Jan Thaw

Rain pours. My daughters return, full of excitement of the ocean, of staying in a city, of a friend, and — for my younger daughter — driving around with my brother, stepping into his cool life.

They have brought me a wooden box of green tea and a tin of red goji berry tea.

Time seems suspended in the endlessness of January, but it’s not: the rain will slick to a landscape of ice, the days are already lengthening.

Again, from poet Kim Stafford:

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Bright Lights, Sparkly City

This stepping out of the nest thing?

Wow, has the internet changed the world from my 20th-century youth. Via I-phone, my rural Vermont daughters rented their first solo AirBnb in Maine, to check out a college. My older daughter texts: It’s busy here. So much is happening.

Ocean, lights, dinner in a hippie place kind of like Vermont.

Meanwhile, the cats and I have holed up in my office, eating curry and drinking espresso. Plenty happening here, too.

I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.

— George McGovern

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Photo by Molly S.

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Why Vermont?

The service we attended Sunday was for a beloved student in my daughter’s high school. A devastating, tragic death. Monday at dinner, her sister and I ask about the day. This is a rural high school, maybe 300 students in grades 7 through 12. The principal asked the whole school to crowd into the auditorium.

What did he think was going to happen? she asked me. We all cried. We all sobbed.

In particular, she told us about the teachers — the men, too, she emphasized. They cried.

There’s certainly less-than-desirable elements about living in rural Vermont: the winters can be nearly unendurably long. It’s an insanely expensive state to live in, particularly in a single income home.  But when the utter awfulness of tragedy rears — as it has before, and as it will undoubtedly do so again — these little communities circle the metaphorical wagons. These hard, hard experiences remind me why I live here, and why I can’t ever imagine leaving.

The earth says have a place, be what that place
requires; hear the sound the birds imply…

— Wiliam Stafford

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Wild Honey, Tough Salt

Sunday afternoon found my family unexpectedly at a memorial service at the high school, standing in the cold and snow around a bonfire. That evening, my daughter sits  on the couch beside me, reading Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice.” Why, she asks, is she required to memorize poems and recite them aloud?

Because poetry is who we are, both the beauty, the sheer ugliness at times, and the unexplained complexity of life. Here’s a poem by Kim Stafford:

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End of a Not-so-long-ago Terrible War

While cooking a dinner I’ve made for years — udon and broccoli and a spinach omelette — I listen to NPR and wonder, like any reasonable parent, what kind of world my daughters will live in when they’re my age.

At dinner, our conversation bends around to current events — the man in the White House — and then to history. I tell the girls I remember my father telling me about the end of World World II. Although they won’t know each other for years, he and my mother were eight-years-old. World War II seems such an infinity ago that my daughters are amazed. This puts that terrible war within not only their grandparents’ lifetimes, but their memories, too.

Really? my older daughter asks.

Really, I answer. I wasn’t there, but that’s what I hear.

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

— Sir Isaac Newton

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Quiet Day

Pea soup with scraps of leftover ham bubbled on our stove all day — a weekday more like a Sunday. Walking through town, I met no one.

At the end of the holiday school break, I head out before dinner to empty the compost pail in the bin. Amazingly, the afternoon is light yet, not dim as the afternoons were not long before the holiday. I stand there for a moment, watching wet snowflakes twirl down, the snow and I heedless of any time.

A radiance rises from the snow-covered town cemetery just behind my garden, bright despite the granite stones.

More so than other years, this holiday my daughters and I seemed to have rounded that bend from the divorce. Maybe it’s nothing more than the distance of time and physical space. Maybe it’s simply that time doesn’t cure, but it does scab over. Oddly this season, I kept thinking of Mary Oliver’s line about her box of darkness, and how that, too, was a gift. Maybe that’s part of this whole holiday season, too: that light does, inevitably, come of darkness, always.

Happy wishes for another decade of living: 2020.

Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.

— Mary Oliver

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Cusp

On the eve of another year, my daughters and I talk about that trite tradition — resolutions — and I think of these lines from Rilke:

Whoever you are: some evening take a step
out of your house, which you know so well.
Enormous space is near, your house lies where it begins,
whoever you are…
The world is immense…

Not so long ago, walking outside our house meant wandering down our dirt road and looking for pebbles or newts. While the big world has always been around us, how much mightier the possibilities seem now. And that, I suppose, sums up where we are now.
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