Thaw, Finally

Right at the equinox this year, spring cracks winter’s back in Vermont. The pavement buckles into frost heaves. The dirt roads mush and muddy. Sunday, I find the season’s first coltsfoot, the tiny gems of gold.

A Vermont spring is either a heartbeat — bang, done — or weeks of freeze and thaw, thaw and freeze. Although the days have hit 60 degrees, the nights are still cold, and our wood stove keeps our house warm.

Last evening, we walked by a sugarhouse, its cupola open and steam billowing. The air was tinged with the sweetness of maple, the slight rotting of thawing mud. Instinctively, my upper arms ached. Walking behind my daughters, listening to their chatter, my arms remembered those years when we sugared, and how my arms and gloved hands bent into the woodpile.

Spring is all those things: the radiance of the strengthening sun, the beauty of wildflowers, and how, when the earth thaws, our winter debris of ash pile and last year’s kale stalks emerge.

The bush warbler.
The rain wouldn’t let up.
The travel clothes.

— Mizuhara Shuoshi

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School Tour

A fellow school board member and I take a tour of the high school. I haven’t actually walked the halls in a year. The high school is very, very, very clean. Like, crazy clean, especially for a fifty-year old building.

In the gymnasium, I remember all those basketball games, the graduations, the Congressional delegation visit….

Afterwards, we stand outside in the sunlight, masks on, talking and talking, looking at back at this school that has meant so many things, to so many people, in so many ways the heart of the community — now, of course, for vaccine clinics.

School board positions are not hotly contested in our world, but in this sunlight, after a tour with so much history and so much more to come, I feel oddly so lucky to have this elected seat. The pandemic has flipped the tables in so many ways. It’s impossible not to think that the world is changing right now, all around us. As I leave, my fellow board member wonders how change will come, if we’ll all be hugging each other in the co-op, if things might get really weird.

Weird, I say, I can deal with. I walk home to where my daughter is baking a birthday cake for her sister’s friend. The house smells of sugar, and the cats are sprawled in a patch of sunlight, where flour is spread on the floor. How good to be here. Part of all this.

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Hands at Work

I’m working at home on a Friday afternoon when an email pops into my inbox from the librarian in town. He writes my interlibrary loan book is in, and would I like to come get it?

Indeed, I would. I pick up the book, wrapped nicely in a white paper bag, with my first name, Brett, written in black marker. I stand there in the sunshine, holding this book like some kind of present.

By randomness, I chose this book — Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.

Go read it, too. The book embraces the hammer and chalk line, the beauty of wood, the functionality and satisfaction of making things with your hands, all antidotes to this virtual world. Even more, the book embraces being a woman and a working woman.

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Me, the Mother, Grimacing

Sunday morning, my daughter drives on icy roads to meet a friend to ski. In the passenger seat, I grimace. There’s no more polite way to reveal my actions: I’m grimacing. My daughter — perfectly capable, but my God, she’s 15, driving on icy roads.

She intends to be driving thus for decades to come, without me, of course, grimacing away in the passenger seat.

We head over the mountain and down along the river where the roads improve. Driving, she talks to me, as if the steering wheel has loosened her natural reticence. She laughs and confides, there’s just so much you don’t need to know.

Oh, my Queen of Economy. Wise and experienced beyond your years.

On the way home, we stop for coffee, and I drive while she eats and talks and plays country music that, good lord again, I’m becoming quite fond of.

Who knows will happen next year, this summer, this spring, this very week — goodness, even this afternoon with so much yet spread out before us? For this moment, here we are.

On the way home, I pull over, hand her the keys, and knock off the grimacing.

Coyotes feed themselves on gaunt dreams of spring. 

— David Budbill, “March”

East Burke, Vermont
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Walking Home

Aren’t we all thinking about this Covid anniversary? A year into the pandemic?

Time’s such a tricky thing. I’ve lived through moments that seemed like an eternity — such as the terrible experience when my baby had an allergic reaction and ceased breathing. Those were endless moments before she gasped again, her tiny chest taking in air. Conversely, my second pregnancy appeared to stretch out far beyond the standard nine months….

One year into the pandemic realm, I’m at the point where I’ve accepted: Live here now.

In a conversation with someone today via Zoom, I’m asked what I’m doing in September.

September, on one hand, is not so far off. On the other hand, I’m hoping there’s a lot of living between here and there. (Plus, I can hardly envision what I’m doing next month.)

This makes me think of my younger, more hippie days, reading Ram Dass.

We’re all just walking each other home.


