Somewhere in July

Summer mugginess has settled in. Besides pleasing the garden, this offers the kids a chance to complain a little more — as if anyone needs that opportunity.

Again, this is a summer of swimming — of plenty more, too, work (which I’m immensely grateful for), this constant growing up thing my youngest insists on, and the world we live in that appears to be turning itself inside out. I lay awake reading at night and listening to the frogs or the hunting foxes, sometimes the neighbors having a party, and think, What about a little tranquility? But this does not appear to be the time for tranquility, much as I look for it in tiny places — those few minutes of swimming, the raspberry and rhubarb crisp, the sheer pleasure on my daughter’s face when she sees a friend.

These steamy days remind me of New Hampshire summers, when the days spread out so long…. May they yet spread out. Black raspberries, sun gold cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, basil…. May summer creep along.

If you lie quietly in bed in the very early morning, in the half-light before time begins, and listen carefully, the language of crows is easy to understand. “Here I am.”

— Louis Jenkins

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Photo by Gabriela S.

 

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Spectator

At a baseball game at the high school, my friends and I talk about the shape of the evening clouds. The high school has a view of Buffalo Mountain. Behind it, the sun goes down.

I’m late to the game, finishing a book I’m reviewing and answering a handful of emails. When I arrive, I stand back for a bit, watching my younger daughter and her friends who are sitting by the side, apart but not that much apart, their hair piled on their heads, talking and laughing. There’s nothing new here — talking is the lifeblood of teen girls — but that world seems so rare in our world these days. — Go be a kid, swap stories, figure out your place in the world — the pulse of adolescence.

As the sun lowers and I keep talking with my friends, I keep glancing at these girls, their eyes full of sparks and joy, for this evening, these hours, this very moment.

Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places. It was possible Americans would do noting about the fissures exposed by the pandemic: the racial inequalities, the poisonous partisanship, the governmental incompetence, the disrespect for science, the loss of standing among nations, the fraying of community bonds. Then again, when people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.

— Lawrence Wright, “Crossroads”

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A Little Less Domesticity

I was reading last night when my daughter opened my door and asked what’s happening. Through the opened windows, a fox was screaming — a chilling sound — as if a child was in distress. The fox wandered in the woods and ravine behind our house, coming and going, calling.

Eventually, I turned off my light and lay in the darkness. Our cat sat on the windowsill, pressed up against the screen, listening to the wild world. What a relief — simply the natural world, hungering.

The power of dissent is a rich part of who we are.

— Sameer Pandya, Members Only

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Members Only

Sunday afternoon, rain showers fall intermittently. In between, the sunlight sprinkles the garden — the most delicious weather for the garden. I read on the front porch couch, the cats wandering between me and my daughter.

I bought this novel to add to the library’s collection — Members Only, by Sameer Panda — after listening to the author on NPR. It’s clever, sharply written, utterly relevant, and its plot hinges on what seems to be a single slip up by the protagonist, but gradually a whole story of circumstances and choice is revealed.

This July, like my garden, I’m soaking up sunlight and rain showers — as if my daughters and I can store these lovely days in our DNA for the long winter yet to come. Why talk about my daughter’s sophomore year? Who knows what will happen in American schools this fall and winter? Like just about everyone else I know, I’ve accepted we’re not headed anywhere, anytime soon or not soon. The ubiquitousness of the disease is a strange kind of leveling field — there’s no longer the wealthier kids my daughter knows who are headed on extended vacations while I suggest to my daughter that she repaint the north side of the house.

While it’s day by day here, as the parent I’m always eyeing that future, and that, perhaps, more than anything else, brings me back to day to day, in this sweet July.

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Stocking Up July

My daughter texts that she left a few things behind for her camp out with friends. The back porch, where I’m working, is so hot I’m worried my laptop might actually begin to overhead.

I pack up those things and head with my older daughter, who’s on staycation this week, to the next town over. We walk down a short path into the woods. In mid-July, Vermont smells phenomenal — of wet soil and broken leaf and wild roses. On the pond, blue damselflies dart near our faces.

Oh, the world of being 15-years-old.

In the evening, my older daughter and I walk through the town, admiring flowerbeds while she maps out her future for the fall. At the high school, the lot is completely empty save for a blue mini van. As we walk near, I see  South Carolina plates and an elderly couple eating from a box of pizza.

I raise my hand and wave, and they both wave back. What’s your story? I wonder. Later, driving by us in town, they wave again.

Friday was a day of two swims — in Walden and Hardwick. I’m storing these summer days in my body, as if I can hold sunlight and warmth and the tangy scent of green tomatoes in my skin. May these summer days be long, long, long.

