-hot knee socks, with a sweater tied around my waist.

Hiking in the White Mountains this afternoon, then stretched out on a rocky peak, I remarked on the sweetness of fall apples.

Nothing like them, my brother said.

O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
From Robert Frost’s “October”
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Emerald Blossom

A little girl, about the height of my hip, leans against me in the library, seeking gum. My stash melted in the freak heat wave. She looks at me, forlorn.

The adult I’m speaking with suggests they walk outside and pick a leaf of kale.

Later, when I’m outside, too, I see the little girl with a dark green leaf tucked in her fist. She clutches this edible bouquet, watching the big girls swing. Then she leans against my leg, still facing away, a kind of forgiveness. She eats the entire leaf.

How much I desire!
Inside my little satchel,
the moon, and flowers.

– Basho


From the season’s last swim….

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At a book discussion for Banned Books Week, a woman mentions Harry Potter was censored as “anti-family.” What does that mean? MacBeth offers no honeyed view of family. Should we not read Shakespeare? I walk home in the dark, the air balmy and the crickets singing, a crescent moon shining like yellow gold over our house’s metal roof, then listen to my daughters’ laughter floating on that oddly warm September air through the open screens in the living room.

I slip off my sandals and stand on grass, still wet from where I watered the cotoneaster bush I planted a few weeks ago. Every evening in this dry weather, I water this bush. I planted it because the house I grew up in had a cotoneaster outside my father’s study window. My brother, when he learned to ride a bike, plowed through that bush, numerous times. I picked the berries and strung them on thread for necklaces. My sister and I fed them to our dolls. My mother admired the sprawling bush’s resilience.

I think of Harry Potter, the boy who longed for his dead parents. Anti-family? As if family has ever been simple.

We raise children and tell them other things about who they can be and what they are worth: to us, everything. We love each other fiercely, while we live and after we die. We survive; we are savages.

– Jessmyn Ward, Men We Reaped




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