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Cardinals — crimson and soft brown

Two cardinals perch in our mock orange bush, a brilliant flash of feather and beak, meeting and mating, much to the joy of our cats, who want to eat these these little creatures.

Around our Vermont house is yet an oasis of snow and ice, not a single sign of grass yet apparent. In the front yard, the rhododendron emerges stubbornly. I’m here! I’m here!

On this early morning that promises warmth, lines from poet Marie Howe.

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days…

We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you. 

— Marie Howe, from “What The Living Do”

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Former Hospital Grounds, Lunch, March

My daughter signs up to give blood in Waterbury, about an hour away from us. The three of us decide to make a morning of the expedition, with the youngest driving, including the stretch of interstate.

After we drop her off, my youngest and I walk around town, and I buy her a watery hot chocolate in the one place that appears to be open that morning. It’s cold, and we end up back in the car, watching a few skiers on the town’s rec fields.

We talk about dogs and high school and how writers are the most annoying people on the planet, always peering into strangers’ lives, wondering. Even worse, writers write about their families.

True, I admit. It’s a burden.

It’s about 11 degrees. She orders sandwiches on her cell phone from a nearby bakery, and I tell her to add cheesecake to that digital order.

When my older daughter returns, we pick up that order at the bakery window — or, I pick it up. One person only, please. We eat falafel in my car in the enormous and utterly empty parking lot of the former Vermont State Hospital for the Insane. The extensive brick buildings are now state offices. Empty, now, too.

As we eat, we talk about the tall smokestack, crumbling and apparently unused, with VSH bricked near the crest. Two geese fly by, and I realize how near the river we are. So much has happened on these grounds, so many people, so much living, so many years.

It’s cold, cold, and we keep driving. March, my father’s birthday, a promise of spring in the offing.

But I’m beginning to understand this: We never know. Life is a foray into mystery.

— Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

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The winter my youngest daughter was two, I remember lying in bed one night with her after we had been in our sugarhouse all day. The washing machine churned with the children’s wet snowsuits, grimed with mud and ashes. I was worn out with working, my hair laced with the scents of wood smoke and maple, infinitely pleased that we had made a barrel of syrup.

As my little daughter fell asleep, I read Louise Glück’s poem “March” in the newest New Yorker, beginning:

The light stays longer in the sky, but it’s a cold light,
it brings no relief from winter…

A year into the pandemic, I feel as though we’re mired in an eternal Vermont March. I am now old in ways I have never been old before; all three of us have bent and changed this year, as has everyone I know.

When my daughter gives me this photo she took, I cringe for a moment, with a definite glass-half-full fear. But she doesn’t. Infinite possibilities…. surely, spring is there.

Photo by Gabriela S.
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Vermont Town Meeting Day

… today, except it’s not.

So much for those days jammed into town halls and school gymnasiums, debating school consolidations or upping appropriations to local food shelves. So much for buying a bowl of chili for lunch and supporting the local PTO. Stand up and vote by voice has been replaced this year by the ubiquitous paper ballot all over the state.

All night, the wind blows — March’s mighty lion. I wake thinking of the old farmhouse and broken down barn I visited the day before. Someone I knew years ago has bought the property and intends to build a new house. The farmhouse lies along a mountain ridge, with a view into a valley. Far up the valley, wind towers sparkled in the sunlight.

There’s no one around at this house, just the sun and myself, snowbanks sculpted by the wind far higher than my head. I might as well be on the edge of the world. I walk back up that long driveway, the snow drifted nearly to my knees. At the crest, I turn again and look back, curious to see next summer how this property will return to life.

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Spring Dreaming

At bedtime, my daughter calls me into her room and asks me to listen. The prayer flags strung over our back porch are flapping fiercely in the wind. I tell her that’s the point. The wind chimes from my sister are jingling, too. The wind strengthens.

This morning, stepping out, the air is warm in a way I haven’t felt in a very long time. The back of winter might not have been broken yet, but it’s getting there, breath by breath. This is a hard point of Vermont’s winter, when the snow and cold have lingered past their welcome, and our green summer world appears as an illusion. Last year, so many people I knew flew to Florida or Mexico. This year, hardly anyone I know has flown for pleasure.

Our back porch remains that wreckage of clumped ice and broken railing. Yesterday afternoon, my daughter stood in her t-shirt and boots, a hatchet in one hand she used to chop that ice. She suggested digging a swimming pool behind the porch next summer. I mused about a flower garden.

We mutually agreed to plant grapes along the barn, our tiny version of a vineyard.

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, 
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, 
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, 
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Ted Kooser
Published in “Flying at Night”

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