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Caspian Lake, Greensboro, Vermont/photo by Molly S.

 

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Dissonance

One good thing a day — take joy in at least one thing a day — is my new mantra.

Swimming or drinking coffee. A colleague moved a rock in her garden — how happy that made me. Spying foxes down in the woods. My daughter’s pleasure in making bracelets. A giant swan floatie my daughters bought while I was at work one day.

I’m not hoarding; I simply note that one thing. The odd thing is, once I note that, I find endless amounts of good things — the Sweet William in my garden, laughing on the phone as I ask a librarian to put out a book for me, please, and then calling through the (closed) library’s door — thank you!

None of this alleviates or alters the world — that I live in a state of incredible wealth where thousands of people have lined up in their cars for eight hours to receive a box of free food. The future is utterly obscured — from a national level literally igniting, to a personal level, where so many people’s lives around me are in upheaval.

This summer, as my daughter steps happily into the driver’s seat, I sit beside her, cautioning — slow down for this intersection. Don’t expect others to turn their turn signals. Be wary of children on sidewalks.

The truth is, I resist this stage of parenting, of giving her the physical keys to head into that vast and confusing world. Yet, it’s her world, too.

So, I identify those good things, like stones in a turbulent river, as we undertake a crossing.

Dissonance
(if you are interested)
leads to discovery.

— William Carlos Williams

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Independence…

Just after dusk, I stand by my garden talking to a friend when all kinds of things begin happening — a luminescent full moon quickly rises; a fox appears at the edge of a nearby woods and watches us; and our kids burn sparklers. In the neighborhoods and hills around us, people set off fireworks. Colored sparkles decorate the horizon.

Like everything else — a completely confusing holiday.

In the night, I wake when a light rain begins to fall, and I get up and take in my sandals I’ve left on the back porch. For a moment, I stand in the darkness, breathing in the scents of damp soil and rain. Maybe for a bit, I wonder, it might be better to understand the world not as a whole, but piece by piece, beginning with the moon and the kids and the teenagers, the sandals I’ve taken in and that I’ll wear today, dry.

Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together, and it is made of people who can never fully know the good that they have done.

— Tracy Kidder

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Greensboro, Vermont

 

 

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Spiritual Crisis

Tanned and wearing overalls, a woman comes into my library and gathers a stack of library books for her children. For this moment, it’s just the two of us. She’s a woman who doesn’t usually check out books for herself, but she asks for a recommendation. I ask her what she wants — fiction or nonfiction? Something easy?

She pauses and then tells me, I need something good. I’m having a spiritual crisis. I’m turning forty and raising two kids and….

I add, And the world’s falling apart?

She laughs. Yes. That might be it.

I pull Maggie O’Farrell’s book off the shelf, and she doesn’t look at it, simply adds it to her pile while we keep talking. She’s a woman who seems, to me, to have been fortunate with finances, surrounded by family. We talk for a bit more, and then I offer that change is opportunity — painful as that might appear.

We step outside, take off our masks, and walk around the gardens, talking about cucumbers.

The things in life which don’t go to plan are usually more important, more formative, in the long run, than the things that do.

Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death

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Car Keys

In the evenings, my daughter lifts the car keys from the hook on the wall, and we drive.

In the passenger seat, I laugh a little, and she looks at me from the edges of her eyes. What?

I haven’t accepted, yet, this switch from driver to passenger seat, and she says seriously, I got this, before smiling with utter pleasure. She no longer asks where we should go; she’s at the wheel.

In the midst of so much other upheaval, from global to personal — my teen has hit the summer of growing up. If I had my license, I’d drive across the country, she says. I have two more months before school starts.

A light rain falls. Neither of us know if school will start, or what her last few years of high school will look like. I’ve driven across country numerous times, but what will her trek look like?

My thirsty garden drinks up the rain. At our house, an enormous mock orange bush reaches our second-floor bedroom windows. For weeks now, I’ve wondered if this bush will bloom this year — here it is, madly blossoming, sprinkling the grass with its fallen white petals.

Such a moon —
the thief
pauses to sing.

— Buson

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu

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Sleeping Outside

Lake, rock, sun, rain…. much to my incredible surprise, we actually managed to camp on an island in Lake Champlain this summer. For years, we’ve gone every summer — the girls and I — sleeping in a lean-to and inevitably forgetting something.

This year, we wore masks on the ferry ride there. But for these 48 hours, for this bit, we lay on the rocks, swam in the cold water, ate by the fire, and kids were just kids again.

On our walk around the island, I stopped and talked with a woman sunbathing on the rocky beach. For five minutes, we gushed and talked — and then said goodbye, good luck, and I followed the girls who had already disappeared out of sight.

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