Confluence

In the next week, my older daughter will graduate from high school. My younger ends her elementary grades in the beloved red schoolhouse. I will sell one house and buy another; my daughters and I will move seven miles or so from one county to another, all our earthly belongings packed up in cardboard boxes and transported by friends and relatives. I will shut the door one final time on a house my former husband and I built, and metaphorically step away from that marriage. Friends from long ago are coming to visit. My daughters and I will come to know how and when sunlight enters our new house, what the water tastes like, where on the horizon the moon rises.

My daughters good-naturedly roll their eyes when I talk about houses being alive, but our house now will pass into hands better able to care for its keen needs. In the sky over our new house, graceful and eternally patient turkey vultures spread their wings in spirals of air currents. All life is change; we’re in the spin of confluence this week – and likely the next – but then I intend to have a good long summer, listening to the birdsong, swimming in Vermont’s cold lakes, and studying those vultures, our new neighbors.

Sometimes when we lose, we gain, and when we gain, we lose. Our fears and joys are bound up inextricably, pleasure in pain and pain in pleasure. Our efforts to untangle and isolate human experience can leave us confused and depressed. Happiness means choosing to be productive and optimistic, recognizing despair for the ancient parasite that it is and outsmarting it.

– Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, The Farm in the Green Mountains

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Unexpected Gold

A naturalist did a program at my small library last night, appearing with a red-tailed hawk, a rabbit, a wood turtle, a frog, a snake, and a curved-beak raven. As the room was packed, I stood by the door, watching when he offered to let my daughters touch that gorgeous snake. Wincing – but polite – both declined.

The library is one of those essential places in our society, where everyone is welcome to drink a cup of hot tea in an evening after it has rained – hard, all day – browse the books, listen. Simply come out of our rural Vermont homes and realize the rest of the town is sodden with spring rain, too.

Closing up, I stepped outside, and the clouds had cleared. The sky was pink at the horizon, and an enormous rainbow bent over the library, the small building constructed with volunteer labor, years before I arrived at the scene. My daughter remarked about a pot of gold somewhere, maybe down by the school’s garden. The air was swept clean, already warming, promising sunnier skies. Robins sang.

My daughters walked across the field, oohing and ahhing, my older daughter with her camera, while along the path an older man moved step by step, making his steady way under those clearing skies, going from here to there.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.

– James Baldwin

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Classic Reprint

 

By chance, I’ve discovered a reprint of The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, published originally in 1968, about a German family who sought succor in my state during the terrible years of World War II. Herdan-Zuckmayer’s writing flows clear as water, pragmatic and thoughtful. How I wished she lived down my road today, and I might ask her to take a walk.

Among the states they (Vermonters) are a relatively poor state, but they are not afraid of their poverty; they don’t love wealth, they have little to gain and not much to lose. This modesty and moderation give them an independence from uncertain times and arm them with pride and fearlessness.

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Fleeting Beauty

I’m still burning wood into June, in this long damp spring. Usually, my daughter’s birthday at the end of May marks the beginning of the swimming season, and many birthday parties have ended with an adult or two walking the little girls across the road in Elmore to the lake.

This year, while the children disappeared in the greenery, laughing, four adults stood around a fire, talking about everything from SBACs to dementia, while the damp wore into us. With an exhale, we could see the clouds of our breath.

Earlier that day, I had taken some children to a theater opening, and watched a magician blow bubble creations: a spinning carousel, a caterpillar, rainbow-hued bubbles-within-a-bubble. He told a story of keeping a bubble in a sealed glass container, checking it every morning as it changed hue, absorbing the air molecule by molecule, until one day it popped and disappeared.

Edging nearer the fire yesterday, I thought of this magician, waking up each morning, curious about the evolving state of his bubble, improbably spun from the simplicity of liquid and air, radiantly beautiful. The boy beside me had murmured, That is the coolest thing.

Zen pretty much comes down to three things — everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.

– Jane Hirshfield

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Handmade Dresses

In the process of moving from one house to another, my daughters and I are turning every closet inside out. I urge the girls to pass along what they don’t want: books, outgrown clothing, costume jewelry…. and then I pack away the tiny baby dresses my mother sewed, sealing them up in a cardboard box and writing keep.

We’re three females going about our lives, moving from one house to another, and I keep reminding myself lucky, lucky, as I listen to VPR, the airwaves filled with so many people and so much upheaval, the tenor of the country and of the world uncertain, fraught.

Lucky, we are, moving not far, to a house surrounded by blooming perennials.

Here’s a fragment from a poem I found in a box, given to me by a friend, when my little girl wore those dresses.

…Even as his hands broke
the earth he worked, his heart
was fallow, asleep…
I turned and told him,
Yes. Plant. Plant everything
as if you had eternity
for you will die tomorrow.

– Arra Lynn Ross, “He Comes and Asks to Plant”

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Montpelier, Vermont

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G.

After my second daughter was born via caesarian, I lay numb from my shoulders down while the surgeon stitched me up. I was beyond ebullient, full of joy but also a steady kind of peace. She had crossed over into us, into our living, chattering, very full world.

The surgeon and his assistant, working, talked about their long Memorial Day weekend, most of it apparently spent in the garden. Grass grows crazy everywhere in Vermont, except sometimes where you want it most. The sheer normalcy of talking about tomato varieties was enormously reassuring. l felt suspended, finished with a hard pregnancy, not quite yet in the realm of mothering an infant, poised between no longer pregnant and not yet nursing this little one. A rare, unique moment.

Later, looking at photos, I was amazed by the sheer mechanics strapped and needled into me for that surgery. My memories are only of gossamer wellness, rays of rainbow radiance with the very heart this tiny six-pound being. Such incredible, utterly amazing good fortune.

Happy birthday, daughter.

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back    may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

– Lucille Clifton, “Blessing the Boats

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The Day Before The Birth Day

Exactly 12 years ago on May 30, I was standing very pregnant at the bottom of our driveway, and about a dozen ATVs roared by, excessively fast and noisy. Within me, my baby abruptly flipped, and I pressed my hands over this baby I had yet to meet, face-to-face. The next morning, we saw each other, tiny girl infant and me.

I always think of that moment as the first time I held and comforted this daughter, wrapped my hands around her, loving her, the first time I began to know this child was mine, small being who would spend her first years in our arms.

…the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow
…this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world

– Lucille Clifton

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